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From Realism to Reserve: Undergraduate Essays on Charlotte Mary Yonge’s The Heir of Redclyffe

University of Washington in Seattle 2020

Introduction: by Laura Griffith

Charlotte Yonge’s works have sparked conversations on religion, disability, gender, narrative, genre, and science.

The essays presented here were all written as part of a first-year writing class that I taught at the University of Washington in Seattle during Winter Quarter 2020. The class was a composition class with a focus on literature, and I chose to devote the entire quarter to Charlotte Yonge’s most popular novel, The Heir of Redclyffe. None of the twenty-three students in the class had read the novel before, but most of them professed to enjoy it once they got into it.

When my students submitted their first written work, I was impressed with the originality and perceptiveness of their insights. Perhaps it worked to their advantage that, as Madison Herzig points out in her essay, there were no pages on Spark Notes or Cliff Notes for The Heir of Redclyffe. Without even very many academic articles on the novel, the students were really on their own to develop arguments. The arguments they developed, especially for their final essays, eight of which are featured here, attend to textual details, draw on the most relevant primary and secondary sources, and ultimately contribute meaningfully to the growing body of scholarship on Yonge. Loath to let this excellent material go to waste, I contacted the Charlotte Mary Yonge Fellowship because I knew that their website already collected a great deal of useful information and scholarship on Yonge, and I proposed this essay collection. The excellent members of the Fellowship Committee agreed to lend their platform to these essays.

Download Laura’s full introduction to this collection of Undergraduate Essays on Yonge.

Madison HerzigThe Rise and Fall of The Heir of RedclyffeTo track the rise and fall of The Heir of Redclyffe requires a dive into the culture and history of Yonge’s time and a comparison to what we value in a novel today. In the words of Gavin Budge, “to put it brutally, if Yonge’s novels are of a standard to which it is worth devoting much critical attention, then a convincing answer has to be found to the question of why her work isn’t better known.” (Budge 27) This essay will trace the history and culture that made Yonge popular and argue that she lost popularity because of a cultural shift to today’s society.
Jazlyn SelvasinghSpirit and Substance’: Exploring Charlotte Yonge’s Views of WomenYonge deliberately expresses both protofeminist and antifeminist stances in her writing. Detractors who attempt to classify Yonge as a protofeminist or antifeminist are not considering the multitude of factors that influence her attitudes towards women as well as the mixed views she conveys to readers in her writing. It is important that readers do not fall into the trap of relegating Yonge to the title of protofeminist or antifeminist because it will cause them to miss subtleties of The Heir of Redclyffe and not appreciate the complex context that the novel was written in.
Caitlyn ChauTemptation and Masculinity in Charlotte Yonge’s The Heir of RedclyffeBy placing Philip and Guy in constant conflict, Yonge pits these two depictions of masculinity against each other: a feminized version versus a traditional one. Ultimately, the feminine triumphs over the traditional. At first glance, this appears to defy Victorian gender ideals; however, a more thorough analysis of masculinity during this period reveals a more complicated scene.
Bridget WipflerUnseen Realities in Victorian RealismWith strategies like foreshadowing, Yonge purposefully corrupts the status quo in order to combat her readers’ sense of rigidity regarding their social, emotional, or physical position in life. In employing such an understated manner of writing, Yonge weaves together the more nuanced, separate stories of conflicted Sintram and generous Jesus Christ into the primary plot of The Heir. As a result, Yonge follows her fellow author and role model, Fouqué, in preaching the necessity to resist the constraints of society by taking into consideration the potential that every character—every person—possesses.
Joshua KwokThe Parallel Between Guy Morville and Jesus Christ in The Heir of RedclyffeWhy did she spend nine seemingly unnecessary chapters trying to justify and resolve the character of Philip? I argue that, in order to understand the reason for these choices, it is important to realize the rhetorical situations The Heir of Redclyffe was written in. In particular, I will be examining how Yonge’s involvement in the Oxford Movement influenced the way she wrote the character of Guy Morville and portrayed Guy as a Christlike figure. Yonge parallels Guy and Jesus Christ to inform and persuade her readers, who may be Christians, of Tractarian thinking and principles.
Ryan BrownellThe Nature of Tractarianism in The Heir of Redclyffe: The English Romantic period’s influence on Tractarianism and the natural world in Charlotte Yonge’s The Heir of RedclyffeCharlotte Yonge was one of the most celebrated writers of the Victorian era. She was much more than a writer though. She was a missionary, Sunday school teacher, editor, and nature enthusiast. These influences often made their way into her novels, The Heir of Redclyffe being no exception. Through her childhood influences of Tractarianism and enthusiasm for nature, Yonge connects English Romantic characteristics like spirituality and vivid descriptions of nature, such as flowers, landscapes and celestial bodies, to Christianity and morality.
Suh Young ChoiVirgil’s Aeneid and The Heir of RedclyffeThe comparison of Philip to Aeneas, the most esteemed classical hero in the Victorian period, shows how the novel really focuses on him rather than on Guy. Taking Philip as an epic hero makes his actions appear more sympathetic to the reader and shows how classical standards were as much a factor in Victorian literature as other cultural and religious influences.
Eileen ArataWho’s playing that Music? Charlotte Yonge and Victorian Music CultureCharlotte Yonge never missed an opportunity to demonstrate proper morals within her novel. Whether a character battled their inner demons or gave helpful advice, morality seeped through the pages of the text and, hopefully, into the reader’s life. One recurring tool Yonge used to deliver this message was music. Despite being simply a common pastime for the landed gentry, Guy and Mr. Dixon’s varying relationships with music give it a deeper meaning in the novel. Yonge uses this developing art form to show how music itself is neither fundamentally good nor bad; its use reflects the morality and religious devotion of the individual playing it.