on July 27, 2001
The mention of Ms. Burney in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey is what originally drew me to this book and it has, without a doubt, become a personal favorite.
Evelina is our heroine, sent to town by her guardian to enter society. Her guardian, who raised her after her mother faced an unfortunate early demise, is a country parson. Evelina's father, of noble blood, is guilty of denying his legal marriage to her mother and essentially putting her out on the streets, and has refused to acknowledge or support Evelina through the years. She has now grown to a great beauty and has been raised with a very innocent and gentle disposition.
When thrown into the midst of a worldly London society, she faces one embarrassing circumstance after another. Surrounded by nothing less than idiots, she is faced with many situations which require wisdom and guts. Not unlike Bridget Jones's Diary, Evelina's story is told through letters, which may make this period novel easier to read for some, but may also at times be confusing if you forget who is writing to whom. This letter format can also seem unrealistic at moments but is forgiven as easily as we forgive some of the unrealistic format of "Bridget Jones". Another note, there are so many passes in this book that singletons could almost use it as a field guide to the world of men.
There are some twists throughout to keep your mind turning and your heart flying and sinking. At times, this lighthearted novel is incredibly moving (i.e. Evelina's reunion with her father)and of course, the ending is sweet and satisfying.
Overall, Jane Austen's inspiration is a marvelous, lovely, and surprisingly modern read.
on July 24, 2004
Fanny Burney was a big influence on Jane Austen, but she has significant differences. Burney was an urban sophisticate, sexually aware, and with a taste for slapstick humor--and far less sentimental.
The beginning of Evelina is a little hard to get through, but once the title character appears it will have been worth it. Evelina is a country girl who comes to the big city and makes every possible faux pas. Along the way she faces near incest, a bitch of a grandmother, other embarrassing relatives, near rape, clinging prostitutes, and a mischievous monkey. The book is full of unforgettable scenes that stick with you long after you close the cover.
But for all the humor, the book is also moving as Evelina it traces Evelina's moral growth.
on February 21, 2000
As part of a group read, I picked up a week late"Evelina" from my local library. I wasn't quite sure whatto expect - certainly this would be no Tom Jones, but it wouldn't be Austen either - however what I found was a pleasant epistolary jaunt through a young girl's first season out. A jaunt, which, although begun a week late was quickly finished two weeks early! Customary to 18th century novels, Evelina's history is somewhat romantic, both her guardian and the hero impossibly good (a refreshing novelty, if a little sappy in places. They were apparently active members in the Mutual Admiration Society), and the secondary characters ridiculously vulgar. As Burney's first novel, the work shows some awkwardness in construction, but is otherwise excellent. Readers of modern romances may find the heros a bit formal, and fans of Jane Austen may find the epistlotary form unbelievable, but both they and lovers of historical fiction would do well to invest in this book, which provides an excellent glance into the end of an era, and one charming heroine's attempt to muddle through it. END
on August 24, 2004
Like another reviewer, I too was introduced to "Evelina" through a college course. Naturally I recommend this book to those who enjoy the novels of Jane Austen, though I'd imagine her fans would already be familiar with Burney since she was Austen's predecessor and inspiration. But specifically, as a male reader, I'd like to point out what men could gain from reading a novel about "a Young Lady's Entrance into the World."
First, the novel is written as a collection of letters--mostly Evelina's, though we do get to read many of the replies--which allows us to experience the story through the mind of a young woman in a personal, intimate way. Male readers, both in Burney's time and ours, are given a vivid picture of how women experienced the social world of eighteenth-century England. I must admit that at several points in the novel I was embarassed to witness things I have said and done to "court" a woman today done pretty much the same way toward Evelina--and realized how ridiculous it looks from the other end. The experience has been educational, to say the least.
Secondly, the plot is well-developed and keeps your interest throughout. The two big mysteries of the novel are whether Evelina will be officially acknowledged by her biological father and be reunited with him (he refused to raise her, and her mother died during childbirth), and which of her suitors she will end up with. A note on the two principal suitors: one could be seen as Burney's picture of a man who knows how to treat women right, and the other is quite the opposite. I certainly learned much from both examples.
