1860

Summary and publication details        Online text


Publication details, summary and further reading

(Kindly supplied by Amy de Gruchy)

Publication

August 1858–August 1859 serialised in The Magazine for the Young, editor Ann Mozley, publishers John and Charles Mozley.
1859 book published by Mozley.

Contents

In a letter to a friend in February 1859 C M Yonge acknowledged the authorship of Friarswood Post Office and described her sources for it:

Yes, Friarswood is mine and Paul Blackthorn is a portrait of a poor boy who came here at the time of the last confirmation out of Andover Union. All about him and the village boys, up to the end of the chapter you will have in March, is quite true except that the farmer is worse than William Smith was. The further part is, I am sorry to say, all embellishment, for the real lad enlisted, and we know no more about him. Alfred was a boy in Devonshire to whom Jane Moore used to go constantly, and who thought of her as very like a sunbeam. He used to look so beautifully fair and pale with such blue eyes, and his feelings about his younger brother were much what I tried to show them.

In the story Paul, abandoned as a baby is brought up in a workhouse. When he is old enough to earn his own living he is sent away and eventually arrives, dirty and ragged, at Friarswood where a brutal farmer employs and exploits him. However the villagers befriend him, and the acting clergyman, Mr Cope, a deacon, prepares him for confirmation with the other boys. Later he rescues the 13 year old postman, Harold King from a thief, but becomes ill in consequence and is nursed by Harold’s mother. His intelligence and attainments are then recognized, and he is enabled to train as a school master, and in the last chapter of the book marries Ellen King, Harold’s sister.

However in the first part of the book he hardly appears in person and his importance derives from the effect he has on those around him. The farmer and his foreman take advantage of his friendless state, but a rough labourer defends him and Mr Cope recognizes his good character and high intelligence. The village boys accept him and lend him clothes for the Confirmation, while the labourer forcibly washes him.

The King family are the chief characters, and on them Paul’s arrival in the village has the greatest effect. Mrs King, a widow who runs the village post office and shop, with her daughter Ellen are at first repelled by his appearance. Alfred the elder son is slowly and painfully dying of tuberculosis, and, is mildly interested by the stranger. Harold, his younger brother, warmly befriends Paul.

After the attempted robbery Mrs King faces a great problem. She wishes to save Paul, who is seriously ill, from being sent back to the workhouse, as her former employer, the lady of the manor, requires, and she risks her displeasure if she disobeys. She has to nurse both Alfred and Paul at her own expense, and this she does with the full agreement of her children, although they realise that in consequence they may lose their home and have to go to the workhouse themselves.

However the shop and post office prosper amazingly, Paul slowly recovers, Mr Cope is priested, and administers his first Communion to the dying Alfred, Paul, Mrs King and Ellen, while the unconfirmed Harold repents that he cannot take part in the service.

Characters and relationships are in general convincingly displayed. C M Yonge shows considerable insight into the effects of prolonged illness on the patient and the resulting changes in family relationships. Other relationships are also explored. The imperious lady of the Manor has over-protected her grand-daughter Jane, who is therefore alarmed and distressed by Alfred’s illness and needs to be encouraged to continue her visits to him. Paul’s relationship with the villagers is a happy one, and until his illness he is more comfortable in their rough cottages than in the neat and spotless home of the Kings.

The religious teaching is Anglican, but not controversial. The religious language is more explicit than is usual in C M Yong’s fiction with emphasis on the love of Christ and on the Atonement. However orthodox characters such as Mr Cope and Jane emphasize that illness and misfortune are God’s punishment for sin, and Alfred after early protests accepts that this is true in his case. The worst that he has done is to play practical jokes and be careless with crockery in his first job at the Manor at the age of thirteen. Understandably her ladyship dismissed him but he hardly merited the added punishment from God of a prolonged and fatal illness, but C M Yonge endorses the clergyman’s teaching.

The moralising is heavy-handed, Alfred, Ellen and Harold all have to see their faults and repent. The farmer is strongly criticised. Mrs King and Mr Cope are free of blame. She is an example of resignation and he is its chief exponent. Mrs King also acts as the vehicle of C M Yonge’s views on the class system.

The setting is the village and its neighbourhood and the author’s knowledge of rural life is well displayed. However, C M Yonge has some difficulty in reconciling her belief in the workhouse system with its actual effects on people’s lives. She avoids the difficulty by concentrating her criticism on the workhouse schoolmaster, a violent drunken atheist.

The tale first appeared as a serial in The Magazine for the Young which was designed for a working class readership. Probably for this reason there is so much re-iteration of the moral and religious teaching. However the teaching of love of one’s neighbour, made explicit in the action of Mrs King, is more effectively shown in the description of the spontaneous warmth and sympathy of the poor villagers to one even poorer than themselves.

Further Reading

For contemporary reviews see:

L. Madden
J.B. Shorthouse and C.M. Yonge
Unpublished thesis
University of London Diploma in Librarianship, 1964



Online text of Friarswood Post-Office

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