BELL, Currer. [Charlotte BRONTE]. Shirley. London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1849.
Small 8vo., 3 vols; attractively bound in 20th-century three-quarter mottled brown calf over marbled paper-covered boards, with contrasting burgundy and green morocco labels to spine, five raised bands and gilt decorative motifs in compartments; pp. Vol I [ii], iv, 303, [i]; Vol II [ii], 308; Vol III iv, 317, [iii]; half-titles not bound in; extremities ever-so-slightly scuffed, marginal darkening to edges of first and last leaves in each volume, narrow band of damp-staining at fore-edge of title-page and ffep in first volume, and the odd spot and pencil annotation within the text; still a lovely fresh copy.
First edition, first issue with p. 304 of Vol II correctly numbered and with the uncorrected "Well! said he" on line 1; Vol. III including the listing for the 3rd edition of Jane Eyre on verso of last text leaf.
Bronte's second published novel after the success of Jane Eyre was written during a time of great tragedy for the author, as she lost all three of her siblings while writing the book: her brother Branwell in September 1848, sister Emily in December 1848 and Ann in May 1849. Mostly because of this, many critics have drawn comparisons with her sisters, with the shy character of Caroline Helstone bearing a strong resemblance to Ann, and Charlotte's contemporary Elizabeth Gaskell suggesting that the protagonist was based upon Emily. Set in Bronte's native Yorkshire during the Luddite riots of 1812, and against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars, the plot follows two women struggling to come to terms with what a woman's role is and can be. All three of the Bronte sisters had admitted to their Bell pseudonyms in 1848, and by the following year were highly celebrated novelists in London literary circles. As the Brontë biographer Lyndall Gordon writes: " [Shirley] is a theoretic possibility: what a woman might be if she combined independence and means of her own with intellect. Charlotte Brontë imagined a new form of power, equal to that of men, in a confident young woman [whose] extraordinary freedom has accustomed her to think for herself."
Sadlier 348; Smith 5.