Saturday, 7 February 2015

Comments from various quarters on Shirley

1/ The Language of Truth: Charlotte Bronte, The Woman Question and the Novel (Harriet Bjork):
- CB: major, if somewhat uneven artist, heretic, Chartist. 
- A woman whose mind contains nothing but "hunger, rebellion and rage" (Matthew Arnold). 
- Fire and fury, emotional involvement=> unhappy and therefore unjust (Thackeray). 
- Personal experience. Social awareness? 
- CB's concerned with the woman question as personal problem and social issue, but not a propagandist, and in the rights-of-women champion sense, not a feminist (Inga-Stina Ewbank). 
- John Gregory's A Father's Legacy to His Daughters=> female sphere, admonitions to women. 
Hannah Moore expresses the same ideas: the bold, independent spirit that is admired in boys must be suppressed in girls; girls "should acquire a submissive temper, and a forbearing spirit".
- Caroline's difficulties are solved by marriage. However, CB expresses in letters that matrimony's not the only alternative to despondency and decline.
- CB "does not claim equality in explicit terms, or emphasise that women themselves should make more active efforts to work for reform". 
- Education, work and self-help: affinities between CB and Hariet Martineau. 
- CB on Mrs Taylor, John Stuart Mill's friend: "hard, jealous heart, and nerves of bend leather", "a woman who had longed for power and had never felt affection". 
- Mother-worship in Shirley
- Jane Austen: heroines' progress towards self-knowledge and adjustment to society, characters confined to upper and middle classes, social order comparatively stable; "self-respecting domesticity is a woman's proper sphere". The "idle" ladies are "not interested in politics, philosophical abstractions or religious controversies", but "absorbed in points of conduct and etiquette". However, "the author expresses a serious moral outlook", depicting men and women as equals in intellect, morals and emotions.
CB: harsher and not so narrow.
- CB's tone: "often sardonic and bitter but never worldly-wise and cynical".
- Jane Eyre as a Cinderella story.
- Significance of dress in CB's novels.
- Shirley's "elegant carelessness" vs Caroline's "nice propriety".
- Shirley and Louis: combine masculine and feminine traits.
- "Shirley and Caroline adapt themselves to the female sphere after their time of protest".
- Ennui of Caroline and other ladies.
- Shirley: "reincarnation of good feudal values in the industrial epoch".
- "Despite her fairy-tale devices, her pseudo-scientific phrenological methods of character description and analysis, her utilisation of Providence to achieve effects which we often find sentimental and moralistic today, her fiction deals with real 'female difficulties'- economic, social and psychological".
- In CB's novels, women don't set out to compete with men in the sphere of intellect, but the author emphasises that the cultivation of the mind makes women more useful for society.
- Philanthropy and Mr Helstone's use of money. Prejudice against Miss Ainley.
- Juxtaposition of male and female social workers in Shirley.
- CB's heroines feel like they're outsiders and shadows.
- Shirley: the protest is voiced by 2 heroines and a 3rd-person narrator.
- Jane Eyre doesn't protest against domestic duties. Shirley does, in her criticism of Milton's Eve.
- "Caroline's yearning for ideal love and motherhood" vs "Mrs Yorke's masochistic acceptance of the situation of women". Mrs Yorke's anti-sentimental views.
Caroline's objection to the preference for female ignorance.
- Caroline: CB's most conventional heroine=> awkward that she cries out against the wrongs of women? Perhaps not. Her thoughts are "expressed in a subdued tone of youthful innocence and uncertainty".
- Caroline: features of "the sentimental heroine who learns to overcome her excessive sensibility and adapt herself to the duties of her sex in real life". But she's not a female Quixote.
- Marianne Dashwood, Jane Bennett, Anne Elliott...=> Jane Austen depicts woman's lot with profound psychological understanding but her novels don't make us feel the need for social reform as we feel it in the story about Caroline Helstone.
- Conventional attitudes in minor characters.
- The double marriage in the end counteracts the protest effect=> "discrepancy between the truth of life and the simplifications and illusions of fiction"=> "jarring note".
- Shirley and Caroline: can labour alone bring happiness?
- Shirley: love of freedom, critical view of the conventions of her time=> "makes a more daring exploration into the nature and role of woman than Caroline or the earlier heroines".
- Shirley and Caroline don't attempt to "ensnare" or "catch" a husband.

