ENL 6236 Eighteenth Century Women Writers                   Spring 2009


Mar 30    Frances Burney, Evelina, Vol. III

               Recommended:  Jones, Chapter 5, “Women in Families:  the Great Disinheritance,” by Ruth Perry


            Presentations:               Suzette Fisher



As we finish our discussion of Burney’s Evelina, we can begin to draw together some of the threads of discussion we have been developing throughout the course of the semester.  In particular we can address the representation of marriage, especially as it relates to the daughter and her place in law.  Drawing on Perry’s article, we can evaluate Burney’s fictional engagement with the historical changes taking place in her culture.  We will also return to some of the questions posted from last week with greater attention.



I.          Biography:   Frances Burney (1752-1840)


·                    Father: Dr. Charles Burney – famous Musicologist; dedicated Evelina to him

·                    Jan. 1778 published her first novel; paid 20 guineas outright for it.  She was 26 years old.

·                    Very popular (four editions by 1779); Dr. Burney did not know for six months who wrote Evelina

·                    Charmed by success of his shy daughter’s book – he introduced her to the Thrales of Streatham and to Dr. Johnson, an admirer of her work – also to other London literati

·                    Unmarried, she was persuaded against her inclination to take a place at the court of Queen Charlotte – very unhappy there (1786-1791)

·                    Married the penniless French émigré and Roman Catholic, Alexander D’Arblay (1793); despite opposition from Father, they were very happy

·                    Her diaries and journals very informative about the court, French Revolution, breast cancer, life in England and France – these are published after her death and primary means of her literary reputation in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries

·                    Published Cecilia (1782); Camilla (1796); and The Wanderer; or Female Difficulties (1814) to much acclaim and financial remuneration

·                    Also wrote plays and a memoir of her father, after his death.

·                    After her father’s death in 1814, Burney stopped writing novels.



II.                 Discussion


Examine the structure of the novel in three parts as it relates to the subtitle of the work: "The History of A Young Lady's Entrance into the World."  What are the "worlds" she is introduced to?  How does her role change from section to section?  In light of the conclusion, which of the several plot structures we have examined works best (innocence to experience; flawed heroine to rewarded heroine; seasonal excursions).


Compare Evelina’s entry into the world with that of our two other main female protagonists:  Betsy Thoughtless and Arabella.  All three are flawed heroines, but in very different ways.  All three learn lessons of a similar nature: why?  Attempt to make a recursive argument based on the knowledge we continue to add regarding eighteenth-century female authors.


Perry discusses the shift in family structures that takes place over the course of our period (and which we might be able to chart in the literature we have studied):  “The shift was one of emphasis:  the biologically given family into which one was born was gradually becoming secondary to the chosen family constructed by marriage” (111).  What effects does this have on marriage and marriage choice?  To what extent is this borne out in the literature from this class? To what extent is it apparent in Burney’s work?


Evaluate Perry’s claim: “I now think that this compulsively repeated plot premise – the dispossession of daughters – is a mythic recording of a banal truth:  shifts in the social and economic purposes of kinship in the course of the seventeenth century resulted in a reconception of the daughter’s place in the family as temporary, partial, and burdensome” (114).


In what ways does Burney’s story illustrate this premise?  What makes the story of such a girl’s dispossession of any interest?  What does the fiction provide by way of resolving the dilemma? 


Discuss the figure of the father in this work. How and why is it made so central to the plot?  Pay particular attention to the conclusion and Orville’s relationship to Villars.  What happens to Belmont?


We return to the character of Orville.  Is he prince charming or wooden and unimaginative (as Margaret Doody would have it)?  What are the implications for his new role as Evelina’s protector (father)?


Consider the analysis from The Critical Review:


“We could wish her husband had not been a lord, and that her father had been less rich.  Lords and ladies cannot afford to spend their precious time in reading novels, and, if they could, they bear no proportion to the commonality of the literary world.  The purchasers of novels, the subscribers to circulating libraries, are seldom in more elevated situations than the middle ranks of life.  – The subjects of novels are, with a dangerous uniformity, almost always taken from superior life. The satirists complain with injustice of the want of virtue in our modern nobility; when the hero and heroine of every novel hardly ever fail, sooner or later, to turn out a lady or a lord.  What effect has this on the readers?  They are convinced that happiness is not to be found in the chilling climate of low life, nor even where one of our poets so truly fixed it, in the temperate zone of middle life.  – Rank alone contains this unknown good, wealth alone can bestow this coveted joy.  – The title of Sir Charles Grandison, the fortune of Miss Byron, are the least with which our young novel readers are determined to sit down satisfied.  What is the consequence?  Their fates have perhaps destined them to be a petty attorney or a silversmith’s daughter, a grocer’s son or a clergyman’s heiress; fortune positively refuses to realize any of their romantic dreams; and a quarter hour’s perusals of an unnatural novel has embittered all their lives” (562).


Offer your own analysis of the ending of Evelina.  What is our heroine’s status at the conclusion?  What happens to her “family”?  How does class enact a barrier that politeness failed to do in the first two parts of the novel?


Evaluate the role that Macartney plays?  Is his a sentimental figure?  How does the theme of incest inform the novel?


Representation of gallantry – women’s view of masculine behavior in polite society.  What criticism does Burney offer on masculine violence?  (This is of course complicated by Burney’s humor.  In what ways?)


The violence of the novel has received a good deal of critical discussion in the last ten years.  What response do you have, for instance, to the old ladies’ footrace?  To the monkey biting Lovel?  How does this reflect, if at all, the “propriety” of the female author?


Discourse of beauty – Orville is considered a connoisseur of beauty and Evelina is a “conspicuous beauty.”  What role does beauty play in Evelina’s life?  How does this differ from Betsy Thoughtless and Arabella?


Return to the opening apparatus of the novel and discuss the ways in which Burney “packages” her work as a professional writer.  How does this reflect a change in the literary environment from the time of Behn, or Haywood?  How does this professionalism (and the publication of novels) reflect Burney’s current status in the academy? (Think of Ezell’s arguments.)


Consider Isobel Grundy’s point that full canonical status is reflected by a) cheap availability of an author – in paperbacks, for instance and b) accumulated scholarship with easy access.