Quotations from Shirley

Even a Charlotte Bronte book that isn't my favorite contains copious quantities of gems. The following is a selection of the passages I highlighted while reading the book.



(General examples of her beautiful prose stylings)


Of late years an abundant shower of curates has fallen upon the north of England: they lie very thick on the hills; every parish has one or more of them; they are young enough to be very active, and ought to be doing a great deal of good. But not of late years are we about to speak; we are going back to the beginning of this century: late years—present years are dusty, sunburnt, hot, arid; we will evade the noon, forget it in siesta, pass the midday in slumber, and dream of dawn.

(The book's opening paragraph, packed with information and imagery)


The want of veneration, too, made him dead at heart to the electric delight of admiring what is admirable[.]

(Interesting to see the word "electric" in a mid-1800s book, decades before widespread availability of electric power)


It may be remarked, in passing, that the general character of her conversation that evening, whether serious or sprightly, grave or gay, was as of something untaught, unstudied, intuitive, fitful--when once gone, no more to be reproduced as it had been than the glancing ray of the meteor, than the tints of the dew-gem, than the colour or form of the sunset cloud, than the fleeting and glittering ripple varying the flow of a rivulet.


She keeps her dark old manor-house light and bright with her cheery presence. The gallery and the low-ceiled chambers that open into it have learned lively echoes from her voice; the dim entrance-hall, with its one window, has grown pleasantly accustomed to the frequent rustle of a silk dress, as its wearer sweeps across from room to room, now carrying flowers to the barbarous peach-bloom salon, now entering the dining-room to open its casements and let in the scent of mignonette and sweet-briar, anon bringing plants from the staircase window to place in the sun at the open porch door.


How she had caught the fever (fever it was) she could not tell. Probably in her late walk home, some sweet, poisoned breeze, redolent of honey-dew and miasma, had passed into her lungs and veins, and finding there already a fever of mental excitement, and a languor of long conflict and habitual sadness, had fanned the spark to flame, and left a well-lit fire behind it.


MacTurk, being summoned, came with steed afoam. He was one of those surgeons whom it is dangerous to vex — abrupt in his best moods, in his worst savage. On seeing Moore's state he relieved his feelings by a little flowery language, with which it is not necessary to strew the present page. A bouquet or two of the choicest blossoms fell on the unperturbed head of one Mr. Graves, a stony young assistant he usually carried about with him; with a second nosegay he gifted another young gentleman in his train — an interesting fac-simile of himself, being indeed his own son; but the full corbeille of blushing bloom fell to the lot of meddling womankind, en masse.


Martin had planned well. He had laid out a dexterously concerted scheme for his private amusement. But older and wiser schemers than he are often doomed to see their finest-spun projects swept to annihilation by the sudden broom of Fate, that fell housewife whose red arm none can control.




(She had unmatched skill at painting word pictures of the natural world.)

He could walk miles on the most varying April day and never see the beautiful dallying of earth and heaven--never mark when a sunbeam kissed the hill-tops, making them smile clear in green light, or when a shower wept over them, hiding their crests with the low-hanging, dishevelled tresses of a cloud.


They looked down on the deep valley robed in May raiment; on varied meads, some pearled with daisies, and some golden with king-cups. To-day all this young verdure smiled clear in sunlight; transparent emerald and amber gleams played over it.


I know groups of trees that ravish the eye with their perfect, picture-like effects — rude oak, delicate birch, glossy beech, clustered in contrast; and ash trees stately as Saul, standing isolated; and superannuated wood-giants clad in bright shrouds of ivy.


A fresh wind swept off the silver-white, deep-piled rain-clouds, bearing them, mass on mass, to the eastern horizon, on whose verge they dwindled, and behind whose rim they disappeared, leaving the vault behind all pure blue space, ready for the reign of the summer sun.


The hour was now that of dusk. A clear air favoured the kindling of the stars.

(so vivid with so few words)


The day being fine, or at least fair — for soft clouds curtained the sun, and a dim but not chill or waterish haze slept blue on the hills


The wind cannot rest; it hurries sobbing over hills of sullen outline, colourless with twilight and mist.


