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100 years ago: What do girls read?

18 August 2023

August 17th 1923

Sir, — The article by Miss Rosenthal published in your issue of August 10, on the centenary of Miss Yonge, calls, I think, for comment. She says: “Miss Yonge has fallen on a period of neglect. Her extensive families, her worthy clergymen, her interesting invalids, and priggish V.C.s ” (only once, by the way, does she write of a V.C.) “bore present-day young people ‘stiff’”. After an experience of about fifteen years in helping to direct the reading of the present-day girl, I can only say that my experience has been much happier than that of Miss Rosenthal. Certain of Miss Yonge’s books, more especially “Countess Kate”, and the shorter historical novels, never fail to interest the younger children. I have tested this, year after year. With girls of fourteen or fifteen the longer historical stories always find adherents. And just lately I have been greatly interested to find real enjoyment of what one may call the “family” novels among girls of XI. form age; intelligent girls who have read, e.g., all the novels of Charlotte Brontë and Jane Austen, and have made a beginning of Meredith and Hardy. One other point. Miss Rosenthal says that Miss Yonge “had no sympathy with the widening of the feminine sphere; like her father she disbelieved in liberty for her sex .” True, but did any writer before her time ever give quite so sane, so honoured a place to the woman worker? The respect in which she held, for example, the life and ideals of the family governess was unique among writers of her time and must have had a far-reaching influence for good.



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