The Terrible Handwriting: Shirley
In one sense, the ‘parallels’ between inarticulate private suffering and public official history are writ large in Shirley. This, it has seemed, is Charlotte Brontë's attempt to write a ‘condition-of-England’ novel such as other of her contemporaries were producing in these years. The novel has always refused quite to fit that category. Its narrative focus shifts from one subject to another — the curates and their absurdities; the dispute between masters and men; Robert Moore's entrepreneurial ambitions; the story of Caroline Helstone's lonely decline; the aristocratic heiress, Shirley, her governess and her tutor; the extraordinary Yorke family and their concerns. There are chunks of text in foreign languages, old ballads, hymns, poems, even a school essay, interspersed with extended reflections upon such themes as the effects of the war with France and the sufferings of old maids.
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