Shirley is the strong-willed and headstrong young woman who moves to a small village where she has inherited a vast amount of land, a house, and joint-ownership in a mill. She quickly befriends orphaned Caroline, a quite girl who is pretty much Shirley's opposite and is madly in love with Robert Moore (who is co-owner of Shirley's mill).
While Caroline tries to suppress her feeling for Robert, who she is convinced will never love her back, and wonders about the parents she never met; nearly every unmarried man for miles around is trying to gain the rich Shirley's hand...but Shirley has feelings for someone that everyone least suspects.
This report prepared by Annie
Charlotte Bronte's novel, Shirley, is set during the Napoleonic wars, when political and social upheaval wreaked havoc across Britain, upsetting the lives of civilians even in the depths of rural Yorkshire. Trade is failing and many merchants are faced with bankruptcy. Mill owners like Robert Moore, a young and ambitious half-French gentleman, are forced to turn away many of their workers. Poverty and desperation lead to great tension between the peasants and the gentry, with the clergy caught in between. Robert Moore is too concerned with his failing business to give much attention to his distant cousin, the sensitive and delicate Caroline Helstone, who is secretly in love with him.
When the young heiress Shirley Keeldar returns to West Riding to reside at the manor, the social order of the whole area is shaken. Shirley is vibrant, clever, emancipated, and extremely wealthy; all the eligible men in the county, including Robert Moore, take notice of her. Shirley and Caroline become close friends, though Caroline refuses to admit her feelings for Robert even to Shirley, who she believes is also in love with Robert. Tensions between workers and employers reach a breaking point at last. Rioting peasants attack the mill, but Robert is prepared. With the help of armed friends, he defends his property; many of the rioters are wounded and one is killed. Soon after the attack, Robert's brother Louis arrives in Yorkshire. Louis is employed as a tutor in a family of Shirley's cousins, the Sympsons, who have come to stay with Shirley at her estate for an extended time.
Heartsick and physically weakened, Caroline catches a dangerous fever, and is so long in recovering that it is feared she will die. However, when her long-lost mother reveals herself, Caroline finds a reason to live. She renews her friendship with Shirley, who continues to host the stodgy Sympson family. It is then revealed that Louis Moore once served as Shirley's tutor, and is still passionately in love with his former student. Catherine notes Shirley's strange manner toward Louis and in time discerns that Shirley is in love with Louis Moore, but is too proud to reveal her feelings. While riding at night across the moor, Robert is shot by a vengeful member of the worker's mob. During Robert's slow recuperation, his true feelings for Caroline, hers for him, and Louis and Shirley's love for each other at last comes to light.
This report prepared by Jacqueline West