Sintram and the Heir of Redclyffe

by Julia Courtney

Published in "The Review of the Charlotte Mary Yonge Fellowship"
Edition Number 18– Spring 2004


Sintram and the Heir of Redclyffe

BETWEEN Spring 1850 and August 1851 C.M. Yonge was working on The Heir of Redclyffe. An edition of seven hundred and fifty copies published by Parker in 1853 soon sold out: The Heir was an unexpected bestseller and made her reputation. Its success can be seen as the culmination of her early writing, marking a decisive moment in her career.

"With The Heir of Redclyffe," she wrote in The Monthly Packet of December 189,4, "when I was about thirty years old, authorship ceased, in a manner, to be a simple amusement and became a vocation." Like Abbeychurch (1844) and Henrietta's Wish (1850), although unlike that other early novel Scenes and Characters, The Heir stands apart from the linked novels. Yonge never published a sequel, although there is one: Amabel and Mary Verena, by Susan Hicks Beach (Faber, 1944). Christabel Rose Coleridge confirms that consistently with the creative method revealed in her letters, Yonge was nevertheless aware of the later history of the Edmonstones and Morvilles. There was:

'a whole second part of the Morville story, following the characters to their life's end. This sketch was, never, I think, really written, and though the facts were always at the service of eager admirers who wanted to know more of their old friends, she always said that the public would not stand anything so melancholy, and her literary judgement told her that its publication would be unwise. The idea of expiation of, and retribution for, the faults of youth in Philip and Laura was certainly carried to an unreasonable extent, and it is enough to know that Guy's daughter was all she ought to have been, and a kind of guardian angel to the rest of the family'

(Christabel Rose Coleridge, Charlotte Mary 'Yonge, Macmillan, 1903).

As well as being distinguished by the lack of a published sequel, The Heir stands out as the work which owed most to the collaboration of Yonge's 'Dear Driver', Marianne Dyson. From the beginning of composition Yonge acknowledged that Guy was 'Marianne's son'; the essential crux of the story was Marianne's idea, and the letters collected in Christabel Coleridge's biography show the two friends constantly discussing the developments of character and plot. Christabel Coleridge clearly chose a selection of letters to illustrate this process quite minutely; there is no reason to doubt Marianne Dyson's large share in the creation of the novel, even allowing for Yonge's conscious, conscientious and characteristic emphasis on her older friend's contribution to the success of The Heir.

Judging from the letters, Yonge's 'curious semi-belief in her 'people' was extremely strong during the creation of The Heir of Redclyffe, possibly because of the extra dimension of realisation added by collaboration with Marianne Dyson. Born in 1809, Marianne was the half sister of Charles Dyson, Rector of Dogmersfield and an Oxford crony of John Keble and Sir John Taylor Coleridge. Something of an invalid, she was the author of a number of books for children (significantly, Ivo and Verena in 1842). It seems likely that Marianne Dyson and Charlotte Yonge met when the latter was about twenty and Marianne, at thirty four, possessed

'a fine face and form, a strong and clear if not original intellect, accomplishments, and even learning, far beyond the ordinary standard of educated women, and a manner, the grace and charm of which, in spite, perhaps because, of her shyness, was entirely irresistible'

(Obituary in The Monthly Packet, December, 1903).

Yonge, it seems, did not resist the attraction and during the 1850s their relationship seems to have had all the characteristics of a romantic friendship, although one definitely sobered and sanctioned by the participation of Fanny Yonge, who was also a frequent correspondent of Marianne's.

In the genesis of The Heir, Yonge and Marianne Dyson shared a range of literary experiences, images, motifs and themes gained through reading. Prominent amongst their common textual experience was Fouque's allegory Sintram and His Companions. Marianne Dyson's Ivo and Verena uses the name of Fouque's heroine, is set in the same semi-mythical Northern climes, and in a particularly telling passage conveys the idea, spelt out by Yonge in her Introduction to an 1896 edition of Sintram, that Fouque "saw Christ unconsciously shown in Baldur" (Introduction to Sintram and his Companions, Gardner, Barton & Co., 1896, p xiv).

