Illuminated initial R

obert Lee Wolff, who sees many thematic parallels between Linton's The Autobiography of Christopher Kirkland (1885) and William hale White's Clara Hopgood (1896), explains that her novel is actually an autobiography in which “she switched the sex of the protagonist” (378), which can confuse readers, who wonder

were the various women, for example, whom Christopher Kirkland is represented as loving, actually men whom Eliza Lynn had loved? Or—since she had a masculine character and Lesbian tendencies—were they really women all along, whose original sex could be preserved in the novel since it was appropriate to have them loved by a man? It is not always possible to answer, and in some instances it may not be very important: Mrs. Dalrymple, the mystical inspiration of Kirkland's late adolescence, or Althea Cartwright, the heartless vamp of his youth, or even Cordelia Gilchrist, the woman whom he cannot marry despite their love because she is a Catholic, may perhaps in real life have been either women or men, although one is inclined to think that they were women all along.

But "Esther Lambert," the woman Christopher marries, is just as surely a portrait of Eliza Lynn's husband, W. J. Linton (the Frederick Dennis of Hale White's Clara Hopgood) with his sex changed to female, as Christopher Kirkland is Eliza Lynn herself with her sex changed to male. The account of the beautiful and neglected "Lambert" children whom "Christopher" loves, and of their dying "father" bequeathing them to "Christopher," who then marries their hopelessly impractical radical feminist lecturing "mother," is historically true if one changes the sex of all three adults concerned. W. J. Linton's wife did bequeath her children to Eliza Lynn, who married Linton "with more sense of duty than of attraction." "Our roles," writes Christopher Kirkland, "were inverted from the begin- ning and I had to be man and woman both." This was indeed true of Eliza Lynn, but in her novel she inverted the inversion. [378]

Pointing out that The Autobiography of Christopher Kirkland “gives an unparalleled view of radical social, political, and intellectual circles in the forties and fifties” (379), Wolff provides a summary of the novel's plot, beginning with the main character's unhappy childhood in the Lake Country, where he (i.e, she) suffers from the brutalities of both his elder siblings and his widowed clergyman father — a “High and Dry” Anglican who hates both Low Church Evangelicals and High Church Tractarians. A clergyman in a neighboring parish, who scorns his father's old-fashioned views, leads to the his reading Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Carlyle, after which he enters “a ‘mysterious’ and ‘weird’ period of deep interest in alchemy, astrology, Rosicrucianism, mesmerism, ghosts, and the like, and reading and rereading classical mythology” (381) until he questions the virgin birth, and this questioning leads to a “night vision” and conversion experience:

Then, as vividly as if I had seen Him in the body and spoken with Him face to face, I saw Christ as a peasant translated to our own time. I realized the minutest circumstances of His humanity; when a loud voice, like the rushing wind, seemed to echo from earth to sky—to fill all space and to command all time, till I was conscious of nothing but these words: "Man — not God; man — not God." [quoted 381]

Christopher/Eliza moves from Trinitarian Christianity to Unitarianism, finally becoming a freethinker who accepts only in “the truths of science” (quoted 384). “Repetitious, often verbose, sometimes apparently inconsistent, The Autobiography of Christopher Kirkland,” Wolff concludes, “is nonetheless an unmistakenly authentic account of one Victorian woman’s spiritual travails” (384).

Bibliography

Linton, Eliza Lynn. The Autobiography of Christopher Kirkland. London, 1885.

Wolff, Robert Lee. “Mrs. Lynn Linton and Christ as a Communist” in Gains and Losses: Novels of Faith and Doubt in Victorian England. New York and London: Garland, 1977. 378-88.


Victorian Overview

Last modified 6 February 2008