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Full text of "The Brontë sisters"

26                          THE  BRONTE   SISTERS
a Radical mill-owner's family, various vicars, old maids,
workmen, Methodists, baronets, indeed members of all
classes of society in the neighbourhood, together with three
curates, famous in fiction because drawn with such devasta-
ting though humorous realism.
Shirley is an immensely vigorous and large-scale creation.,
pulsating with life and offering a wonderful range of
characters, all actively at work in house, road, church, mill,
in the full daylight of realistic presentation. As a picture
of Yorkshire life in the 1840*5 (for no meticulous historical
detail of 1812 overweights the story) it is supreme, and the
portraits of Hiram Yorke and Joe Scott are as true of West
Riding millowners and foremen to-day as they were a
century ago. The fiercely independent Hiram, who can
speak both good English and broad Yorkshire when he
chooses, becomes ever broader in his speech the higher the
rank of the person he addresses and the more he dislikes him;
while Joe Scott's remarks on the sharp wits of northern
mechanics and the mincing speech of the 6grand folk fro'
London' have remained entirely contemporary through a
hundred years. But Charlotte hesitated over the title of
Shirley and this hesitation was symptomatic; the novel lacks
unity of theme. There are two master-pupil relationships,
Shirley and Louis, Caroline and Robert, and the interest
veers between the two girls. Shirley (said to be a portrait
of Emily Bronte as she might have been if rich and free)
is frank and proud, lithe, quick, energetic in mind and body,
generous, ardent, and bold; a 'sister of the spotted, bright,
quick, fiery leopard', she would have burst any other novel
of the period asunder by sheer force of vitality. The in-
fluence of Shirley on Yorkshire life and Yorkshire women
is still strong, and many daughters of intelligent and
independent-minded women are named after her to-day.
Caroline (partly drawn from Ellen Nussey) is entirely
different: gentle, sweet, ladylike, modest, a girl of her
century, she slowly and agonizingly breaks her heart for
Robert, longing for work to help her subdue her grief, but