[A] pale haze, stationary in the atmosphere, seemed to rob of all depth of tone the blue of heaven, of all freshness the verdure of earth, and of all glow the light of day.




(The book's namesake was a fascinating mixture of perfection and "attitude.")


To her had not been denied the gift of beauty. It was not absolutely necessary to know her in order to like her; she was fair enough to please, even at the first view. Her shape suited her age: it was girlish, light, and pliant; every curve was neat, every limb proportionate; her face was expressive and gentle; her eyes were handsome, and gifted at times with a winning beam that stole into the heart, with a language that spoke softly to the affections. Her mouth was very pretty; she had a delicate skin, and a fine flow of brown hair, which she knew how to arrange with taste; curls became her, and she possessed them in picturesque profusion. Her style of dress announced taste in the wearer — very unobtrusive in fashion, far from costly in material, but suitable in colour to the fair complexion with which it contrasted, and in make to the slight form which it draped. Her present winter garb was of merino — the same soft shade of brown as her hair; the little collar round her neck lay over a pink ribbon, and was fastened with a pink knot. She wore no other decoration.

(I find some descriptions of Shirley's virtual perfection to be a bit over the top)


"It is my misfortune and habit, I know, to think of myself paramount to anybody else; but who is not like me in that respect? However, when Captain Keeldar is made comfortable, accommodated with all he wants, including a sensible, genial comrade, it gives him a thorough pleasure to devote his spare efforts to making that comrade happy."

(Shirley occasionally referred to herself as a man, perhaps to claim a sense of power in that radically patriarchal time)


"Do you mean to stay long, Shirley?"

"Yes. I am come to have my tea, and must have it before I go. I shall take the liberty, then, of removing my bonnet, without being asked."

(Shirley felt free to skip some social niceties)


Perfect health was Shirley's enviable portion. Though warm-hearted and sympathetic, she was not nervous; powerful emotions could rouse and sway without exhausting her spirit. The tempest troubled and shook her while it lasted, but it left her elasticity unbent, and her freshness quite unblighted. As every day brought her stimulating emotion, so every night yielded her recreating rest. Caroline now watched her sleeping, and read the serenity of her mind in the beauty of her happy countenance.

(Another depiction of Shirley's flawlessness)


The still parlour, the clean hearth, the window opening on the twilight sky, and showing its "sweet regent," new throned and glorious, suffice to make earth an Eden, life a poem, for Shirley. A still, deep, inborn delight glows in her young veins, unmingled, untroubled, not to be reached or ravished by human agency, because by no human agency bestowed--the pure gift of God to His creature, the free dower of Nature to her child. This joy gives her experience of a genii-life. Buoyant, by green steps, by glad hills, all verdure and light, she reaches a station scarcely lower than that whence angels looked down on the dreamer of Bethel, and her eye seeks, and her soul possesses, the vision of life as she wishes it. No, not as she wishes it; she has not time to wish. The swift glory spreads out, sweeping and kindling, and multiplies its splendours faster than Thought can effect his combinations, faster than Aspiration can utter her longings.


"I may be communicative, yet know where to stop. In showing my treasure I may withhold a gem or two--a curious, unbought graven stone--an amulet of whose mystic glitter I rarely permit even myself a glimpse."


Mr Sympson [Shirley's uncle]: "Is it your intention ever to marry; or do you prefer celibacy?"

Shirley: "I deny your right to claim an answer to that question."


"We were born in the same year; consequently he is still a boy, while I am a woman — ten years his senior to all intents and purposes."

(Shirley, belittling a titled suitor)





(In the early 1800s, when the book is set, women very much had their place — and were often put in it.)


Stick to the needle, learn shirt-making and gown-making and piecrust-making, and you'll be a clever woman some day.

(Mr Helstone, Caroline's proudly misogynistic uncle) 


At heart he could not abide sense in women. He liked to see them as silly, as light-headed, as vain, as open to ridicule as possible, because they were then in reality what he held them to be, and wished them to be — inferior, toys to play with, to amuse a vacant hour, and to be thrown away.

(Helstone again)


When the gentleman of a family reads, the ladies should always sew.

(Guess who?) 


