Victorian Popular Fictions 4.1 4 Bath

Neglected Novelist or Cruel Necessity? The Forgotten Work of a Sensational Sisterhood


Michael Bath

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In 1886 appeared a late sensation novel called A Cruel Necessity by Evangeline Smith. Despite favourable reviews, the novel never sold well because of the unreliability of its publisher. It is of interest today because of what it tells us about domestic collaborative writing practices, because of its clear engagement with Milton, and because of its working out of religious debates. Making use of the Smith family diaries now in Dorset History Centre along with printed materials concerning the family, this article continues work first published in 1973 by exploring the novel in two new ways. First, after an introduction, I show how the diaries reveal the novel to be the result of a family collaboration (especially between Evangeline and her sisters). In the most substantial section of the article, I discuss the novel’s engagement with religion, as manifested in the recovery of its heroine’s romantic love and of her faith. I argue that the novel exploits strongly Miltonic religious symbolism and action as well as a great deal of Biblical allusion while portraying the social life and Victorian gentility of the established church in a way familiar from mid-Victorian realism, all the while following many of the conventions of the sensation novel. The theology that governs the novel’s resolution is that of the established Anglican Church, with little if any acceptance of either Calvinist Nonconformity or Anglo-Catholic ritualism which were growing in importance at the time. This is perfectly in accord with the Smith family’s conventional antidisestablishmentarian position, as evidenced by material concerning Evangeline’s brother.



Evangeline F. Smith, family, collaboration, sensation novel, Milton, religious debates, realism.

Date of Acceptance: 27 June 2022

Date of Publication: 4 July 2022

Double Blind Peer Reviewed

Recommended Citation:

Bath, Michael. 2022. “Neglected Novelist or Cruel Necessity? The Forgotten Work of a Sensational Sisterhood,” Victorian Popular Fictions 4:1: 63-77. ISSN: 2632-4253 (online) DOI:

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