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CMY papers at Victorian Transformations conference

This page gathers together information on papers relevant to Charlotte M Yonge which were presented at the Victorian Transformations Conference held 24-25 May 2023 in Leeds. The conference was organised by the Leeds Centre for Victorian Studies and the CMYF.

Julia Courtenay had kindly shared her two papers:

Miss Yonge and Friends: Charlotte M. Yonge as a Collaborative Author
Tradition, Textualisation and Transmission: Charlotte M. Yonge, Thomas Hardy and the Christmas Mummers

The following abstracts of papers related to CMY are shared with the permission of their authors:

Esther Hu: Charlotte Yonge (1823-1901)’s Transformations: Gender, Genre, and Victorian MissionsThe nineteenth century was the “Great Century” in missionary expansion with Victorian Britain being the main sender of missionaries to China. By the late nineteenth century, about two-thirds of the missionaries in China were from the British Isles.  Since the Treaties of Nanjing (1842), Tianjin (1858) and Beijing (1860) following the Opium Wars eventually permitted missionaries to buy property and preach anywhere in the Chinese Empire, Christianity’s relationship with China in the nineteenth century, unlike that of the Jesuits in the sixteenth, was ultimately connected with imperialism. Anti-foreign and particularly anti-missionary sentiment fueled the Boxer Uprising (1898-1901) and what has traditionally been viewed as its precursor, the Gutian (Kutien) Incident of 1895.  
Charlotte Yonge’s deep knowledge and understanding of Victorian Missions had extended beyond New Zealand, Melanesia, and South Africa to China and the Far East by the late nineteenth century.  Through closely examining one of Yonge’s late works published the year before her death, The Making of a Missionary OR Day Dreams in Earnest: A Story of Mission Work in China (1900), I explore how Yonge’s novella reflects the evolving view of Victorian Missions during her era, especially in relation to gender.  Research questions include: How does Yonge bring developments in gender roles up to date in The Making of a Missionary (Gibson 1999; Dennis 2022) when the word “missionary” was a male noun up to the 1870s (Cunningham 1993)? How do her characters demonstrate her understanding of shifting attitudes towards Victorian Missions from the perspective of the Society of the Propagation of the Gospel (S. P. G.) (Hu 2022) and the Church Missionary Society (C. M. S.)? Finally, what continuities of theme in her novella does a little known essay of Yonge’s published in 1894 on the history of English female missionaries reveal?
Clare Walker Gore: “Setting up for an authoress”: The Woman Writer in the Work of Charlotte M. YongeIn Charlotte M Yonge’s 1865 novel, The Clever Woman of the Family, the exemplary invalid and gifted essayist Ermine Keith assures another aspiring woman writer that ‘the difference is great between being known to write, and setting up for an authoress’. Despite the ideally feminine Ermine’s success in maintaining this ‘difference’, however, Yonge’s fiction often manifests considerable anxiety about the propriety of a woman ‘being known to write’. A much darker example is offered by the poet Isabel Frost in Dynevor Terrace (1857), who has to recognise that ‘it does not answer for the wife to be the bread-winner’ and give up the work she loves to focus on her domestic duties. Yet Isabel is eventually granted success in her literary endeavours, just as Ermine is able to continue in her writing after she marries: Yonge’s fictional treatment of the woman writer is not straightforwardly punitive. This figure does, however, seem to act as a magnet for Yonge’s anxieties about the proper scope of feminine ambition, the proper limits of feminine creativity and scholarship, and the proper degree of interest a lady can take in remuneration for her work.
