- Shirley is an 1849 social novel by the English novelist Charlotte Brontë. It was Brontë's second published novel after Jane Eyre (originally published under Brontë's pseudonym Currer Bell). The novel is set in Yorkshire in the period 1811–12, during the industrial depression resulting from the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812. The novel is set against a backdrop of the Luddite uprisings in the Yorkshire textile industry. The novel's popularity led to Shirley becoming a woman's name. The title character was given the name that her father had intended to give a son. Before the publication of the novel, Shirley was an uncommon - but distinctly male - name and would have been an unusual name for a woman. The novel is set in a fictional part of Yorkshire, comprising the parishes of Briarfield and Nunneley. The main town of the district is Stillborough. The Keeldar family home in Shirley is called Fieldhead. Robert Moore is a mill owner noted for apparent ruthlessness toward his employees - more than any other mill owner in town. He has laid off many of them, apparently indifferent to their resulting poverty. But in fact he has no choice, since the mill is deep in debt. As the novel opens, Robert awaits delivery of new labor-saving machinery to the mill. The new machinery will let him lay off additional employees. The machinery is destroyed on the way by angry millworkers. Robert's business difficulties continue, due in part to the continuing labor unrest, but even more so to the Napoleonic Wars and the accompanying Orders in Council which forbid British merchants from trading in American markets. Robert is very close to Caroline Helstone. Caroline worships Robert and he likes her too. Caroline is penniless, and this leads Robert to keep his distance from her, since he cannot afford to marry for pleasure or love. He has to marry for money if he is to get his mill going again. Caroline realizes that Robert is growing increasingly distant and withdraws into herself. Caroline cheers up a great deal, however, when she meets Shirley. Shirley is a landowner, an independent heiress whose parents are dead and who lives with Mrs. Pryor, an old governess. Shirley is lively, cheerful, full of ideas about how to use her money and how to help people, and very interested in business concerns. Caroline and Shirley soon become very close friends. As Caroline gets closer to Shirley, she notices that Shirley and Robert get along very well, which makes her think that they would end up marrying each other. Shirley likes Robert, is very interested in his work, and is concerned about him and the threats he gets from laid-off millworkers. Shirley uses her money to help the poorest of the lot, but she is also motivated by the desire to prevent any attack on Robert, a motive that makes Caroline both happy and unhappy. One night, Caroline and Shirley conclude from the behavior of Robert and others that an attack is imminent. They go the mill together to warn Robert. They come too late and have to hide near the mill. But Robert is already prepared and he mounts a counter-attack. He defeats the attackers and gets the ring leaders arrested, the whole encounter being witnessed by Shirley and Caroline from their hiding place. After this incident, the whole neighborhood is convinced that Robert and Shirley shall wed. The anticipation of this causes Caroline to fall sick. Mrs. Pryor comes to look after her, and realizes that Caroline is pining away. Robert leaves for London without any concrete reason. Caroline feels that she has ‘nothing left to live for’ since there is no one who cares whether she lives or dies. Mrs. Pryor then reveals to Caroline that she is Caroline's mother. She had little money; when her brother-in-law offered to bring up the child, she accepted it, took up the family name of Pryor and went off to become a governess. Caroline now has a reason to live - her ‘mamma’. She begins to recover slowly, since she knows that she can go and live with her mother. Robert returns one dark night, Robert had proposed to Shirley before he left for London. But Shirley had at first laughed, thinking that he was not serious, and cried when she discovered that he was. She had told him that she knew that he did not love her, that he asked for her hand not for her but for her money and this decreased her respect for him. When Robert had argued that Shirley had shown concern for him, been open with him from the very beginning and discussed his business matters at length with him, she had said that she had esteem and affection for him, but not love and now even that esteem and affection were in danger. Robert walked away from that room filled with a sense of humiliation, even as he knew that she was right - that he had ignored his affection for Caroline and sought out Shirley primarily for her money. This self-disgust drove Robert away to London and he realized while there that restoring the family name was not as important as self-respect and he had returned home, determined to close the mill if he had to. Just as Robert finishes his narration, his friend hears a gunshot and Robert falls from his horse - the laid-off workers are finally avenged. The friend takes Robert to his own home and looks after him, and after a turn for the worse, Robert slowly gets better. A visit from Caroline revives him but she has to come secretly, hiding from her uncle and his friend and his family. Robert soon moves back to his house and persuades his sister that the very thing the house needs to cheer it up is a visit by Caroline. Robert asks for Caroline’s forgiveness and tries to tell her what had happened with Shirley, but she stops him and tells him that she has forgiven him. She also predicts that Shirley is in love too, and that she is not ‘master of her own heart’. The novel ends with Caroline and Shirley marrying the two brothers, Robert and Louis, respectively.