Wednesday, 14 September 2016


Compared to Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte's second novel Shirley is almost unheard of. When browsing the Southbank book market with  a friend last summer I found this little penguin classic edition of the novel for £3.50. My friend who had read it and loved it recommended I buy it so I did! But it sat on my shelf collecting dust for a whole before I got the chance to pick it up. 

Shirley attempts to focus on the condition of England around the time of the Luddite riots as well as the individual dramas of the residents of the town it's set in. The novel is not as perfectly written as Bronte's other novels are. The plot is weak and Bronte often digresses for pages at a time. For the first 200 pages I was confused about what was going on and what exactly the novel was about. Because of this, I took my time with Shirley reading it over a span of three weeks, which meant I got to enjoy the incredibly beautiful parts of the novel so much more. Shirley is dotted with absolutely stunning pieces of prose which made this novel such a lovely read for me. I kept a pen with me at all times when I read it because I knew I would scramble for one soon to underline a gorgeous description of nature or annotate a particularly funny or interesting moment. As a result, I have so many favourite quotes from Shirley that I'd love to share with you guys.

This list has been assembled chronologically rather than from most favourite to least favourite.

1) "When I meet with real poetry, I cannot rest till I have learned it by heart, and so made it partly mine." (p. 119)

2) 'Love, when he comes wandering like a lost angel to our door, is at once admitted, welcomed, embraced: his quiver is not seen'. (p. 121)

3) 'Alas, Experience! ... It is by your instructions alone that man or woman can ever find a safe track through life's wilds: without it, how they stumble, how they stray! On what forbidden grounds do they intrude, down what dread declivities are they hurled!' (p. 122)

4) 'Take the matter as you find it: ask no questions; utter no remonstrances: it is your best wisdom. You expected bread, and you have got a stone; break your teeth on it. and don't shriek because the nerves are martyred: do not doubt that your mental stomach - if you have such a thing - is strong as an ostrich's - the stone will digest. You held out your hand for an egg, and fate put into it a scorpion. Show no consternation: close your fingers firmly upon the gift; let it sting through your palm. Never mind: in time, after your hand and arm have swelled and quivered long with torture, the squeezed scorpion will die, and you will have learned the great lesson. How to endure without a sob. For the whole remnant of your life, if you survive the test - some, it is said, die under it - you will be stronger, wiser, less sensitive.' (p. 128)

5) 'She had loved without being asked to love, - a natural, sometimes an inevitable chance, but big with misery.' (p. 129)

6) "Strange that grief should now almost choke me, because another human being's eye has failed to greet mine." (p. 188)

7) 'winter fireside sketches; a glowing landscape of a hot summer afternoon passed with him in the bosom of Nunnely wood: divine vignettes of mild spring or mellow autumn moments'. (p. 189)

8) 'Men and women never struggle so hard as when they struggle alone, without witness, counsellor, or confidant; unencouraged, unadvised, and unpitied.' (p. 200)

9) 'At last the life she led reached the point when it seemed she could bear it no longer; that she must seek and find a change somehow, or her heart and head would fail under the pressure which strained them.' (p. 200)

10) 'they looked down on the deep valley robed in May raiment, on varied meads, some pearled with daisies, and some golden with king-cups: to-day all this young verdure smiled clear in sunlight; transparent emerald and amber gleams played over it. On Nunnwood - the sole remnant of antique British forest in a region whose lowlands were once all sylvan chase, as its highlands were breast-deep heather - slept the shadow of a cloud; the distant hills were dappled, the horizon was shaded and tinted like mother-of-pearl; silvery blues, soft purples, evanescent greens and rose-shades, all melting into fleeces of white cloud, pure as azure snow, allures the eye as with a remote glimpse of heaven's foundations. The air blowing on the brow was fresh, and sweet, and bracing.' (p. 220)

11) "We were going simply to see the old trees, the old ruin; to pass a day in old times, surrounded by olden silence, and above all by quietude." (p. 221)

12) "I wonder we don't all make up our minds to remain single ... we should if we listened to the wisdom of experience." (p. 224)

13) "He was nearly broken-hearted when he wrote that poem, and it almost breaks one's heart to read it. But he found relief in writing it - I know he did; and that gift of poetry - the most divine bestowed on man - was, I believe, granted to allay emotions when their strength threatens harm ... And who does not care for feeling - real feeling - however simply, even rudely expressed?" (p. 232-233)

14) "I should have learned, in a startling manner, the width of the chasm which gaped between such as he and such as I. I knew that, however my thoughts might adhere to him, his were effectually sundered from me." (p. 235)

