The Women of Shirley Essay

In many works, authors use a type of process to lead towards the end of their work. In Charlotte Bronte’s Shirley the two major female characters, Shirley Keeldar and Caroline Helstone, go through two different paths. Social status is the rank, for a better term, of a person in society. It is where an individual stands in regards to his or her respective community. Sometimes the presence or lack thereof a prominent business, wealth, political power, or family name plays a major role in a person’s position in society. Social status can affect an individual’s personality.

Personality is the character of an individual; it includes how a person carries his/her self, attitude, and demeanor. Personality can affect the individuals’ love life and interests. It plays a significant role on who an individual is attracted to, as well as who is attracted to said individual. To state this succinctly: Social status can affect personality, and personality can affect someone’s love life and interests. The goal of this essay is to analyze the processes that Caroline Helstone and Shirley Keeldar go through. I will specifically analyze the idea of love and relationships regarding both characters.

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The aim is to show the paths these women take and how they determine their futures. The title character, Shirley Keeldar, is introduced relatively late in the novel in chapter eleven. From the moment her character appears on the written page, it is obvious what role she will play: the strong independent woman. There is an aura that separates Shirley from other women during the nineteenth century in Europe. She is confident, not solely due to her heiress status but also because, as Bronte states, “Shirley Keeldar was no ugly heiress: she was agreeable to the eye” (211).

In contrast to Caroline, Shirley seems slightly brighter in many ways; she is slightly taller, better looking, better off financially, and last but not least, not an ordinary woman of the time. Caroline is of average financial status. This presence of a prominent family name and business gives Shirley the confidence necessary to be independent and not depend upon a marriage to support her. This is in direct contrast with Caroline and her struggle with the thought of becoming an old single woman.

Shirley states that Caroline may become “an old maid” and Caroline replies, “I shall be one: it is my destiny…. no one else will ever marry me” (235). This ‘woe is me’ attitude can be seen throughout the work. Obviously an individual’s personality is affected by his/her confidence level; confidence level is often times effected by a person’s social status. Shirley’s strong demeanor is commonly referred to throughout the work. This is due to her manly attributes. This is obvious and can be seen in the choice of name given to her at birth.

As Bronte introduces her into the novel, she states, “Shirley Keeldar (she has no Christian name but Shirley: her parents, who had wished to have a son, finding, that after eight years of marriage, Providence had granted them only a daughter, bestowed on her the same masculine family cognomen they would have bestowed on a boy” (211). Actually, before this work, Shirley was solely a male name. Shirley feels herself stereotypically strong like a man. She speaks of this when she confidently says, that she is, ‘no longer a girl, but quite a woman and something more….

Shirley Keeldar, Esquire, ought to be my style and title. (213). This is the basis for Shirley’s confident attitude. She feels strongly that since her parents “gave me a man’s name, I hold a man’s position: it is enough to inspire me with a touch of manhood” (213). Shirley owns property and runs a business, bringing her to state confidently, “really I feel quite gentlemanlike” (213). This masculine sense of self-assurance was not commonly found in a woman in the nineteenth century. It is what makes her more of an extrovert, and able to speak her mind. She has no qualm arguing with men about issues of significance, for example with Mr.

Donne and Joe Scott. She believes she is an exception and has the right to speak, which would be considered ‘out of turn’ for women during this time period. This attitude, and her general personality, makes Shirley desirable and even exotic to some men. Shirley’s status makes it easy not relying upon a man. In some ways, her independent personality makes her a challenge or an obstacle for a man to conquer. Shirley’s confidence is based on the things mentioned above; Caroline Helstone is not blessed with these attributes, leaving her the weaker of the two characters.

Caroline possesses many traits that are common among females during the nineteenth century. She is shy and slightly introverted. She often speaks when spoken to, goes to functions only if properly invited, and generally does not make things happen for her. She allows them to happen, as they will. This is not solely Caroline’s fault. Her learned view of English countrywomen is that no matter the age, appearance, or attitude of a woman, she is to have a certain expression stamped on her features, which seems to say, “I know, I do not boast of it – but I know that I am the standard of what is proper” (132).

Internally, Caroline longs to be independent, as Shirley, but is aware she lacks the attributes and confidence necessary. For example, Caroline confesses to Shirley, “I do think myself a fool…. I do despise myself…. You are not weak” (236). Caroline thinks she needs a husband to acquire these attributes; thus she can know her role in life. As clichi??d as it may sound, personality truly does play a significant role in an individual’s attractiveness. Shirley’s unique personality attracts men quite easily.

But Shirley is of the opinion that a marriage is not necessary for her, as it would be for the common woman; marriage would ruin her independence. She thoroughly enjoys her independent nature, as can be seen when she states, “I can comfortably unfold my independence round me like a mantle…. If married, that could not be” (224). She is a bit romantic when she states, “Before I marry, I am resolved to esteem – to admire – to love” (444). Shirley is admirable in the fact that she stays true to this statement, proving it by refusing at least four marriage proposals (445).

Shirley waits until someone truly love her and is not in pursuit of enlarging his estate. She eventually marries Louis Moore, who does love her, as evidenced by his “soliloquizing” toward the end of the novel (486). He loves Shirley as an equal. Caroline’s character travels through the novel having difficulty understanding men. She does not comprehend why she is not yet married. These two things directly relate to Robert Moore. She loves him and states, “I do like him: I would be an excellent wife to him if he did marry me” (123).

Caroline feels as though she is lacking something; she believes that thing will give her a role in life. Caroline desires and wants Moore, and Charlotte Bronte most certainly intended the play on words. In the end, Caroline gets her wish and marries Robert Moore. Character development is a key element of any novel. Shirley Keeldar and Caroline Helstone each travel a path throughout the novel. This essay shows that path: Social status effecting personality and personality effecting love interests. However, the audience may be a bit confused at the conclusion.

After being presented as a strong independent woman, Shirley takes a small step back, acting somewhat submissive to her fianci??, Louis, in the events leading up to her wedding. And Caroline appears to finally receive what she had wanted all along: a marriage to Robert. But this only occurs after Robert is wounded, metaphorically becoming half the man he once was. The conclusion can leave the audience asking: Why the buildup of women’s rights and independence to close with what would appear to be setbacks in their quest for equality? This is another topic for another essay.

However, the fact still remains that women felt they deserved better during that time. They wanted the idea that, “the sole aim of every one of them is to be married,” to exist no longer (377). To close, I will end with a quote that sums up the ideas of women after this work was published quite nicely: “If men could see us as we really are, they would be a little amazed; but the cleverest, the acutest men are often under and illusion about women: They do not read them in a true light: They misapprehend them, both for good and evil” (343).