In this paper, I will contextualise Yonge’s representation of the woman writer in her fiction and life writing, situating it within wider contemporary debate about women’s proper relation to the public sphere and to paid work. In a period which saw transformative changes in women’s lives and careers, I will argue that this apparently conservative ‘authoress’ offers a fascinating case study in negotiation and adaptation, captured in her shifting representation of the writing woman.
Click here for the handout associated with this talk.
Susan Walton : A good schoolbook is a very profitable article till it is superseded, as it is sure to be in these days of progress” . How Charlotte Yonge adapted her writing of history textbooks in line with educational developmentsCharlotte Yonge’s reputation as a writer of contemporary and historical fiction tends to overshadow the significance of her lifelong involvement in writing history textbooks. From the publication of Kings of England in 1848 to that of Cameo IX, The Eighteenth Century in 1899, Yonge was continuously involved in writing and publishing a variety of non-fiction history books. What had started as a ‘desire to tell good tales to my school children’ in her local village schools, expanded over the decades to include books addressed to different audiences, ages, and social classes. When the Education Act of 1870 made the schooling of children an on-going political issue, it became a time of anxiety and crisis for the schools of the Church of England National Society, now in competition with the newly-established non-denominational Board Schools. Subsequent Education Codes legislated on what should be taught and how it would be administered. History as a subject was initially excluded from the curriculum, but historical stories were recommended for inclusion in Reading textbooks. The National Society commissioned Yonge to write a six-part illustrated series of English History Reading Books for Standards 1 to 6. When new Education Codes in the 1890s allowed History to be taught as an option, Yonge wrote a 2nd series, the Westminster Historical Reading Books, to double as a Reader or as a History textbook. In a crowded market, Yonge’s reputation, authority, and skill ensured the success of both these series, which were bought not only by National Schools but also by Board Schools and were thus used by thousands of children nationwide.
Tamara Wagner : Charlotte M. Yonge and the Accident of TransformationCharlotte Yonge is one of the most successfully rediscovered women writers of the Victorian age. In recent years, her novels have been analysed in tandem with canonical literature in studies of women’s work, historical girlhood, parenting, disability and ethics of care, as well as emigration and settler writing. This increase in critical interest has transformed not just the expanding canon itself, but also feminist recovery work, and yet much of the reconsideration has sidestepped Yonge’s underpinning ideology. Talia Schaffer’s proviso about the temptation “to sift Yonge’s fiction for its unexpected kernels of homoeroticism, gender dissidence, racial assumptions, and feminism” when “doing so ignores the raison d’être of her writing” is more pertinent than ever.[i] How can we most constructively include Yonge’s writing in critical studies or syllabi without having to transform her first? In unpacking how her belief system can challenge genre expectations, this paper explores Yonge’s resistance to ideas of transformation itself: of cathartic, transformative moments, both as a useful device in didactic fiction and in providential plotting. Taking The Pillars of the House as an example, I critically parse how the explicit refutation of instantaneous character transformation shapes her episodic chronicles and drives her self-conscious rejection of catharsis, poetic justice, and conversion narratives. A critical exploration of how especially domestic, everyday accidents operate in Yonge’s novels thereby prompts us to reconsider the narrative functions of transformation in Victorian fiction.

