"Earnest of purpose, vigorous of expression and full of fearless defiance . . . people like or dislike it with an energy the reflex of her own" (Balfour 8). So wrote Clara Lucas Balfour (1808-78) about the writing of her contemporary, Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna, née Browne (1790-1846). For copyright reasons, she wrote under the pen name "Charlotte Elizabeth", but for the purposes of this article she will be referred to as "Tonna", the name she acquired in 1841 when she married for the second (and final) time. Balfour recognised that Tonna's writing stirred strong feelings in its readers and that indifference was impossible; it would therefore seem reasonable to suppose that such compelling writing would be hard to overlook. Yet, over the years, that is largely what has happened.
Tonna was renowned during her lifetime as a novelist, social commentator and magazine editor during the fascinating, but still neglected, time of transition that saw the Regency period turn into the Victorian age. Indeed, despite now having fallen into relative obscurity, she was one of the most prominent and controversial women writers of this period. Tonna was an extremely productive writer: the Dictionary of Literary Biography records one hundred and eight titles to her name. Her prodigious output ranged from early reading books for children, through popular novels and short stories, to social reform literature and deeply intellectual theological discourses. Probably nothing so importantly underpinned Tonna's thinking and work, for the greater part of her life, as her intense spiritual awareness given shape by her fervent evangelicalism. Indeed, this remains the kernel of her identity as a writer: that she is almost inseparable from her religion. To read her today is to become aware, in all her writing, of this inner spiritual momentum.
Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna: "A Life by no means deficient in remarkable incidents"
Balfour, Clara Lucas. The Philanthropists: First Series. 1854. London: W. & F. G. Cash, 1854.
Elizabeth, Charlotte. ed. The Christian Lady's Magazine, Vols. I Ð XXIV. London: R. B. Seeley and W. Burnside, 1834 -1846.
__________. Personal Recollections. 1841. London: R. B. Seeley & W. Burnside, 1841.
__________. The Perils of the Nation: An Appeal to the Legislature, The Clergy, and the Higher and Middle Classes. 1843. London: Seeley, Burnside and Seeley, 1843.
__________. Judah's Lion. 1843. London: Seeley, Burnside, and Seeley, 1847.
Fryckstedt, Monica Correa. "Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna: A Forgotten Evangelical Writer." Studia Neophilologica 53 (1980): 79-102.
Loomer, L.S. "Charlotte Elizabeth (Browne) Phelan (1790-1846)." Canadian Notes and Queries (Nov. 1974): 9-11.
Tonna, L. H. J. Life of Charlotte Elizabeth and A Memoir. 1847. New York, NY: M. W. Dodd, 1852.
Last modified 16 July 2007