The Daisy Chain or Trial by Tractarian Fiction

The Daisy Chain, Or, Aspirations: A Family ChronicleThe Daisy Chain, Or, Aspirations: A Family Chronicle by Charlotte Mary Yonge
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I only got half way through, but that was both as far as I could handle and as far as I needed. My two reasons for finally sitting down with a Charlotte Yonge text were 1) she’s important to my research so I wanted to see for myself how she narratively expressed her sacramental theology instead of just reading quotes that say she did, and 2) I read in a footnote that “The Daisy Chain” was written in response to “Jane Eyre” so I wanted to see how that was expressed. 250 pages in was far enough to see how she embodies sacramental values of baptism, confirmation, etc- so I didn’t need to go much farther to grasp her style. But half way in I still couldnt see how, other than being a polemic against personal ambition, this was a religious response novel to “Jane Eyre”. I’m still researching that, but at the point in the novel where a 13 year old boy is morbidly concerned over the state of his salvation when he’s forbidden from Confirmation beause of a prank he pulled on his sister- I had to make a strategic research choice to put down the book and follow better leads. It’s extrememly taxing to read a novel about morally upright children who berate themselves for not being morally upright enough. I know that compared to the religious novels which preceded Yonge’s, her books feature fleshed out/semi-realistic characters rather than unabiguously good or evil stick figures, but as scholars other than myself have pointed out, this genre of religious domestic fiction so directly responds to Victorian concerns that its nearly unpalatable to a modern reader, regardless of one’s theology. It’s not poorly written, just poor fiction compared to what was evolving in the mid-nineteenth century. (Though I’ll confess, Yonge’s characters had me unwittingly subjecting myself to moral self-reflection at times. She really knows how to get to you, and I applaud her for that). I respect Yonge’s proflific literary output and her influential contextualization of her spiritual and social values. I just disagree with too many of those values to find these texts galvinizing in any lasting way or compelling in any literary way. But at least I undertand her a bit better now.

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Posted on Tue, Apr 8th, 2014 at 3:25 pm
Filed under Anglophilia, Books, Cultural Shifts, History, St Andrews, theology.

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