I've seen clean, trim young things, that looked as denty and pure as daisies, and wi' time a body fun' 'em out to be nowt but stinging, venomed nettles.

(Robert Moore's assistant Joe Scott, representing the non-elite class, on judging women by their covers)


He wondered (he remarked parenthetically) what noodle first made it the fashion to teach women French. Nothing was more improper for them. It was like feeding a rickety child on chalk and water gruel. (Another Helstone-ism)   


These women are incomprehensible. They have the strangest knack of startling you with unpleasant surprises. To-day you see them bouncing, buxom, red as cherries, and round as apples; to-morrow they exhibit themselves effete as dead weeds, blanched and broken down.

(The ever-empathetic Helstone)


She holds her head high, and probably can be saucy enough where she dare. She wouldn't be a woman otherwise.

(Helstone's view of Shirley) 


Shirley, men and women are so different; they are in such a different position. Women have so few things to think about, men so many. You may have a friendship for a man, while he is almost indifferent to you. Much of what cheers your life may be dependent on him, while not a feeling or interest of moment in his eyes may have reference to you.

(Poor downcast Caroline!)


"But, Shirley, she is not like us. We are neither temptresses, nor terrors, nor monsters."

"Some of our kind, it is said, are all three. There are men who ascribe to 'woman,' in general, such attributes."

(Shirley enlightening Caroline about society's views) 


Helstone glanced sharply round with an alert, suspicious expression, as if he apprehended that female craft was at work, and that something in petticoats was somehow trying underhand to acquire too much influence, and make itself of too much importance.

(I love that "something in petticoats") 


"Do you know I see a newspaper every day, and two of a Sunday?"

"I should think you'll read the marriages, probably, miss, and the murders, and the accidents, and sich like?"

(Joe Scott discounting Shirley's mind while also associating marriages with other tragedies)


"The dews at this hour is unwholesome for females," observed Joe.


"Women is to take their husbands' opinion, both in politics and religion. It's wholesomest for them."

(Joe Scott again)


"If men could see us as we really are, they would be a little amazed; but the cleverest, the acutest men are often under an illusion about women. They do not read them in a true light; they misapprehend them, both for good and evil. Their good woman is a queer thing, half doll, half angel; their bad woman almost always a fiend.

(Sharp insights from Shirley) 


Existence never was originally meant to be that useless, blank, pale, slow-trailing thing it often becomes to many, and is becoming to me among the rest. … I believe single women should have more to do — better chances of interesting and profitable occupation than they possess now.

(I imagine Charlotte Bronte concurred with Caroline's thoughts)


They scheme, they plot, they dress to ensnare husbands. The gentlemen turn them into ridicule; they don't want them; they hold them very cheap. They say — I have heard them say it with sneering laughs many a time — the matrimonial market is overstocked. Fathers say so likewise, and are angry with their daughters when they observe their manœuvres — they order them to stay at home. What do they expect them to do at home? If you ask, they would answer, sew and cook. They expect them to do this, and this only, contentedly, regularly, uncomplainingly, all their lives long, as if they had no germs of faculties for anything else — a doctrine as reasonable to hold as it would be that the fathers have no faculties but for eating what their daughters cook or for wearing what they sew.

(Caroline still mulling women's lot)


Keep your girls' minds narrow and fettered; they will still be a plague and a care, sometimes a disgrace to you. Cultivate them--give them scope and work; they will be your gayest companions in health, your tenderest nurses in sickness, your most faithful prop in age.

(Tell 'em, Caroline!)


When women are sensible, and, above all, intelligible, I can get on with them. … but when they pine for they know not what — sympathy, sentiment, some of these indefinite abstractions — I can't do it; I don't know it; I haven't got it.

(We know you "haven't got it," Mr Helstone) 


Many besides her uncle asked what she meant, and whom she expected to entrap, that she was so insolently fastidious.

(What people thought of Shirley not accepting marriage proposals) 


You described just now, with far too much freedom for your years and sex, the sort of individual you would prefer as a husband.

