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INDIAN MUTINY/ENGLISH MUTINY: NATIONAL GOVERNANCE IN CHARLOTTE YONGE'S THE CLEVER WOMAN OF THE FAMILY

  • Kate Lawson (a1)

Extract

In the opening chapter of Charlotte Mary Yonge's The Clever Woman of the Family, six-year-old Francis Temple, on first having “the pebbly beach, bathing machines and fishing boats” of the English seaside pointed out to him, judges it all to be “ugly and cold.” “I shall go home to Melbourne when I am a man,” he declares (53; ch. 1). This early and unfavourable contrast between England and one of its colonies exemplifies the novel's larger project of judging England and English society through values established in colonial locales, a project that reaches its apogee when Francis and his older brother Conrade judge the conduct of a cruel and duplicitous Englishwoman to be “as bad as the Sepoys” and thus hope that she will be “blown from the mouth of a cannon” (340, 342; ch. 18). While the narrator comments that here the children exhibit “some confusion between mutineers and Englishwomen,” the narrative in its entirety suggests that such “confusion” is founded on a reasonably astute appraisal of colonial history and contemporary English society (342; ch. 18). Published in 1865, with memories of the Indian “Mutiny” of 1857–59 fresh in the public's mind, The Clever Woman of the Family is a critique of contemporary England and English values viewed through a colonial and military lens. More particularly, the novel records the after effects of the “Mutiny” – when sepoys were indeed “blown from the mouth of a cannon” – on early 1860s England, as characters shaped by the “Indian war” and bearing scars both physical and emotional flock home to the small English seaside town of Avonmouth (120; ch. 5). These characters, all associated with the British Army, were involved in some of the key events of the “Mutiny,” such as the siege of Delhi, and include in their number a young wounded war hero, Captain Alick Keith, winner of the Victoria Cross. The novel's older hero is Colonel Colin Keith, also recovering from wounds sustained in India. Under his protection is Lady Fanny Temple, widow of General Sir Stephen Temple, with her seven young children born, severally, in the Cape Colony, India and Australia. Together these characters – shaped by their experiences in the empire and the army – confront and then transform the England to which they return.

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