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Author photo. Courtesy of the <a href="http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/id?1211743">NYPL Digital Gallery</a> (image use requires permission from the New York Public Library)

Courtesy of the NYPL Digital Gallery (image use requires permission from the New York Public Library)

Charlotte Elizabeth (1790–1846)

Author of Patty's Curiosity

Includes the names: Charlotte Elizabeth, Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna

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Charlotte Elizabeth was the pen name of Charlotte Elizabeth Browne Tonna. She was born in Norwich, England, a daughter of Michael Browne, rector of St. Giles's Church and minor canon of Norwich Cathedral, and grew up living within the cathedral grounds. At age 10, she lost her hearing and went on to become a pioneer of deaf education. In 1813, she married George Phelan, an Irish army officer, and accompanied him on his posting with his regiment to Nova Scotia, Canada for about two years. They returned to live on Phelan's family estate near Kilkenny. The marriage was unhappy, and the couple separated about 1820. She moved to London and pursued a writing career under the pseudonym "Charlotte Elizabeth" to protect her income from her husband. She was one of the first writers to use fiction to give voice to the underprivileged and marginalized members of English society, and anticipated the works of other socially conscious writers such as Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Dickens, and George Eliot. Her books introduced many middle-class readers to the inhuman working conditions for female and child workers in factories during the Industrial Revolution. She published numerous novels, religious pamphlets, moral tales for children, poems, and essays, and edited and wrote for the influential Christian Lady’s Magazine and The Protestant Magazine. She was a zealous proselytizer for Protestantism, especially to Irish Catholics. Her most popular novel was Helen Fleetwood: A Tale of the Factories, first serialized in The Christian Lady’s Magazine and then published in book form in 1841, which exposed the conditions of children working in cotton mills. In 1841, following the death of her first husband, which released her from the social embarrassment of living on her own, she remarried to Lewis Hippolytus Joseph Tonna, a fellow ultra-evangelical 22 years her junior. That same year, she published her autobiography, Personal Recollections. She died at age 55, probably from cancer, and her works fell into obscurity for about 100 years until being reassessed by feminist literary critics.
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