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I have read this book many times since the seventies but this was my first time with the audio version. I knew the story or thought I knew the story but Anna Bentinck's performance allowed me to understand things which I had missed entirely. She is wonderful. Her voice reveals the subtle humor and touches of playfulness of the story. The oppressive sense of loneliness or despair which figure in the Bronte sisters' works, Agnes Grey, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights or Villette is somehow replaced with optimism and hope.
Charlotte Bronte had a dust-up with her publisher over his praise of Jane Austen. Charlotte had some negative thoughts about Austen and was not shy in expressing them. After listening to this story, I now wonder if she wasn't influenced a bit after all. The Charlotte who wrote Jane Eyre and the one who wrote Shirley seem to be different writers. This story has dirt under the fingernails. Not to overstate the case, the sprinkle of comic characters would suggest an Austen influence. Now I have done it! The Bronte sisters will rise from their graves to pummel me as I sleep.
My title quotes the author describing her story I think with accuracy. If she were a portrait artist, her paintings would be in the fashion of Vincent van Gogh's "The Potato Eaters" or in the harsh interplay of shadow and light on the canvas of Edgar Degas. Charlotte Bronte paints with fine brush strokes one color, one image after another, piling them on the canvas until the ungainly rough features of her story takes form. Yet, there are even flashes of Johannes Vermeer's delicate brush strokes, brilliant colors and of love shinning in the eyes of the "Girl with the Pearl Earring". Sometimes she paints the delicate beauty of flower gardens in moonlight evenings but also of harsh, glaring Monday mornings, the gritty, sometimes mean realities and human flaws.
35 of 35 people found this review helpful
First, Anna Bentinck gives a spectacular performance. She is clear, well-paced, and gives different characters to all of the major persona. Not an easy task in a book that you need a playbill for just to keep up. I'll definitely seek out more by her.
"Shirley" is something of a sleeper in the Bronte canon. It's an interesting treatise on the independence and status of women in the early 19th century -- long before there was much feminist activism. The book has an interesting political and economic aspect. A quick look at the Wikipedia page on Luddites will put things in context if your British history is as lacking as mine.
But it is also tragically romantic and downright steamy even at points. Perhaps it's just a modern perspective that sees this as so obvious, but it is hard to imagine how this wasn't considered scandalous by Victorian moral standards. Of course, everyone keeps their clothes on, both feet on the floor and no one ever does anything more than briedly hold hands.
My book club selected this as our "long" summer read, and two of us finished before June had barely begun. Worth a read!
24 of 24 people found this review helpful
Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?
Well forgotten by me anyway. I have recently been re-reading and listening to many of the better known 19th century novels and have really enjoyed them. Most recently I read and listened to Jane Eyre and then Villette which are both well known. However, Shirley meant little to me and I was pleased to find an audio edition available. Like both novels already mentioned Shirley deals with the plight of the poor 19th century woman through the character of Caroline Helstone (and her mother), but also the difficulties facing a rich one, Shirley, as well. It also comments on the behaviour of the clergy and the uprisings in the Yorkshire textile industry. The story held my attention and it was beautifully written. While none of the main protagonists really pleased me I did care about what came of them. When listening to the Tenant of Wildfell Hall I really wished I had downloaded the abridged edition but I didn't regret any of the time spent listening to this and importantly it was beautifully read.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
Well narrated. Bentinck captures the right tone and makes distinction between the characters by giving him or her a different voice and accent. I like this, because I do not get confused about who is speaking and it makes the novel more animated. In addition Bentincks (first person) narrative mode is pleasant, not nasal e.g.
11 of 12 people found this review helpful