The Thinking 

A Novel by Charlotte Yonge

December 6, 2017


Charlotte Yonge

ELEANOR PARKER recently reviewed the novel Abbeychurch by the Victorian author Charlotte Yonge. Parker writes:

She was a very popular author in her day and, though little read now, she is a fascinating guide to the tastes and interests of a certain class of bright, intellectually engaged young women of the 19th century. One of those tastes is a fervent passion for history and in Abbeychurch two characters – clever, well-read girls of 16 or so – have a conversation of just the kind to catch a historian’s attention.

One is making a collection of ‘true knights’ throughout history – men who exemplify her ideal of chivalric perfection, from Alfred the Great to Philip Sidney. It is a romantic and motley collection, inspired as much by the novels of Walter Scott as by more sober works of history, but the girls discuss with real insight how far they should allow the standards of different historical periods to modify their ideal of ‘knighthood’. Is it right to include in the collection men who committed acts of cruelty which would be unacceptable in the 19th century, since the views of an earlier age were different?

These girls find their own way to a critical approach, balancing the impulse to hero worship or to condemn with an understanding of historical context and how ideas change over time.

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