My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley is probably her third best novel. While its style is closer to social realism than Jane Eyre or Villette, it lacks the exciting development of a central heroine that is so delightful in her other major works. Shirley, in fact, has two female protagonists that are nearly opposite in character. Caroline is timid and uncertain. Shirley is headstrong and independent. In the end, both heroines seem to meet in the middle to become more balanced characters.
Shirley is set against the backdrop of worker unrest during the Industrial Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, giving a fairly balanced depiction of the labor conflict that is interesting in its own right.
Another drawback of Shirley is the pacing. The first half of the book is painfully slow, but it is still well worth reading.
Bottom Line: Shirley is not Charlotte Brontë’s best novel, but it has two interesting heroines and an interesting backdrop of early nineteenth century labor unrest that is interesting in its own right.