Charlotte Mary Yonge (1823-1901) was a highly popular and prolific author in the Victorian period whose work is now largely forgotten and hard to find in print. Her most notable work is “The Heir Of Radclyffe” from 1853. I discovered I could buy very cheaply off Amazon the mammoth complete works in a Delphi Classics Kindle edition. This contains all 53 (!) novels (so plenty of reading there then), together with her shorter fiction, plays and non-fiction. Yonge certainly stuck with this writing game for as well as all these publications she also edited a magazine “The Monthly Packet” for almost fifty years
Charlotte lived all her life in Otterbourne in Hampshire and was involved in a bustling village life and, inspired by her local vicar, in the Oxford Movement, which had High Church sympathies and developed into what we would refer to today as Anglo-Catholicism.
“Abbeychurch” is one of her earliest works published when she was barely in her twenties. The fictional town of Abbeychurch St Marys is in need of a new place of worship as the town is developing with more properties being built. The novel begins with preparations for the consecration of this new church.
Relations of the Reverend Woodbourne gather together for this celebration. The central characters are the three daughters from his first marriage, especially Lizzie, a live wire who pals up with her cousin Anne for many of the discussions that take place throughout the novel. The tone is light throughout, there’s a lot of chat between all the girls mostly about family but it also wanders off in directions that would not mean much to the average modern reader, on fictional characters and historical figures, at some length, for instance. There’s also an extended section about a parlour game which wouldn’t be hard for most modern readers to skip over. The girls’ love of chivalry leads them into making a decision which pits the more uncertain future of the town against the conservatism of the present.
Not a lot happens, in fact, although we get build-up to the consecration and analysis afterwards the actual event is dispensed with in a couple of sentences. Given the author’s strong beliefs perhaps she felt she could not do this momentous sober event justice with her rather fluttering set of lead characters. There is an unexpected fatality but nobody seems to take it that seriously.
This is a light, fluffy entertaining read which would be a good introduction to this author who I would imagine would have more substantial offerings amongst her work.
Abbeychurch was first published in 1844. I read the Kindle Delphi Classics edition.