Christian author Charlotte M Yonge’s book was just described as “the best Victorian novel you’ve never heard of” by a mainstream YouTuber.
When we hear the words “inspiring Christian fiction”, we often think of modern authors like Francine Rivers. But God has always taught through story, from Jesus’ parables to “The Pilgrim’s Progress” and beyond. One of my favourite writers is a novelist who was born two hundred years ago this year, and her work was a great spiritual encouragement to me as a booky teen growing up in a non-Christian household.
Charlotte Mary Yonge (1823 – 1901) led a quiet life in Hampshire, England: a life dominated by church, schools and books. She was in her teens when the Christian faith she’d been brought up in was dynamised by the influence of the clergyman who prepared her for confirmation. He was John Keble, one of the founders of the Church of England’s Oxford Movement, and a lifelong friend. From then on everything Charlotte did, and everything she published, was for God.
During an enormously popular and influential writing career of more than fifty years, she wrote history, biography, historical fiction, hymns, and works of devotion, but above all stories – for adults, children and teenagers. She edited the first magazine for teenage girls “The Monthly Packet” – and none of her readers would ever have thought for a moment that their most important task was to get married, or that God wasn’t interested in the whole of their lives.
None of her readers would ever have thought for a moment that their most important task was to get married, or that God wasn’t interested in the whole of their lives.
Her most famous novel was and is “The Heir of Redclyffe,” published in 1853. This is a lively but immensely moving story about two cousins – Guy, who is rich, hot-tempered and haunted by his tragic family history; and Philip - poor, noble and self-sacrificing, but spiritually proud. They meet through their amiable cousins the Edmonstone family, each falling in love with one of the daughters. It’s a story about trusting God and forgiving your enemies, a book to make you cry – but also laugh, because her characters are clever people who make jokes. A non-Christian Youtube book reviewer recently described it as “the best Victorian novel you’ve never heard of”.
Charlotte’s other great triumph is a connected series of books about large families of children growing up. At the beginning of “The Daisy Chain,” Dr May’s carelessness injures his eldest daughter and kills his wife, mother of their eleven children. Over the next seven fictional years, the story shows how they all cope. But this is also the tale of a fifteen-year-old girl who believes God has called her to plant first a Sunday School, and ultimately a church, in a poor part of town. And she does.
A non-Christian Youtube book reviewer recently described it as “the best Victorian novel you’ve never heard of”.
Victorian Britain looked on itself as a Christian society, and these books don’t set out to proclaim or explain the gospel. They simply show characters trying to live it, and every page is drenched in the author’s joyous love for God. Charlotte’s life is as quietly inspiring as her books. She gave away as much of her profits as possible to foreign missions and church-building projects, and when not writing she was teaching in the local village school – starting alongside her mother at the age of seven, and continuing for seventy-one years!
Her books can be found in secondhand editions online or in bookshops; many are also available via Kindle, and some in audio format.