(Shirley also has an old-fashioned uncle; hers is Mr Sympson)





[N]o matter that she seemed the opposite of everything feminine he had ever in his whole life been known to admire. For him Mary Cave was perfect, because somehow, for some reason — no doubt he had a reason — he loved her.

(Even Mr Helstone had a softer side)


Caroline, then, is defective; but with my forming hand and almost motherly care she may improve. There is about her an occasional something — a reserve, I think — which I do not quite like, because it is not sufficiently girlish and submissive; and there are glimpses of an unsettled hurry in her nature, which put me out. Yet she is usually most tranquil, too dejected and thoughtful indeed sometimes. In time, I doubt not, I shall make her uniformly sedate and decorous, without being unaccountably pensive.

(Hortense Moore, bearer of many outmoded ideas, plotting to make Caroline more "girlish and submissive")


"This won't do! There's weakness — there's downright ruin in all this. However," he added, dropping his voice, "the frenzy is quite temporary. I know it very well; I have had it before. It will be gone to-morrow."

(Robert, fighting his feelings for Caroline)


"I kiss you because we are cousins, and, being cousins, one — two — three kisses are allowable. Caroline, good-night."

(Robert, starting to yield to his feelings)


At church only Caroline had the chance of seeing him, and there she rarely looked at him. It was both too much pain and too much pleasure to look — it excited too much emotion; and that it was all wasted emotion she had learned well to comprehend.

(Caroline, despairing that Robert has feelings for her)


"Different, indeed," she concluded, "is Robert's mental condition to mine. I think only of him; he has no room, no leisure, to think of me. The feeling called love is and has been for two years the predominant emotion of my heart — always there, always awake, always astir. Quite other feelings absorb his reflections and govern his faculties. He is rising now, going to leave the church, for service is over. Will he turn his head towards this pew? No, not once. He has not one look for me. That is hard. A kind glance would have made me happy till to-morrow. I have not got it; he would not give it; he is gone. Strange that grief should now almost choke me, because another human being's eye has failed to greet mine."

(More of Caroline's despair)


Courage, Cary! Even at fifty you will not be repulsive.

(Not a great compliment from Robert perhaps, but it shows he is thinking of her future)


"I don't think we should trust to what they call passion at all, Caroline. I believe it is a mere fire of dry sticks, blazing up and vanishing. But we watch him, and see him kind to animals, to little children, to poor people. He is kind to us likewise, good, considerate. He does not flatter women, but he is patient with them, and he seems to be easy in their presence, and to find their company genial. He likes them not only for vain and selfish reasons, but as _we_ like him — because we like him. Then we observe that he is just, that he always speaks the truth, that he is conscientious. We feel joy and peace when he comes into a room; we feel sadness and trouble when he leaves it. We know that this man has been a kind son, that he is a kind brother. Will any one dare to tell me that he will not be a kind husband?"

(Shirley's practical side)


The light from the window did not fall upon Miss Helstone; her back was turned towards it. A quiet though rather low reply, a still demeanour, and the friendly protection of early twilight kept out of view each traitorous symptom. None could affirm that she had trembled or blushed, that her heart had quaked or her nerves thrilled; none could prove emotion; a greeting showing less effusion was never interchanged.

(Caroline, masking Robert's effect on her)


[H]is image struck on her vision with painful brightness, and pictured itself on her memory as vividly as if there daguerreotyped by a pencil of keen lightning.

(Caroline is pretty obsessed with Robert)


I worship her perfections; but it is her faults, or at least her foibles, that bring her near to me, that nestle her to my heart, that fold her about with my love, and that for a most selfish but deeply-natural reason. These faults are the steps by which I mount to ascendency over her. If she rose a trimmed, artificial mound, without inequality, what vantage would she offer the foot? It is the natural hill, with its mossy breaks and hollows, whose slope invites ascent, whose summit it is pleasure to gain.

(Louis, writing of how he is drawn to Shirley's imperfections)


He now sat idle at his desk in the grammar school, casting about in his mind for the means of adding another chapter to his commenced romance. He did not yet know how many commenced life-romances are doomed never to get beyond the first, or at most the second chapter.

(Poor young Martin Yorke, smitten with Caroline ....)


"I have twice this evening had some thoughts of falling on the floor at your feet."

