Charlotte Mary Yonge was one of the most prolific writers of the nineteenth century. Though perhaps best known for her popular children’s books, she also wrote adult novels. Swiftly-plotted and cleanly-wrought, Yonge’s work has again gained critical attention, in part because she writes about the predicament of nineteenth-century women.
The Clever Woman of the Family is a new woman novel that focuses on a group of women in a small seaside community. It is the early 1860s and British women outnumber men to such an extent that not all women can expect to marry. Rachel Curtis, the clever woman of the title, is an opinionated young woman whose yearning for a “mission” in life leads to tragicomic results. The Broadview edition contextualizes the novel’s ambivalent feminism and pro-empire sentiments with materials on some of the most pertinent debates of the time.
“The Clever Woman of the Family, the fascinating if infuriating novel by that immensely readable but too often neglected writer, Charlotte Mary Yonge, explores acceptable forms of feminine activity in a post-‘Indian Mutiny’ setting, combining traditionalist polemics with a narrative that suggests the complexities of responses to gender and empire in the mid-1860s. I am delighted to see that this important text is now accessible in an excellent edition by Clare A. Simmons. Simmons’s welcome new addition to the Broadview Literary Texts series has a helpful introduction, ample footnotes, and—best of all—illuminating appendices that include well-chosen and instructive extracts from mid-Victorian discussions of the Surplus Women debate, responses to the Sepoy Rebellion, documents of the Oxford Movement, and discussions of the contemporary ‘Clever Women.’” — June Sturrock, Simon Fraser University