Source: downloaded from Librivox
Set in the industrializing England of the Napoleonic wars and Luddite revolts of 1811-12, Shirley (1849) is the story of two contrasting heroines. One is the shy Caroline Helstone, who is trapped in the oppressive atmosphere of a Yorkshire rectory and whose bare life symbolizes the plight of single women in the nineteenth century. The other is the vivacious Shirley Keeldar, who inherits a local estate and whose wealth liberates her from convention.
First things first - if you ever consider reading this book, read it. Do not listen to it. It is incredibly slow going and Bronte is as much about making social commentary as she is about telling a story. This was also my first real disappointment with Librivox; in a book this long, there were a LOT of narrators and some of them were really not good making it even more difficult to stay focused on this book.
Jane Eyre is one of my all-time favorite books and I so wanted to love this one, too. But Shirley is an entirely different kind of book. Bronte doesn't even introduce readers to the eponymous Shirley until Chapter 11; much of the first ten chapters focused on setting up the political and religious atmosphere of the area and introducing characters that were primarily involved in the book for that purpose only. To be honest, to the end I felt like the book should have been titled "Caroline" rather than Shirley.
If there weren't at least a thousand books I want to read, I might try reading Shirley in print. But there are, so I never will. I'd much rather find the time to reread Jane Eyre and fall in love with Charlotte Bronte again.