"You had better not. I shall decline to help you up."

(Robert joking with Caroline and getting his just deserts)




(Much of the book's latter half revolves around marriage, as an idea and an action. As you'd expect, different characters have widely varying views on it.)


So very credulous and frivolous was she, so very silly did she become when besieged with attention, flattered and admired to the proper degree, that there were moments when Helstone actually felt tempted to commit matrimony a second time, and to try the experiment of taking her for his second helpmeet; but fortunately the salutary recollection of the ennuis of his first marriage, the impression still left on him of the weight of the millstone he had once worn round his neck, the fixity of his feelings respecting the insufferable evils of conjugal existence, operated as a check to his tenderness, suppressed the sigh heaving his old iron lungs, and restrained him from whispering to Hannah proposals it would have been high fun and great satisfaction to her to hear.

(Good old Mr Helstone, viewing women as only he could)


"I am not tempted now, at any rate. I think these are not times for marrying or giving in marriage."

(Robert, feeling war's and penury's effects on his love life)


"Marriage! I cannot bear the word; it sounds so silly and utopian. I have settled it decidedly that marriage and love are superfluities, intended only for the rich, who live at ease, and have no need to take thought for the morrow; or desperations — the last and reckless joy of the deeply wretched, who never hope to rise out of the slough of their utter poverty."

"I should not think so if I were circumstanced as you are. I should think I could very likely get a wife with a few thousands, who would suit both me and my affairs."

(Robert giving up on matrimony, while Mr Yorke sees it as a source of ready cash)


[H]e always says he could never do with a talking wife. He must have quiet at home. You go out to gossip, he affirms; you come home to read and reflect."

(Caroline tells Shirley of Mr Helstone's preferences)


"It is never wholly happy. Two people can never literally be as one. There is, perhaps, a possibility of content under peculiar circumstances, such as are seldom combined; but it is as well not to run the risk — you may make fatal mistakes. Be satisfied, my dear. Let all the single be satisfied with their freedom."

(Mrs Pryor, giving Caroline the lowdown on marriage)



"Scrupulous care I will take, Mr. Sympson. Before I marry I am resolved to esteem — to admire — to _love_."

"Preposterous stuff! indecorous, unwomanly!"

(Mr. Sympson begs to differ with Shirley's approach to marriage)


"'How will you manage to marry, I wonder?'

"'I shall manage it with ease and speed when I find the proper person.'

"'Accept celibacy!' (and she made a gesture with her hand as if she gave me something) 'take it as your doom!'

"'No; you cannot give what I already have. Celibacy has been mine for thirty years."

(Louis records a conversation with Shirley in his "little blank book")


"'[M]y husband is not to be my baby. I am not to set him his daily lesson and see that he learns it, and give him a sugar-plum if he is good, and a patient, pensive, pathetic lecture if he is bad. …  Improving a husband! No. I shall insist upon my husband improving me, or else we part.'"

(Louis's book records Shirley's determination to be under a future husband's tutelage)




(You can learn a lot about people by reading Charlotte Bronte's depictions of them)


[W]ho cares for imagination? Who does not think it a rather dangerous, senseless attribute, akin to weakness, perhaps partaking of frenzy — a disease rather than a gift of the mind?

(One can scarcely credit that Charlotte Bronte really believed that) 


Mademoiselle had an excellent opinion of herself — an opinion not wholly undeserved, for she possessed some good and sterling qualities; but she rather over-estimated the kind and degree of these qualities, and quite left out of the account sundry little defects which accompanied them.

(Know anyone like that?) 


"Think meanly of me, Lina," said he. "Men, in general, are a sort of scum, very different to anything of which you have an idea. I make no pretension to be better than my fellows."

(Robert apologizes for his entire gender) 


Caroline was feeling at her heart's core what a dreaming fool she was, what an unpractical life she led, how little fitness there was in her for ordinary intercourse with the ordinary world. She was feeling how exclusively she had attached herself to the white cottage in the Hollow, how in the existence of one inmate of that cottage she had pent all her universe. She was sensible that this would not do, and that some day she would be forced to make an alteration.

