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The Clever Woman of the Family (Classic Reprint) Paperback – August 9, 2012
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Like Dorothea Brooke of Middlemarch, Rachel Curtis (the 'Clever Woman' of the title) longs to live a more useful and more meaningful life than that generally accorded to young ladies of her station. Like Jane Austen's Emma Woodhouse, Rachel also has an arrogant habit of believing she knows better than anyone else how the world ought to be arranged. She governs her own life foolishly, and with great presumption manipulates the lives of others; and like both Dorothea and Emma, she makes colossal blunders in the process. Her actions, however, unlike Dorothea's, hurt other people more than herself; and unlike Emma's, they result in tragedy as well as comedy. The story also offers a rather unusual and utterly lovable hero, and a Persuasion-like subplot of two lovers long kept apart by family disapproval and personal misfortune.
Like Yonge's other works, this novel has an instructional purpose and a high religious & moral tone. However, in this case I did not find these so intrusive as to interfere at all with my considerable enjoyment of the book. Needless to say, The Clever Woman of the Family is hardly a feminist manifesto - but then, it was the written and set in the Victorian era, when the mere idea that it was not only acceptable, but necessary, for a young woman like Rachel to read and think deeply (as the author quite clearly implies) was pretty radical stuff.
(NOTE: The Broadview Edition includes a moderate number of typos, and some pages may become detached if you crack the binding.)