LIT 4386 British and American Literature
Burney, from "The Diary" (241)
POST #2 Group A
- To introduce Frances Burney
- To discuss letter writing and the tradition of women's writing
- To compare the life writing of Burney and Rowlandson
Notes and Discussion Questions:
1. Backgrounds for Frances Burney 1752-1840
You should start reading Jane Eyre
NALW situates Burney as a novel writer in a time when novel writing was disreputable or at
least marginal. Compare this claim with the reactions to Burney's status as novelist recorded in this letter.
Burney's diaries and letters were published within three years of her death and they became
the chief source of her literary fame in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century. These are
consciously and artfully constructed entries and letters. In other words the representation of self is mediated by
other interests. What sort of interests do you think (based on your reading) enter into the writing
of a diary and letters by a famous author?
Woolf mentions that Jane Austen owed something to Frances Burney for having paved the way and made
the novel a viable genre for her. She doesn't mention that Jane Austen pays tribute to Frances Burney
in her earliest and most self-consciously literary novel Northanger Abbey . What does this suggest about the
female tradition that perhaps Woolf fails to recognize?
The introduction in NALW also situates Burney in her family, and this, of course, has
significant impact on who she is and what she wrote. In Burney’s family, she was the third of six children;
she lived in London from the time of 8 years of age. Her mother died when Frances was ten; father remarried
and the children had continual difficulties with step-mother.
After the publication of Evelina in 1778, she was introduced by her relatively famous
father Charles Burney, musicologist, to London elite literary and cultural circles – including Samuel Johnson,
David Garrick, and Mrs. Thrale of Streatham, mentioned in this letter.
She wrote a total of 4 very financially successful (and artistically successful) novels; several plays,
the memoirs of her father, Brief revelations on the emigrant clergy from France,
as well as seven volumes of diaries and letters (the early diaries and letters have been published in a new edition in recent years.)
She played a role at the Queen’s court (1786-1791) but hated it; she left that, fell in love
and married at the age of 41. She married General Alexander D’Ablay, a French émigré and
Catholic; had one son, and later became a countess.
She was predominantly known as Madame D’Arblay – at the time of this letter she was the young novelist Fanny Burney,
now since feminist scholarship has paid more serious attention to her (last fifteen years) she is called Frances Burney.
Why is naming so important for this figure? What does this suggest about the role of names in women's literature?
2. Gender and the construction of the narrative
What form is it?
What part have we read?
What is the audience?
What is the time period?
What is the setting?
Read the opening passages. How would you describe the style? Also read section on 243 on sister-authoress.
How important is irony to Burney's style? In what sense is she being ironic?
The subject of the piece is a social gathering at the home of a polite acquaintance (Mr. Paradise).
What does this immediately tell us about Burney? (economics? Education? The role of women in society?)
Look at her evaluation of the operatic singer, for instance.
Note the people she mentions – for her sister's benefit, but also for the prurient 21st century reader who wants
first-hand accounts of the famous.
The main point of this letter is to tell her sister about meeting Lady Say and Sele. Why is Lady S&S interested
in meeting Burney?
Note what she says at her introduction, page 243. What does this tell us about how women writers were read at the time?
Evaluate the concept of sister-authoresses. Does Burney accept the “relationship” as a sister to Lady Hawke?
How do we know?
Discuss the importance of social hierarchy here. Recall the stress Woolf placed on the fact that
the Middle Class woman began to write. What class is Burney? How does she compare to the Ladyships?
How does she feel about their writing?
Note Lady Hawke’s “pleasure" in writing on page 244. How does Burney respond? What is at issue here?
(amateurism versus successful professional?)
Note Lady S&S’s evaluation of style – the importance of style. Do you get the sense that Lady S& S
knows much about style? Why or why not?
How does Burney respond to the line of people being introduced to her, the authoress of Evelina?
How do we know? What does this suggest about Burney the person?
Note the ending. What is the significance of this gesture? What does this tell us about Burney?
3. Comparison between Burney and Rowlandson
How does this writing by Burney compare with that by Rowlandson – similarities and differences?
Discuss representation of self,
Motivation / audience,
Tone or style (puritan, biblical basis, persuasive; vs. urbane, ironic, personal, dialogue, anecdotal)
British vs. American
17th Century vs. 18th Century
Based on these two examples, can we make any generalizations about women writers "back then"?
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