Friedrich de la Motte Fouque (1777-1843) wrote Sintram and His Companions in response to a friend's challenge to compose a written illustration of Diirer's famous engraving of 'The Knight, Death and Satan'. Yonge was probably familiar with this image before reading Sintram since a copy of it hung in her father's study at Otterbourne House: later she placed it above her own desk at Elderfield. Already the mesh of graphic image and personal relationship is implicated in the response to a literary text: Fouque wrote his story in response to the image, Yonge saw the image and later wrote her story; Marianne Dyson had authored a romance echoing Fouque's text and now collaborated with her close friend in The Heir.

There are further complications. The Heir is not only a novel whose structure echoes the allegory of Sintram but also a created world in which the inhabitants read Sintram and the hero is aware of the analogies between his situation and that of Fouque's protagonist.

For Charlotte Yonge Sintram was a tremendously effective work. In the 1896 Introduction she wrote,

"the tale has a remarkable power over the readers. We cannot but mention two remarkable instances at either end of the scale. Cardinal Newman, in his younger days, was so much overcome by it that he hurried out into the garden to read it alone, and returned with tears of emotion on his face. And when Charles Lowder read it to his East End boys, their whole minds seemed engrossed by it, and they even called certain spots after the places mentioned" (Intro. to Sintram, p.xviii.).

Guy Morville's reaction strongly recalls Newman's:

" 'Nothing has affected him so much as Sintram', said Laura. 'I never saw anything like it. He took it up by chance, and stood reading it while all those strange emotions began to flit over his face, and at last he fairly cried over it so much, that he was obliged to fly out of the room' " (Charlotte Yonge, The Heir of Red-clyffe, edition used Everyman, p 54).

The similarity between Guy and Newman does not end there; The Heir, like, and partly through, Sintram, is replete with pictorial images both implicit and explicit, one being the portrait of Guy made towards the end of his life. The fictional artist is called Mr. Shene and the leap, whether imaginative or topographical, between Shene/Sheen and Richmond is^a modest one. George Richmond of course produced the definitive images of Keble, Newman and C.M. Yonge herself, as well as Sir John Taylor Coleridge and William Yonge. To anyone familiar with the Richmond portrait of the young Newman, the fictional Shene image of Guy is instantly recognizable:

"It was an unfinished sketch ... but Guy's was a face to be better represented by being somewhat idealised than by copying merely the material form of the features ... The beautiful eyes, with somewhat of their peculiar lightsomeness, the flexible look of the lip, the upward pose of the head, the set of that lock of hair that used to wave in the wind, the animated position ... were recalled as far as was in the power of chalk and crayon" (The Heir, p 481).

Also displayed on Amabel's wall is

"Laura's drawing of Sintram, which had lived with him in his rooms at Oxford" (The Heir, p 479).

In The Heir, Guy is drawn to Sintram partly because of their mutual task of expiation. Sintram specifically bears his father's sin against the laws of hospitality while Guy more generally labours under the accumulated moral inheritance of his sinful forebears, perhaps a reference to Original Sin. (Guy is only "the heir" in this sense: the actual Heir is Philip.) This identification is closely woven into the fabric of The Heir ofRedclyffe. Guy, like Sintram, strives to overcome one of his allegorical companions, Sin; he endures a period of self-imposed exile - for Amy "the castle on the Mondenfelsen ... seemed to her like what she had pictured the Redclyffe crags" (The Heir, p. 305) -and triumphs by following his second companion, Death: firstly in risking his life in the Shag Rock rescue and at last in nursing Philip through the infectious fever which causes his own death. The Christian analogy is obvious, and it is a theme to which Yonge returned in The Pillars of the House when Felix sacrifices everything: romance, status, and finally life itself for his siblings. The comparison between Guy and Felix is revealing, contrasting the romantic hero of 1850 with the sober creation of 1870. Guy never grew old while Felix was permanently middle-aged.

Both Guy and Sintram are guided towards holiness by the inspiration of a 'Verena'. Here Yonge makes a significant transposition. In the Fouque original Verena is Sintram's mother, who has preferred the peace of the cloister to the uncouth household of "the mighty Biorn". Sintram is attracted to another man's wife (in fact the story of Paris and Helen stands in much the same relation to Sintram as the latter does to The Heir) and the passions he strives to conquer are of a sexual nature. Guy's problem is 'a murderous temper'. His mother dies at his birth and for him 'Verena' is Amabel, his bride. Thus at one stroke Yonge both avoids the depiction of unsanctioned desire and conveys the holy nature of Guy's feelings for Amy. At the same time the sacred love of Guy and Amy is balanced by the profane lovers Laura and Philip.

