Why Are There So Few Editions of “Shirley”?

I’d love “Shirley” in a Vintage Classics edition like these.

Why are there so few paperback editions of Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley?  Doesn’t anyone read Shirley any more?

It is not a masterpiece like Villette or Jane Eyre.  Yet I love Charlotte, and it is Charlotte. I have a nice hardcover, but a paperback is better to carry in a bike pannier.  It doesn’t matter if it gets bunged around.

Mind you, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about Shirley when I reread it a few years ago.  I was binge-reading Victorian factory lit, and it was very like Mrs. Gaskell’s Mary Barton and North and South.  Earnest industrial politics, plus everybody falls in love with a mill owner!

I wrote in my book journal:

Shirley is a mess of a novel…. It is a mix of 19th-century cotton mill politics, romance, and feminist meditations.

Well, now I’m loving it. Every rereading is different. A pity I lost my cheap Wordsworth edition.  The choice is between the Penguin and the Oxford.  But I’ll have finished it by the time it gets here, so why bother?


I can’t resist new books about the Brontes. Here are two forthcoming books.

  1. The Secret History of Jane Eyre: How Charlotte Brontë Wrote Her Masterpiece  by John Pfordresher (June 27).  The description says:  Why did Charlotte Brontë go to such great lengths on the publication of her acclaimed, best-selling novel, Jane Eyre, to conceal its authorship from her family, close friends, and the press? In The Secret History of Jane Eyre, John Pfordresher tells the enthralling story of Brontë’s compulsion to write her masterpiece and why she then turned around and vehemently disavowed it.

2. A Girl Walks Into a Book:  What the Brontës Taught Me about Life, Love, and Women’s Work  by Miranda Pennington (May 16)

The description says:  “How many times have you heard readers argue about which is better, Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights? The works of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne continue to provoke passionate fandom over a century after their deaths. Brontë enthusiasts, as well as those of us who never made it further than those oft-cited classics, will devour Miranda Pennington’s delightful literary memoir.”

3. And last year I never got around to Nick Holland’s In Search of Anne Brontë.  Is it any good?

4 thoughts on “Why Are There So Few Editions of “Shirley”?

  1. I’ve read Shirley twice. The first time I liked it more than the second. But I’m up for another reread and change of heart!

    The book really doesn’t get much respect. When I was writing a thesis on Charlotte Bronte in college I didn’t even read it (and my advisor basically said there was no need to). I think it’s worth more than that, and yes, some more editions to complement the millions of Jane Eyre would be nice.


    • Maybe your advisor didn’t want to read or reread it!:) I am enjoying Shirley hugely, and she is as good as Gaskell on the same subject, but people expect so much after Jane Eyre and Villette. I’m so happy to read a Bronte I don’t know by heart!
      Yes, I was looking for something like a cheap Signet–but no Shirley.

      Liked by 1 person

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