(At least she is realistic about her obsession with Robert) 


In her first youth she must have been ugly; now, at the age of fifty, she was very ugly. At first sight, all but peculiarly well-disciplined minds were apt to turn from her with annoyance, to conceive against her a prejudice, simply on the ground of her unattractive look.

(Miss Ainley takes the brunt of society's superficial views regarding physical beauty) 


"If the company of fools irritates, as you say, the society of clever men leaves its own peculiar pain also. Where the goodness or talent of your friend is beyond and above all doubt, your own worthiness to be his associate often becomes a matter of question."

(Caroline reveals a frailty of her character) 


"There is charm in beauty for itself, Caroline; when it is blent with goodness, there is a powerful charm."

"When mind is added, Shirley?"

"Who can resist it?"

 (The young ladies speak not of their own irresistibility, but of Robert's)


"It was my doing, and one of those silly deeds it distresses the heart and sets the face on fire to think of; one of those small but sharp recollections that return, lacerating your self-respect like tiny penknives, and forcing from your lips, as you sit alone, sudden, insane-sounding interjections."

(Caroline tends to be too hard on herself)


There is nothing the lower orders like better than a little downright good-humoured rating. Flattery they scorn very much; honest abuse they enjoy.

(How ironic was the author being?)


From a man Mr. Yorke would not have borne this language very patiently, nor would he have endured it from some women; but he accounted Shirley both honest and pretty, and her plain-spoken ire amused him.

(Another example of benefiting from being pleasing to the eye) 


"I let you go as a babe, because you were pretty, and I feared your loveliness, deeming it the stamp of perversity. … In my experience I had not met with truth, modesty, good principle as the concomitants of beauty. A form so straight and fine, I argued, must conceal a mind warped and cruel."

(Some people — in this case, Mrs. Yorke — have rather a less salutary view of beauty)


She had been brought up on a narrow system of views, starved on a few prejudices — a mere handful of bitter herbs; a few preferences, soaked till their natural flavour was extracted, and with no seasoning added in the cooking; some excellent principles, made up in a stiff raised crust of bigotry difficult to digest. Far too submissive was she to complain of this diet or to ask for a crumb beyond it.

(How the character of Mrs. Sympson, Shirley's aunt, was formed)



Those are better off who, being destitute of advantage, cannot cherish delusion.

(Louis telling Shirley that Robert would have been better off if he hadn't felt worthy of proposing to her)



One report affirmed that Moore dared not come to Yorkshire; he knew his life was not worth an hour's purchase if he did.

"I'll tell him that," said Mr. Yorke, when his foreman mentioned the rumour; "and if that does not bring him home full gallop, nothing will."

(Robert's courage is widely admired)




(Glimpses of social mores in that age)


The men he recommended to take the kitchen way, saying that he would "see them served wi' summat to taste presently." The gentlemen were ushered in at the front entrance.

(There were men ... and then there were gentlemen)  


The petticoat was short, displaying well a pair of feet and ankles which left much to be desired in the article of symmetry.

You will think I have depicted a remarkable slattern, reader. Not at all.

(Displaying her ankles marked a woman as a slattern)


"If you please, Robert, will you mend me a pen or two before you go?"

"First let me rule your book, for you always contrive to draw the lines aslant.

(Caroline, a pupil, needed help with her pen and paper)


I perceive that certain sets of human beings are very apt to maintain that other sets should give up their lives to them and their service, and then they requite them by praise; they call them devoted and virtuous. Is this enough? Is it to live? Is there not a terrible hollowness, mockery, want, craving, in that existence which is given away to others, for want of something of your own to bestow it on? I suspect there is. Does virtue lie in abnegation of self? I do not believe it. Undue humility makes tyranny; weak concession creates selfishness. The Romish religion especially teaches renunciation of self, submission to others, and nowhere are found so many grasping tyrants as in the ranks of the Romish priesthood. Each human being has his share of rights. I suspect it would conduce to the happiness and welfare of all if each knew his allotment, and held to it as tenaciously as the martyr to his creed.

