Shirley (Anglais) Broché – 1 novembre 1990
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Of late years, an abundant shower of curates has fallen upon the north of England: they lie very thick on the hills; every parish has one or more of them; they are young enough to be very active, and ought to be doing a great deal of good. Lire la première page
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Ne vous y trompez-pas, même si le titre porte le nom d'une femme, ce n'est pas un roman d'amour, ni une fresque romantique...
Bien au contraire, je vais m'en expliquer plus loin dans mon commentaire, d'autant que la fameuse Shirley n'apparaît qu'au bout d'une centaine de pages. Certes Elle devient dès lors un personnage central majeur... Mais on dirait de nos jours que c'est plutôt un "roman choral"... Il y a plusieurs personnages centraux et de nombreuses personnalités "secondaires" mais toutes indispensables à la cohérence du roman, à la description méticuleuse de cette époque, de cette campagne anglaise.
POURQUOI 5 étoiles :
- Parce c'est un roman qui est un véritable témoignage historique du début de l'industrialisation de l'Angleterre dans un contexte "international" extrêmement difficile : les guerres napoléoniennes et les blocus qui mirent à mal le commerce de ce pays. Dans ce livre vous découvrirez pour certains d'entre vous la quasi guerre civile qui régnait à cette époque contre les nouveaux propriétaires d'ateliers, d'usines. Comment nombre d'entre eux durent se battre au péril de leur vie (certains se feront tuer) parce qu'ils voulaient introduire les premières machines industrielles.Lire la suite ›
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"Shirley" opens on a view of Briarfield, a small mill community in Yorkshire, where the labourers are restless and hungry. The mill owners, Robert Moore and Hiram Yorke, are anxious with reports of murderous actions against mechanizing mill owners elsewhere, and suffering under governmentally restricted trade. The gentry are disaffected with the mill owners, and more concerned with England's continuing conflicts with Napoleon overseas. The main concerns of the novel revolve around all of these conflicts - conflicts of interest, conflicts between classes, and the wider conflicts of nations. Brontë's social vision seems to ask throughout the novel if any of the normal sorts of personal problems even matter in the face of the sufferings of the masses.
Briarfield's leading citizen is Reverend Helstone; he along with a motley mix of curates accurately represents the microcosmic problem that affects the macrocosm of England in the time of the novel, 1811-12. Helstone is rigidly hierarchical in his mindset, and suffers from a peculiar affliction as a religious man - a total lack of sympathetic attachment to the community he ministers to. His niece, Caroline, who stands to inherit no fortune, is singular also, in that her social standing coupled with her lack of money places her in an awkward position with regard to her potential love interest, Robert Moore. With the advent of the wealthy and independent Shirley, who attracts the affections and avarice, respectively, of Caroline and Robert, new avenues of personal tension enter the already conflicted society of Briarfield.
Gender troubles are rife in the novel - from Shirley's adoption of the tone and stance of a masculine inheritor, a military captain, and a protector of Caroline; to the rabid misogyny of Reverend Helstone, Martin Yorke, and the curate Malone, among others; and the wild invectives against marriage from a variety of sources - Brontë shows that regardless of intranational or international disputes, the seeds of discord are plentiful within the domestic spaces of potentially every English home. Brontë examines the lack and need for strong maternal presence, emphasizing the fact that Shirley's parents are dead, and Caroline has never known her own mother, except as the butt of foul rumours. The gender-fueled critique in "Shirley" extends even to the characters' notions of the divine - the male religious authorities are contrasted with the oracular and ancient image of the feminine sibyl.
"Shirley" may, in the end, be the name chosen for the novel, not because she is its main character, but because she symbolizes and embodies the social, political, gender, and ecological complexities and conundrums present throughout the novel. For a 600-page novel, "Shirley" is an incredibly quick and compelling read. Certainly, it deserves a wider readership and pays a close attention with fuel for consideration and thoughtful discussion.
Indeed this is understandable given that Charlotte's beloved sisters Anne and Emily and her beloved but wayward brother Branwell all died the year she wrote the first half of the novel, and she was shutting down emotionally and withdrawing from the world. Later when she wrote the last half, she was past the deepest stage of grief.
Bronte also doesn't introduce her heroine Shirley until 1/3 of the way through the novel, establishes considerable interest in the character of Robert Moore, and then has him disappear most of the second half of the novel, and introduces another major character, Robert's brother in the last portion of the book.
Finally, one sometimes has to strain to believe that individuals at this time really spoke as these characters spoke - especially the men when they on rare occasion pour out their hearts to other men in lengthy poetic prose. But often the prose of Bronte's dialogue is quite delicious and makes one wish that writers today had such a flair for such eloquent, emotionally expressive language.
The strong point of the novel: Charlotte Bronte excels in letting us into the mind and hearts of her two heroines, Caroline and Shirley, as well as in painting portraits of several of other characters, especially Robert Moore. Her rich attunement to the subtleties of the inner life of feeling (especially falling in love and the roller coast ride of affectionate rapport alternating with anguish-inducing withdrawal) and the innuendos of relationships between women and women, and men and women, is notable. Her portrayals of her primary characters are so compelling that her readers begin to deeply care about them and their happiness. The relationship between Robert and Caroline is particularly engaging, and likely to lead the reader to yearn, along with Caroline, for Robert to stand firm in his affections and not retreat into his very real and troublesome business and financial concerns.
The political subplot is also enlightening - a basically good man, Robert Moore, being drawn almost to bankruptcy while needing to industrialize his mill in order to remain in business, and as a result laying off workers and inciting a luddite rebellion against him. (Readers who are intrigued by this theme, might also enjoy Gaskell's North and South - and especially the BBC North and South film available on dvd). Bronte doesn't integrate the political plot very well with the novel, but socio-economic factors considerably influence Robert's motives and relationships more and more as the story progresses. They also lend historical interest to the novel, and a bit of substance beyond the local color of minor individuals, the relationships between the main characters, and the very heartfelt inner life of Caroline.
Although most other readers find the book slow reading, I in contrast could barely put it down.......but did skip over the "boring" parts resulting from too many minor characters (especially of a religious nature) being given too much space in the novel. But the stories of Caroline, Robert and Shirley are so engaging that the reader may indeed find the novel truly delightful, and the conclusion likewise highly satisfying.
While it lacks the symmetrically designed shape of Jane Eyre or the clear-eyed study of obsession of Villette, it lets the imaginative reader glimpse the Bronte sisters themselves between the lines. The characters of Shirley and Caroline are based on Emily and Anne Bronte, both of whose deaths occurred during the writing of the novel. It is a tribute to sisterly love and a fantasy that lashes back at grief. Some may find the ending a romantic cop-out, but this cannot detract from the many good qualities of this fascinating novel
I this on the kindle I just got (did not want one, told everybody that, had one anyway for my birthday, and I absolutely love it!). First experience with the kindle, and I like its ability to easily look up words and jump to Google and Wikipedia. Plus its highlighting feature. Very nice machine! The first time I read Shirley was a few years ago, and I kept many pages of notes.
Anyway, it can take a long time to get through Shirley and that is perfectly OK. Like all Bronte books, it is worth taking slow so you can absorb it. Critics have been hard on this novel, often comparing it unfavorably with Jane Eyre. All I can say is that if Shirley is read with an open mind, it is well worth the effort. Would be good to study the Luddites a bit, first, to understand the historical context.