2/ The Feminine Political Novel in Victorian England (Barbara Leah Harman):
- CB: "I cannot write handling the topics of the day", "nor can I write a book for its moral".
- T. H. Lister: Women cannot enjoy at the same time "the immunities of weakness and the advantages of power".
=> Shirley's aware of "the threat that underlines the recommendation that women retain moral authority but refrain from engaging openly in public affairs".
- Caroline as a "superfluous" woman: Robert's house is self-efficient, she is unnecessary.
- Shirley's role-playing is more than an empty gesture=> she refuses to confine herself to the experiences of 1 sex or the other.
- Keen understanding of her own curious status=> difficult for us to place and identify Shirley.
- Shirley knows what men do and do not want: "she insists that Caroline not mix romance with work, not mix private motives with public ones, not mix women with men".
=> criticised.
- Self-restraint.
- "the issue of sex in an unexpected place".
- However, their invisibility (the night the mill's attacked) protects Shirley and Caroline from misinterpretation and gives them an edge in the unequal balance of power between men and women.
- Shirley "finds ways to exercise power, assert her agency, gain access to significant experience, even represent her feelings, while still preserving the distinction between public and private action...", "seeks action in covered performances, gains public experience through invisibility, finds knowledge in seeing without being seen, and self-expression in speaking without being understood".
- The novel moves from public to private concerns.
- Who is slave? Who is master?
Shirley proposes to Louis.
- CB "describes the pleasures of private sexual display and insists on their purity at the same time".

3/ Charlotte Bronte (Margaret Blom):
- Caroline's sterile life.
- Shirley and Caroline as idealised representations of Emily and Anne.
- "Deprived of power and totally unable to reform or even to alter the tyrannical system under which they suffer, these women are also betrayed by their own natures, which turn traitor against them and urge them into destructive conformity".
- "Men and women, like employer and employee, are locked in a vicious and useless struggle."
- Discrimination against women in the economic sphere.
- "... a woman's fate is determined by the economic system in which she has no power, because her desirability as a mate is dependent not on innate qualities but on a monetary worth that she is powerless to increase".
- Caroline "has nothing to think of but her hopeless passion".
- Stupid women who willingly accept the role men want them to play: e.g Hannah Sykes.
- For Caroline, a life without love is empty.
- Shirley's situation is more complicated.
CB "depicts Shirley as held prisoner in a psychological trap". She prefers a master.
- "Shirley is driven to accept the loss of selfhood entailed in marriage by her sexual desire, which ultimately triumphs over her desire for independence".
- The "happy ending does not mitigate the bleakness of the vision that informs the novel".
"The novel's depiction of frustration, terror, and hatred is too powerful to be outweighed by the brief, almost laconic, conclusion which describes the public victory celebration and the marriages of the protagonists".

