Why This Room is Special
Charlotte Yonge, 1892
What is written without the salt of life does not live, or acquire fame.
Conditions in the Crimean War of 1854-6 were brutal. As infection and disease ravaged the hospitals, the soldiers found consolation in books. The most in demand was not an epic or adventure but a novel by a Sunday School teacher from Hampshire.
Charlotte Yonge had been writing since childhood. She was fascinated by the world of ‘cousinland’ she glimpsed on her holidays to relatives in Devon, and began to invent stories about her dolls. These stories were the seeds of the family sagas which made her name.
The Heir of Redclyffe (1853) was Yonge’s first major success. It is the story of two cousins, Guy and Philip Morville, who have opposing views of the world. Their conflict resonated with the soldiers because it redefined heroism. It showed that being a hero was not just about brandishing a sword. It was about exercising the Christian virtues of compassion, resignation, sacrifice and penitence.
Sensation novelist Wilkie Collins mocked The Heir for its sentimentality. However, Yonge was popular throughout the nineteenth century, often outselling the Victorian novelists who are still household names.