Charlotte Brontë – 199 years old today!
I work with the elderly, and It’s always a worry when someone is 99. We really want them to make the big 100. At least with Charlotte we know she’ll get to 200, being already dead and all.
Sarah is going to talk about Jane Eyre, so I’m doing Shirley.
Shirley was a boy’s name. I knew that, along with Vivian, Meredith, Lindsay, and scores more. For Charlotte Brontë’s ‘Shirley’ to make sense, it’s good to know that. She is strong woman, and shares some similarities with Emily Brontë, including an incident where Shirley physically breaks up a fight between dogs involving her own mastiff Tartar, just as Emily did her own mastiff cross Keeper, in both incidences, men were looking on, doing nothing, maybe cheering, taking bets, and it took a girl in a big dress to pull the jaws apart.
Shirley is one of the many ‘Trouble at t’ mill’ (please read that in a northern accent) novels, such as North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, about the fear of workers of the new labour-saving machinery.
It also highlights how many men went into the church as a profession those days. It wasn’t as much as a calling, just one of the three most common options to sons of averagely well-to-do families. Clerical, medical, legal. And so, the countryside was crawling with curates and reverends, which is probably why they are also crawling all over the novels of Eliot, Austen, and everyone else. I presume the modern day equivalent would be IT consultants popping up in every novel.
I don’t think Shirley is the best of Charlotte’s work, but there are a lot of personal touches that make it interesting. Her views about industrialisation, as well as that touch of unrequited love she had for a Belgian professor, as Caroline in the book is love sick for her nearest Belgian man, and decides if she can’t have him she’ll die alone. Shirley herself falls for his brother, who was her tutor at one point, and of course, also Belgian. So many Belgians in one book, including their sister, I wouldn’t have been surprised if Poirot came wandering in from the future as well.
Possibly the most surprising thing is Shirley’s governess is Agnes Grey, after a few years, and a bad marriage. That must of been an odd conversation.
‘Hey there Anne, can I borrow one of your characters for my book?’
‘Okay, but look after her, don’t leave her laying about on your bedroom floor to get trodden on like that hairbrush you borrowed.
But this isn’t like sisters and masacara, boyfriends, etc. This is a character, someone probably very dear to Anne, so it was very nice of her to let Charlotte use her. Anne died in the May of 1849, the year Shirley was published, so maybe there’s an air of tribute about it. which would be nice. There’s also a passage about a feisty young girl’s death and hole she left behind, which I suspect may have an element of Emily.
However, we get through the gloom and there is a happy ending, because Charlotte’s novels are not Thomas Hardy country, and people are allowed to leave with their lives, and sometimes their loves as well. Phew.