To analyze Burney's letters and journal entries
The prose writings for today are biographical in nature and share certain themes and methods with the
epistolary genres we have been reading. Like the epistolary poems by Pope and Lady Mary, these works are
written in the first person and express the point of view of a single person. They also share with the letters
of Humphry Clinker the narration of events through letter form. However, Burney's writings are not
fictional. As biographical writings, her journals and letters
reflect the eighteenth-century reader's growing interest in the development of an individual as it comes to be
recorded in moments of conversation, meditation and narration. As we read these pieces, keep in mind the way
the Burney constructs the story of an individual. What information does she include? What
inferences does she draw? Who is the audience? What is the purpose of writing? What is the style of
writing and is it effective?
Keep in mind also the role that gender plays in the representation of lives and in self-representation. What do
these works tell you about the conditions of writing for women as compared to men?
Reading Notes and Discussion Questions:
The excerpts in the NAEL demonstrate clearly Burney's expertise in narration, dialogue and creating a character.
They also cover a range of experience -- from 15 to 60 -- and subject matter, from light banter to the excruciating
narration of her mastectomy. From gentle irony to intense emotion, Burney's writing conveys humor and
realistic human behavior. She brings the eighteenth-century social world to us with personal
insight, and her perspective as a woman and a quiet observer brings to light a side of this world that we
seldom see in the literature. Here is the embarrassment of a woman denying a suitor; here is Samuel Johnson
gossiping in the parlor; here is a woman facing breast cancer.
Because we will be spending two days on these writings, I would like you to focus your discussion for this class
on all of the entries except the mastectomy letter. We will be reading that and a corresponding article by
Julia Epstein for next Tuesday.
The first entry of Burney's journal often receives attention for the connection between the "nobody" to whom
she addresses the journal and the young female "nobody" of her first novel, the heroine Evelina.
Evelina represents in some ways the non-identity of unattached women in Burney's society. Why does Burney begin a journal?
What does it mean for her to address it to "Nobody"?
The details of her unwanted courtship with Barlow also seem to find a place in her fiction, as many of her heroines,
particularly Cecilia, have to decline assiduous suitors. How does she represent the suitor? What is the source of her
What prevents Burney from quickly dispatching Barlow? What do we learn about eighteenth-century courtship from this episode?
Have you seen representations like this in any of the literature
we have read this semester? How does this compare with the representation of courtship in Humphry Clinker?
The passages on Samuel Johnson in conversation with Mrs. Thrale offer an excellent image of this major literary
figure indulging in domestic pastimes. How is Johnson represented here? How does he feel about Burney and how do we know?
How does Burney represent the competition among "Johnson's women" in this excerpt?
How does Burney represent her father in the journal and letters? What role does he play in her life? Why might this be
What role do other family members play in Burney's journal and letters? How does she represent them?
Why is Burney so surprised by the young, agreeable infidel? What does infidel mean in this case?
Why is faith in the immortality of the soul so
important a theme to these writers?
Burney's encounter with King George III in 1789 is a dramatic narration of actual events that correspond with the events
fictionalized in the film, The Madness of King George.
Burney's empathetic portrait of the ailing king is surprisingly touching.
What is Burney's overriding concern in the
episode on meeting the king on her garden walk?
What role do the doctors play in Burney's account?
What does this episode indicate about the social
strictures that govern behavior at the highest levels of society?
How does gender inform this behavior?
How does her
account compare with the representations in the movie?
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