We see most of the book through the eyes of two young women: Caroline Helstone, the shy niece of a Rector, who feels stifled by her life, and Shirley Keelder a wealthy young woman who, by her wealth, is able to live life freer than most women of that time.
There is no romance here. In fact, for a while, there is nothing happening. It is also a while before the book's namesake even shows up.
Due to the constraints of women at the time, Caroline is oppressed. She wants to escape and be a governess, but is discouraged by others, such as by her uncle and also by her friend Shirley, who surely does not understand what it means to not be free to do as you wished.
On another note, I'm not sure, but I wonder if Elizabeth Gaskell was inspired by the factory riots in this novel for her novel North and South? I really should have read Shirley first, but I digress. Both novels have their similarities.
I was a little peeved over the ending. The narrator basically ends the tale by snarkly saying, "Good luck finding a morale here, because there isn't one!" So this is a story with no real point. Everyone lives happily ever after. Yada, yada.
This was my last novel of Charlotte's that I had left to read. I feel so accomplished.