When Shirley appeared in 1849 it was widely known that the author was a woman but that only increased the critics’ difficulties with this hermaphrodite text. Those who wished to praise it sometimes did so by insisting that its main concern was appropriately ‘feminine’: ‘Her main purpose has been, to trace the fortunes and feelings of two girls’ (Allott 1974:123); ‘the principal continuous
interest of the book attaches to two brothers, and two girls with whom they are in love’ (Allott 1974:127). The attack on Robert Moore and his mill are often ignored. The ‘masculine’ aspects of the narrative were difficult to accommodate in a favourable review of a woman’s novel. G.H.Lewes, though he had believed that the author of Jane Eyre, which he originally admired, was female, began to see the work differently when he was certain. In reviewing Shirley he wrote of the earlier text: ‘a more masculine book in the sense of vigour, was never written. Indeed that vigour often amounts to coarseness-and is certainly the very antipode to “lady like”’ (Allott 1974:163). In relation to Shirley the masculine vigour of Jane Eyre is now characterised by Lewes as ‘this same over-masculine vigour’ (Allott 1974:163; my emphasis) and is berated as offensive. He concludes his attack with a quotation from Schiller’s comment on Madame de Staël’s Corinne (1807): ‘she steps out of her sex-without elevating herself above it’ (Allott 1974:169).