4/ The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (Sandra M. Gilbert& Susan Gubar):
- Gerard Manley Hopkins to R. W. Dixon: The artist's "most essential quality is masterly execution, which is a kind of male gift, and especially marks off men from women, the begetting of one's thought on paper, on verse, or whatever the matter is." He also notes "on better consideration it strikes me that the mastery I speak of is not so much in the mind as a puberty in the life of that quality. The male quality is the creative gift."
Robert Southey to CB: "Literature is not the business of a woman's life, and it cannot be."
- Anne Elliott (Persuasion) and Anne Finch: pens have always been in men's hands.
- A woman writer "must examine, assimilate, and transcend the extreme images of 'angel' and 'monster' which male authors have generated for her". She must kill them both.
- In the Middle Ages: "mankind's great teacher of purity"= Virgin Mary.
In the 19th century: "the eternal type of female purity was represented not by a madonna in heaven but by an angel in the house".
- Coventry Patmore's The Angel in the House.
- Mary Cave: the angel. Would have been unhappy with Mr Yorke as much as with Mr Helstone.
- "The man who offers stones instead of bread in return for the woman's love will receive as his punishment the rocks and stones cast by the other victims of his competitive egotism, the workers."
- Robert views all activity except business as "eating the bread of idleness"=> he necessarily despises women.
CB "implies through him and the other manufacturers that the work ethic of self-help means selfishness and sexism, and, linking the exploitation of the workers with the unemployment of women, she further indicates that the acquisitive mentality that treats both women and workers as property is directly related to disrespect for the natural resources of the nation".
- Shirley's "male mimicry".
- "What Shirley does is what Caroline would like to do: Caroline's secret hatred for the curates is gratified when Shirley angrily throws them out of her house after they are attacked by her dog; Caroline needs to move Helstone, and Shirley bends him to her will; Caroline wishes early in the novel that she could penetrate the business secrets of men, while Shirley reads the newspapers and letters of the civic leaders; Caroline wants to lighten Robert's financial burden and Shirley secures him a loan; Caroline tries to repress her desire for Robert, while Shirley gains his attention and proposal of marriage; Caroline has always known that he needs to be taught a lesson (consider her explication of Coriolanus) and Shirley gives it to him in the form of a humiliating rejection of his marriage proposal. Caroline wishes above all else for her long-lost mother and Shirley supplies her with just this person in the figure of Mrs Pryor".
However, Shirley "succumbs to Caroline's fate".
- It's the narrowness of the woman's lot that makes Caroline ill.
- The end: it's men who keep female minds fettered, so it's only they "who have the power to unlock the chains".
- Caroline's self-starvation is a hunger strike, a form of protest, a rejection of what society defines as nourishing.
- Shirley and Caroline become sisters, through Mrs Pryor, Shirley's surrogate mother and Caroline's biological mother.
Interesting bit: Shirley's father's name is Charles Cave Keeldar.
(Of course, at the end of the book they are married to the Moore brothers).
- Shirley becomes more reticent and discreet.
- "Shirley possesses all the accoutrements of the aristocratic hero, Louis Moore- like the young clerk William Crimsworth- is the male counterpart of a governess."
- Dissatisfied with the ending- the only happy ending for women in CB's society is marriage.
"... At least part of what makes the ending of Shirley seems so unreal is the way in which the plot metes out proper rewards and punishments to all the characters with an almost cynical excess of concession to narrative conventions."
e.g "Robert's indifference has made Caroline ill; he now wastes away at the hands of a woman who is said to starve him."
- Martin Yorke~ Henry Sympson: tools.
- Stress on Shirley's submission.

5/ Critical Essays on Charlotte Bronte (Barbara Timm Gates):
+ "Currer Bell's Shirley" (G. H. Lewes):
- Shirley's not a work of art, but "a portfolio of random sketches".
- The 2 heroes of the book "have both something sordid in their minds, and repulsive in their demeanour". Rochester's a lot more respectable.
- Criticises the characterisation and psychology: especially Mrs Pryor and Caroline.
- Several passages out of place: Caroline speaks like Currer Bell=> unnatural, unconvincing=> "an offence against art and against nature".
- No jealousy on Caroline's part?=> unconvincing.

+ "Public Themes and Private Lives: Social Criticism in Shirley" (Arnold Shapiro):
- Many critics are mistaken to say that Shirley lacks unity. The theme of selfishness, the lack of sympathy between people, connects everything in the novel: public (industrialists' behaviour towards workers, gentlefolk's behaviour towards governesses), private (Mr Helstone, Mr Yorke...)
=> "a world where utilitarianism is the official creed".
- Robert Moore, reflecting society's values (materialistic), is the embodiment of the social criticism of Shirley.
- Shirley and Louis: pride.
- Caroline: "symbol of all those victimised, of all people who are at the mercy of the selfish men..." 
=> in her story, "the social and private themes of Shirley [again] coalesce". 
=> CB offers her cure in individual, human terms. 
- Breakdown of pride between Shirley and Louis at the end. 
- The end of the war, the end of Robert's struggles, the end of selfishness=> love can prevail. 


  1. Di, you provide a wonderful resource through your generous posting. Anyone reading (or thinking about reading) the novel owes you a huge debt of gratitude. Beautifully and generously done, Di. Very nice.

    1. Uhhh.... That sounds so... serious.
      Thanks though.