15) 'moments when her thoughts, her simple existence, the fact of the world being around - and heaven above her, seemed to yield her such fulness of happiness, that she did not need to lift a finger to increase the joy.' (p. 237)

16) "and I have an inexpressible weight on my mind which I would give the world to shake off, and I cannot do it." (p. 245)

17) "And it is not youth, nor good looks, nor grace, nor any gentle outside charm which makes either beauty or goodness in God's eyes." (p. 284)

18) "Yet, let whoever grieves still cling fast to love and faith in God: God will never deceive, never finally desert him." (p. 342)

19) "nothing is so transitory: its date is a moment, - the twinkling of an eye: the sting remains forever: it may perish with the dawn of eternity, but it tortures through time into its deepest night." (p. 366)

20) "let all the single be satisfied with their freedom." (p. 366)

21) "God mingles something of the balm of mercy even in vials of the most corrosive woe. He can so turn events, that from the very same blind, rash act whence sprang the curse of half our life, may flow the blessing of the remainder." (p. 367)

22) "The brothers of these girls are every one in business or in professions; they have something to do: their sisters have no earthly employment, but household work and sewing; no earthly pleasure but an unprofitable visiting; and no hope, in all their life to come, of anything better. This stagnant state of things makes them decline in health: they are never well; and their minds and views shrink to wondrous narrowness. The great wish - the sole aim of every one of them is to be married, but the majority will never marry: they will die as they now live. They scheme, they plot, they dress to ensnare husbands. The gentlemen turn them into ridicule: they don't want them; they hold them very cheap: they say - I have heard them say it with sneering laughs many a time - the matrimonial market is overstocked. Fathers say so likewise, and are angry with their daughters when they observe their manoeuvres: they order them to stay at home. What do you expect them to do at home? If you ask, they would answer, sew and cook. They expect them to do this, and this only, contentedly, regularly, uncomplainingly all their lives long, as if they had no germs of faculties for anything else." (p. 377)

23) "Men of England! Look at your poor girls, many of them are fading around you, dropping off in consumption or decline; or, what is worse, degenerating to sour old maids, - envious, backbiting, wretched, because life is a desert to them; or, what is worst of all reduced to strive, by scarce modest coquetry, and debasing artifice, to gain that position and consideration by marriage, which to celibacy is denied. Fathers! Cannot you alter these things? Perhaps not all at once; but consider the matter well when it is brought before you, receive it as a theme worthy of thought: do not dismiss it with an idle jest or an unmanly insult. You would wish to be proud of your daughters and not blush for them - then seek for them an interest and an occupation which shall raise them above the flirt, the maneuverer, the mischief-making talebearer ... cultivate them - give them scope and work - they will be your gayest companions in health; your tenderest nurse in sickness; your most faithful prop in age." (p. 378-779)

24) "Better to try all things and find all empty, than to try nothing and leave your life a blank." (p. 385)

25) 'From no point of view could the West look so lovely as from that lattice with the garland of jessamine round it, whose white stars and green leaves seemed now but grey pencil outlines - graceful in form but colourless in tint - against the gold incarnadined of a summer evening - against the fire-tinged blue of an August sky, at eight o'clock p.m.' (p. 392)

26) "The human heart can suffer. It can hold more tears than the ocean held waters. We never know how deep - how wide it is till misery begins to unbind her clouds, and fill it with rushing blackness." (p. 412)

27) "Nobody has the honour, the intellect, the power you demand in your advisor. There is not a shoulder in England on which you would rest your hand for support - far less a bosom which you would permit to pillow your head." (p. 478)

28) 'At length the latter autumn passed: its fogs, its rains withdrew from England their mooring and their tears; its winds swept on to sigh over lands far away. Behind November came deep winter; clearness, stillness, frost accompanying. A calm day had settled into a crystalline evening; the world wore a North Pole colouring: all its lights and tints looked like the reflections of white, or violet, or pale green gems. The hills wore a lilac-blue; the setting sun had purple in its red; the sky was ice, all silvered azure, when the stars rose, they were of white crystal - not gold; gray, or cerulean, or faint emerald hues - cool, pure, and transparent - tinged with the mass of the landscape.' (p. 527)

29) "I never was in a hurry in my whole life. Hasty people drink the nectar of existence scalding hot: I taste it cool as dew." (p. 574)

30) 'It is burning weather: the air is deep azure and red gold: it fits the time; it fits the age; it fits the present spirit of the nations.' (p. 590)

It's a lot, I know. But I love them all too much not to share! And this isn't even all of them believe it or not. You guys can also check out my favourite Jane Eyre quotes here. 

Victorian fictions are so great when it comes to iconic quotes, aren't they?

Published: 1849
Pages: 622
Rating: 3.5/5


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