(Caroline grieves the treatment of the lower classes — and, as in Villette, Bronte takes potshots at Catholicism)


No matter how clearly their little vices and enormous absurdities were pointed out to her, she could not see them; she was blind to ecclesiastical defects; the white surplice covered a multitude of sins.

(One more broadside against organized religion)




(Amidst characters' travails, Charlotte Bronte wielded humor as both a welcome relief and a weapon against hypocrisy, pomposity, and other flaws)


Caroline "was glad to see them" (an unmitigated fib), hoped they were well, hoped Mrs. Sykes's cough was better (Mrs. Sykes had had a cough for the last twenty years)


We even persuaded papa to go. Hannah would insist upon it. But he fell asleep while Mr. Langweilig, the German Moravian minister, was speaking.

("Langweilig" is German for "boring") 


Opposite to him sits his lady — a personage whom I might describe minutely, but I feel no vocation to the task.

(In other words, "I don't feel like it") 


During the late war, the tradesmen of England would have endured buffets from the French on the right cheek and on the left; their cloak they would have given to Napoleon, and then have politely offered him their coat also, nor would they have withheld their waistcoat if urged; they would have prayed permission only to retain their one other garment, for the sake of the purse in its pocket.

(She repeatedly skewers the British mercantile class) 


He was there alone. Hortense had been kept at home by prudent considerations relative to the rain and a new spring chapeau.

(Bronte felt some people would use any excuse to avoid going to church)


To avoid excitement was one of Miss Mann's aims in life. She had been composing herself ever since she came down in the morning, and had just attained a certain lethargic state of tranquillity when the visitor's knock at the door startled her, and undid her day's work.


"All my comfort," she added presently, "is broken up by his manœuvres. He keeps intruding between you and me. Without him we should be good friends; but that six feet of puppyhood makes a perpetually-recurring eclipse of our friendship.

(I intend to call my one-man band "Six Feet of Puppyhood") 


"Hesther, your third son must certainly be a lawyer; he has the stock-in-trade--brass, self-conceit, and words — words — words."

(Mr. Yorke commenting on his son Martin, but really on the legal profession)


Chapter XVIII, Which the Genteel Reader is recommended to skip, low Persons being here introduced

Chapter XXXV, Wherein Matters make some Progress, but not much

(Even some of her chapter titles were hilarious)




(Just as she famously did in Jane Eyre with "Reader, I married him," Charlotte Bronte liked to engage directly with her audience)


If you think, from this prelude, that anything like a romance is preparing for you, reader, you never were more mistaken.


You and I will join the party, see what is to be seen, and hear what is to be heard. At present, however, they are only eating; and while they eat we will talk aside.


[T]hough I describe imperfect characters (every character in this book will be found to be more or less imperfect, my pen refusing to draw anything in the model line), I have not undertaken to handle degraded or utterly infamous ones. Child-torturers, slave masters and drivers, I consign to the hands of jailers. The novelist may be excused from sullying his page with the record of their deeds.

(The use of "his" corresponds not only to normal grammatical usage, but also to Bronte's use of the male nom de plume "Currer Bell") 


[A]s different from real poetry as the gorgeous and massy vase of mosaic is from the little cup of pure metal; or, to give the reader a choice of similes, as the milliner's artificial wreath is from the fresh-gathered lily of the field.


Caroline would not stay to listen. She passed away noiselessly, and the moonlight kissed the wall which her shadow had dimmed. The reader is privileged to remain, and try what he can make of the discourse.


Having brought her into respectable society, we will leave her there a while, and look after Miss Helstone.


His next movement was to take from his pocket a small, thick book of blank paper, to produce a pencil, and to begin to write in a cramp, compact hand. Come near, by all means, reader. Do not be shy. Stoop over his shoulder fearlessly, and read as he scribbles.


Yet again a passage from the blank book if you like, reader; if you don't like it, pass it over[.]


Yes, reader, we must settle accounts now. I have only briefly to narrate the final fates of some of the personages whose acquaintance we have made in this narrative, and then you and I must shake hands, and for the present separate.


The story is told. I think I now see the judicious reader putting on his spectacles to look for the moral. It would be an insult to his sagacity to offer directions. I only say, God speed him in the quest!

(The book's final paragraph)