Charlotte now tried to focus on her third novel, Shirley. It is set around 1812, at the time of the Luddite riots, and Charlotte clearly felt she ought to be writing a ‘social novel’, rather than reworking her limited personal experiences, and that she must avoid that ‘brutalising influence of unchecked passion’ for which ‘the Bell brothers’ were by now notorious. It was a mistake. The only social question in which she was truly interested was that of women’s role in the world and their career opportunities – an important enough question, but one cannot help feeling the only reason she was interested was that it was her own plight. If Charlotte had been born into a wealthy family, able to write and travel widely without having to work, she would have cared little about the fate of less well-placed women – any more than she could be bothered with the real experience of working people. She pored over old newspapers to study the Luddite riots, while totally ignoring the very similar poverty, suffering, unrest and protest meetings which were happening on her doorstep in 1848, the year the Chartist movement was crushed.
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