[i] Talia Schaffer, “The Mysterious Magnum Bonum: Fighting to Read Charlotte Yonge,” Nineteenth-Century Literature 55.2 (2000): 244–75 (245).
Grace Oliver : The Transformation of the Victorian Religious Heroine in Charlotte M. Yonge’s Hopes and Fears and Mrs Humphry Ward’s Robert ElsmereThis paper considers the transformation of the religious heroine from the mid to late
nineteenth century through Charlotte Yonge’s Hopes and Fears (1860) and Mrs Humphry
Ward’s bestselling Robert Elsmere (1888). The paper will begin by exploring the
epistemological differences between the novels, which arise from their response to
contemporary challenges to biblical reliability and ecclesiastical authority. I will then
consider the shifting formal role of the religious woman in light of the language of feeling
versus reasoning, comparing portrayals of a ‘religious temper’ (Robert Elsmere) and an
‘earnest inner life’ (Hopes and Fears) in relation to these epistemological stakes.
Yonge and Ward are particularly interesting points of conversation given their early
professional ties (Ward was a member of Yonge’s writing group the ‘Goslings’), personal
connections to notable Oxford Anglican theologians, and re-emergence from early critical
side-lining as ‘writers of their time.’ Despite striking analogies in the plotting and subjects of
Hopes and Fears and Robert Elsmere, these works have received little comparative analysis.
Their exploration of the popular Victorian theme of doubt from different theological positions
and moments in the period provide a case study in exploring the transformation of the
religious woman writer. This paper seeks to move beyond earlier analyses of Yonge and
Ward’s relative ‘anti-feminism’ and consider how their works speak to women’s increasingly
tenuous role in the spiritual economy. The paper will conclude by reflecting on the
transformation of Yonge and Ward scholarship in relation to wider shifts in the reception of
religious women writers.
Teja Varma Pusapati: On Wanting to Change: Women, Work, and Transformation in Charlotte Yonge’s The Clever Woman of the FamilyCharlotte Mary Yonge (1823–1901), sustained a remarkably prolific writing career from her location in rural Hampshire. Apart from being a best-selling novelist, she was also a versatile and prodigious journalist. She presided over the Tractarian Monthly Packet, aimed at a young female readership, for forty years. Despite adhering to tradition and opposing ‘all causes associated with liberalism’, the Tractarians, as June Sturrock has shown, ‘took the question of women’s work very seriously, largely because of their belief in the spiritual importance of good works’ (1992: 28). Yonge’s fiction is replete with women who take on a wide range of work, from hospital nurse to telegraph clerk, from dressmaker to teacher and journalist (Sturrock 1882: 36). The Clever Woman of the Family (1865) has long been noted as Yonge’s ‘pointed contribution to the contemporary debate on middle-class women and work’ (Zakreski 2006: 123–24) but its wider investigations of individual and social reform, and its response to the contemporary developments in the Victorian women’s movement, are yet to be fully examined.
This paper aims to fill this gap by attending to the one strand in the novel that is centrally shaped by these themes: its representation of women’s professional journalism. Ermine Williams, the true ‘clever woman’ of the novel, is a successful journalist, a status that Rachel Curtis, its other central female character, covets but fails to acquire. Yet, Ermine is no simple foil to Rachel but a transformed version of her. The novel, in many ways, charts the transformation of Rachel into becoming a more Ermine-like woman. This includes an interrogation of the principles that made her pursue professional journalism and the sublimation of personal ambition into a wider social commitment. Drawing on an influential and growing body of scholarship on Yonge’s radical contributions to ideas of disability, care, and interdependence, I will show that the novel offers a radical critique of mid-Victorian ideals of self-help, and champions instead, an ideal of wider social development through mutual help and care (Holmes, 2007; Wagner, 2008; Schaffer, 2016; Gore, 2022).
Helen Small (Keynote) : Dirty Work: Charlotte Yonge’s Unsentimental EducationThe Daisy Chain (1856), like much of Charlotte Yonge’s writing, worries over the value attached to educational achievement. ‘I dread his talent and success being snares’, Mrs May says of her son Norman, at the start of the novel. ‘Brilliant cleverness’ of the kind he and his sister Ethel possess needs tempering, in this novel, with real-world accountability: humane, ‘disciplined’ consideration for others. If the ethical terms sound heavily, piously Victorian, the social concerns that motivate this way of thinking are by no means confined to history. This lecture will read Yonge’s work as a route into some persistent questions surrounding the relationship between educational aspiration and the drive for social justice. Drawing on her fiction, her educational stories for children, and her writing about the ambitions and dangers of Anglican missionary work in New Zealand and Melanesia, I take Yonge as a route in to thinking afresh about what part ‘superiority in quality’ (as John Stuart Mill put it) should play in thinking about the value of the humanities, and how ‘doing one’s best’ sits in relation to other, more socially-oriented forms of ambition for higher education.