In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna

  • Introduction
  • Bibliographies
  • Editions and Anthologies
  • Biography
  • Literary Biographies
  • Periodical Publishing
  • Early Treatments and Literary Surveys
  • Evangelical Protestantism
  • Anti-Catholicism and Ireland
  • Philo-Semitism
  • Journalism and Editorial Work
  • Children’s Fiction
  • Poetry
  • Personal Recollections

Victorian Literature Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna
Ella Dzelzainis
  • LAST REVIEWED: 02 March 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 02 March 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0077


Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna (b. 1790–d. 1846) was an indefatigable journalist and editor; political and religious campaigner and propagandist; and writer of novels, children’s books, and poetry. Ultra-Tory and ultra-Protestant, she was a controversial and influential figure in her lifetime, particularly on account of her forthright philo-Semitism and anti-Catholicism. She was proud of the fact that her children’s story The Simple Flower (1826) was banned by Rome and placed on the papal Index Expurgatorius. Her disastrous first marriage was to an Irish army officer, Lieutenant George Phelan. But his military postings meant that Tonna was able to travel, spending two years in British North America (now Canada). She also grew to love Ireland after living on Phelan’s family estate in Kilkenny. Separated from her husband after 1820, she wrote using her pen name, Charlotte Elizabeth, to protect her earnings from him. In 1837 Phelan died, leaving her free for what proved a happy marriage in 1841 to a fellow ultra-evangelical, Lewis Tonna, who was her junior by twenty-two years. After her early and painful death from cancer, she fell into critical obscurity. But the feminist reassessment of the literary canon that began in the 1970s, combined with the more recent surge of historical and literary research into the cultural impact of religious faith in the 19th century, has meant that her critical stock is rising. Her powerfully urgent fiction detailing the effect of women’s wage labor on their bodies, minds, and souls has received critical scrutiny, as have the contradictions in her stance as a premillenarian evangelical who advocated female subordination while conducting a successful and public career. The growth of print media scholarship has brought increased attention to her editorship (1834–1846) of the Christian Lady’s Magazine, while the burgeoning field of life writing means that her autobiography, Personal Recollections (1841), attracts attention. Since 2000 her extreme views on Irish religion and politics have come under particular scrutiny from historians of 19th-century Ireland.


Shattock 1999 is by far the most comprehensive bibliography, recognizing the full range of Tonna’s writing across various subject and genre categories, and is widely available in academic libraries. Gibson and Holmes 1996 is slightly less thorough, but still very useful. Although an excellent online resource, Orlando is accessible only by subscription.

  • Gibson, Lois Rauch, and Madelyn Holmes. “Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna.” In British Children’s Writers, 1800–1880. Edited by Meena Khorana, 307–315. Dictionary of Literary Biography 163. Detroit: Gale Research, 1996.

    Comprehensive bibliographical list of works for adults and children, followed by a literary-biographical account of the life.

  • Orlando: Women’s Writing in the British Isles from the Beginnings to the Present.

    Includes a comprehensive list of Tonna’s works in addition to a detailed literary-biographical entry.

  • Shattock, Joanne. The Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature. Vol. 4, 1800–1900. 3d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

    Comprehensive bibliographical entries for Tonna under sections on “Early Nineteenth-Century Poetry,” “The Mid-Nineteenth-Century Novel,” and “Religion.” Includes both primary and relevant secondary material, as well as location of archival material.

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