Thus far, it seems that Sintram and The Heir share a relationship similar to that between Homer's Odyssey and Joyce's Ulysses as described by David Lodge: 'Ulysses does have a story - an everyday story of Dublinfolk, one might say; but this story echoes and parallels another one - the story of Homer's Odyssey'. Lodge adds, drawing on Roman Jacobson's terminology, 'the structure of Joyce's novel is therefore essentially metaphorical, based on a similarity between things otherwise dissimilar and widely separated in space and time' (David Lodge, Working with Structuralism, Ark Books, 1981, p 11); true also of The Heir and Sintram. But there is a further step. In The Heir of Redclyffe Guy and the Edmonstones read, discuss and in Laura's case illustrate Fouque's tale just as Yonge's own circle had done, so that Yonge (as a realist writer) conveys a common, if significant, activity of young upper middle class Tractarian readers. The mode here is metonymic, i.e. 'it tends to imitate, as faithfully as discourse can, the actual relations of things to each other in space-time' (Lodge, p 11). The bridge between these two modes, and the two uses of Sintram, is Guy's conscious identification with the allegorical hero, a stroke which may help to explain the peculiar power of The Heir of Redclyffe.

Traditional criticism has never quite succeeded in doing this. One is told that 'The extraordinary popularity of The Heir of Redclyffe is most revealing of the taste of the public in the 1850s ... [the novel] appeared at a fortunate moment [when] the ideas [of the Oxford Movement] were attracting a wider public' (Mare and Percival, Victorian Bestseller, Harrap, 1947), and Raymond Chapman notes Yonge's successful representation of holiness achieved in a credible domestic setting. Valid comments, but hardly strong enough to assess a novel which engaged its first readers to the extent that, as Yonge wrote to Marianne Dyson in 1853: "altogether the effect has been much more than I ever expected, and if Guy was not your son, I should be frightened to think of it" (Coleridge, p 191).

Perhaps an index of The Heir's effective combination of the metaphoric and metonymic discourses might be the extent to which the work continues to impress readers. Modern readers generally agree that the power of The Heir strikes on a second, rather than on a first reading, possibly because most are so unfamiliar with Tractarian social mores that the first time through keeps them preoccupied with working out what is actually happening in the story. (Even Professor John Purkis [OU] confessed that he had never managed to grasp the exact nature of Philip's and Laura's transgression.) It is certainly possible to argue that a basic familiarity with the history of the Oxford Movement is a necessity for the Yonge reader. And Yonge was never a great prose stylist: her expression, like its content, is more powerful in context than in isolation.

Contemporary readers would more readily have deciphered the codes of her religious and social messages; closer to Fouque's Sintram, they would perhaps have been more vulnerable to the impact of the dual discourses of the text. Another aspect of The Heir, one touched on above, may have reinforced this response. The Heir has already been described as carrying varied allusions to painting, certainly enough to place it in the tradition of Victorian fiction where 'the pervasive collaboration of narrative and picture in the culture, as the matrix of a style and as a way of structuring reality' as Martin Meisel puts it, can be seen (Martin Meisel, Realisations, Princeton UP, 1983).

To pursue Meisel's method one might align the opening scene of The Heir to an interior by George Elgar Hicks; the wedding scene when the light from a stained glass window illuminates Amy's veil, to the early Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood; and the descriptions of the Redclyffe area to the romantic landscapes of Caspar Friedrich. Interestingly Mare and Percival commented in 1947 that in the Yonge/ Dyson correspondence on The Heir 'scene grew out of scene with film-like rapidity' (Mare and Percival, p 133). There are also the explicit visual references in the text: to actual art works like Flaxman's 'Paradise' and Raphael, and fictional ones such as the Shene portrait and the Morville family pictures. Pervading all these visual images is the dichotomy of metaphor and metonymy, allegory and realism which, as I have tried to show, informs the whole novel and which is inseparable from its relationship to Sintram.

Julia Courtney


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