The bildungsroman privileges singularity: the unique and, often, the only child. This essay turns away from familiar literary narratives of a protagonist's personal development in order to examine the narrative possibilities of a genre that instead maintains focus on a group of siblings: the Victorian family chronicle. Family chronicles understand their large families as systems; they celebrate the replaceability of relationships rather than the irreplaceability of individuals. By insisting that a flourishing group can function in the absence of any particular person, they achieve fulfillment not in individualist plots but in group activities and brimful houses. The most influential Victorian family chronicler was Charlotte Mary Yonge. Yonge's episodic form was taken up by Anthony Trollope, Margaret Oliphant, Louisa May Alcott, and Margaret Sidney. These writers’ chronicles are non-protagonistic, nearly plotless, and potentially endless. They have been dismissed as minor works; nonetheless the anti-individualism of the large family chronicle offers an innovative approach to the nineteenth-century novel's tense negotiation between individual needs and group membership. Glimpses of chronicle narration can be seen operating within and against the competitive character systems that dominate canonical Victorian novels. A twentieth-century variant, Gilbreth and Carey's Cheaper by the Dozen, proves that the mutualistic form is also capable of hardening the boundaries around a family unit in order to compete in a capitalist marketplace. Nonetheless, the family chronicles developed by Yonge model a social economy in which both narrative and economic resources are not concentrated on a single striver but are distributed across a system.

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