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  • Imagining Soldiers and Fathers in the Mid-Victorian Era: Charlotte Yonge's Models of Manliness
  • June Sturrock (bio)
Imagining Soldiers and Fathers in the Mid-Victorian Era: Charlotte Yonge's Models of Manliness by Susan Walton; pp. 239. Farnham: Ashgate, 2010. $71.35 cloth.

In her rich and entertaining study of Charlotte Yonge's representations of the masculine, Susan Walton draws on her dual training as both historian and literary scholar. The resulting book is a valuable contribution to discussions of Victorian concepts of gender. As she says,

By an examination of some of [Yonge's] work in an exact historical context, it is possible to understand better the standpoints, anxieties and values of important sections of Victorian society and to consider the ways whereby she provided prototypes of male behaviour as well as guidance on the formation of manly character.

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Walton draws on Yonge's non-fiction and historical fiction, as well as her novels of contemporary life, and also on material from The Monthly Packet (which Yonge edited for nearly fifty years), reviews of her writings, and a wealth of biographical materials. Walton is also alert to the different readerships and expectations of the periodicals in which Yonge published. Indeed, much of the pleasure of reading this study comes from its basis in thorough research, Walton's numerous sources, and her wide knowledge of Victorian fiction—she makes interesting comparisons between Yonge's Henrietta's Wish (1850) and Charles Kingsley's Yeast (1848), for instance, as well as between Yonge's TheYoung Stepmother (1861) and Dinah Mulock Craik's A Life for a Life (1859).

Yonge's devotion to her father is well known, and, as Walton notes, she had a "deep respect" (20) for his career as an officer in the Oxford Light Infantry and for the military in general, as the repeated presence of brave and intelligent soldiers in her five decades'-worth of novels indicates. Walton makes good use of this biographical material, and the chapters on Yonge and Victorian ideas of the military are perhaps the strongest in her book. In them, she discusses the changing cultural attitudes toward the soldier, beginning with Joanna Bourke's controversial work, An Intimate History of Killing: Face-to-Face Killing in Twentieth Century Warfare (1999) and Niall Ferguson's The Pity of War (1998), then moving back into the Victorian period, showing how attitudes toward the army were already changing by the late 1840s, when Yonge started to publish. Walton argues that this new "acceptable knightly model" of the soldier gave Yonge's narratives an appeal they might otherwise have lacked (27). One character in The Young Stepmother, a weak but well-intentioned young man who becomes a Crimean War hero, provides a focus for her discussion, though she could have spent more time on the divergent models of the good soldier featured in the same book—career-centred General Ferrars, boyish Fred Ferrars, resourceful Brian O'More, gentle Gilbert Kendall. (Similarly, The Clever Woman of the Family [1865] presents contrasting versions of the heroic officer in Colin Keith and his [End Page 199] witty and ironic cousin Alexander Keith.) Walton might also have considered Yonge's persistent rejection of the notion of military society being frivolous and unintellectual, not only in The Clever Woman of the Family, which Walton deals with rather summarily, but also through characters such as Aubrey May in The Trial (1864), John Harewood in The Pillars of the House (1874), and Sir Jasper Merrifield in the Merrifield saga (1885, 1888, 1893, 1895, 1900).

Yonge regarded missionaries as well as soldiers as exemplars of Christian chivalry. Walton's chapters on missionary work include much useful material. She shows how, as editor of The Monthly Packet, Yonge published letters from the wives of missionaries, using them to establish "shared humanity" with indigenous peoples (165). Yonge made large financial contributions to missionary ventures, but Walton argues convincingly that, even so, "her more substantial contribution ... was to reposition the missionary story within functioning, attractive families ... strongly embedded in English soil but stretching their branches across the world" (159). She also argues that "strong familial nurturing" is essential to the "Christian knights" (173) that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 199-200
Launched on MUSE
2012-06-09
Open Access
No
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