Written immediately after Jane Eyre, Shirley is a novel of wider sweep and scope.
Its focus is less on individual men and women, although their stories add compulsive drama and tension, than on the individual perceived in close relation with the forces moulding society. Charlotte Bronte chose to set it during the Napoleonic Wars--a period of bad harvest, Luddite riots, economic unrest and the oppression of women--in order to grapple with social and political issues. In her story of two contrasting heroines and the men they love can be traced her wish to reconcile the world of romantic love and fulfilment with the gritty realities of suffering, obligation and social duty.
Shirley is a complex and highly rewarding work, dominated by Charlotte Bronte's imaginative grasp of what is common to all oppression: the denial of the world of feeling.