Thirdly, Burney was one intellectually sharp lady and no man should think this novel is a sappy romance. Far from it. Her exposure of the hypocrisy and contradictions of society are cleverly woven throughout the novel, though of course with careful subtlety since as a female author she was in a vulnerable position (she wrote in secret and didn't even tell her father, with whom she was very close, that she had the book published until well after the fact).
Lastly, the book is just one damn good read. Burney has a wonderful mastery of language and characterization, and everything sparkles with life and vigor.
I'm hesitant to give anything a full score; but this novel not only hooked for me for days but made me want to move onto Burney's other novels, such as "Cecilia," "Camilla," and "The Wanderer." In short, Frances Burney is one of the great British writers and deserves a place on every bookshelf as one of the founding mothers of the English novel. Her first book "Evelina" is the perfect place to begin enjoying her work.
on November 17, 2006
Evelina details the coming of age of a young girl and her introduction into late eighteenth century London society. The entirety of the story is told through a series of letters, generally between Evelina and her father. This epistolary format makes the work very reminiscent of the conduct books which were in vogue in the period and taught young girls how they `ought' to conduct themselves. Indeed the book may have been regarded as an appetizing format of moral instruction for its readers as it delivers the same message as conduct books but in a more appealing and palatable format.
Evelina may be somewhat frustrating to the modern female reader (as I found her at times) due to her tendency to have a bit too much of that `feminine delicacy' which was all the rage in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. There are many instances when she is `overcome' and faint of heart or to put it colloquially cannot stand on her own two feet. Evelina whilst endearing, often falls upon the assistance of the eligible (and naturally dashing and good looking) Lord Orville instead of relying on her own intuition, she is certainly no Elizabeth Bennet (from Austen's Pride and Prejudice).
When making my way through this novel I sometimes questioned just how innocent Evelina is as her `delicacy' seems to fade considerably when it comes to interations with her cousins and grandmother, people who she for the most part disowns in favour of a higher class set of acquaintances. It seems to be more socially convenient and indeed attractive for her not to be associated with those who are her real relations. However I am not sure if my contempt for her disregard of her family is the influence of my own contemporary perspective on the novel.
I found Evelina to be a nice love story, full of misunderstanding, tender feelings and of course a few scoundrels to be saved from. I am sure to the adept reader, there is probably much more to this novel, I always worry when I am reading books such as Evelina which are from a time so removed from my own, that I am missing huge contextual witticisms or ironies which make the book so much cleverer or give it additional layers of meaning, however, even in the absence of a deeper understanding of the late eighteenth century this is still a good read.
on January 20, 2001
When I heard that Jane Austen read the novels of Fanny Burney, I had to see what could inspire the genius behind "Pride and Prejudice".
Burney does a wonderful job in dispelling the myth that there ever was a time called "the good old days". Immorality, bigotry, and sexual hijinks were just as prevalent then as they are now (it was just better written back then!)
Evelina, the pure and morally upright heroine of the piece, writes about her "coming out" period in London Society. Having grown up in the pastoral seclusion of Berry Hill, Evelina must defend her virtue against a cast of characters as amoral, vapid and ridiculous as any in modern Soapland.
There are raves (minus the drugs); acts of racism; narrowly averted incest (and, subsequently, a whole passel of long-lost relatives who come out of the woodwork); encounters with prostitutes; more come-ons than you could tally at a frat party; and even an indirect comment on transvestitism. Through it all, Evelina's behavior goes from sweet refusals, moral outrage, to nearly having a fit of vapors.
However, she isn't completely bereft of allies. There are Mrs. and Miss Mirvan, two gentle creatures who serve in contrast to the drunken buffoonery of the patriarch, Captain Mirvan. Then there is Mrs. Selwyn, the epitome of all that an Eighteenth Century lady was NOT supposed to be--intelligent, wry, outspoken, and possessed of a rapier-like sense of humor.
Of course, there's the hero (whom I won't mention because he makes himself pretty well known early on).
While the writing is not nearly as tight as Austen's, Burney does a great job in styling each piece of correspondese into a mini-vignette of Society's shallowness and vulgarity.
In all, a very fun little book.
on August 23, 2006
EVELINA by Fanny Burney was an immensely popular novel in its day (1778). Published as an epistolary novel, it built upon the tradition of Richardson and Fielding, both of whom wrote of their respective heroes learning to make their way into a hostile world to make their mark. The world as Fanny saw it was one inhabited exclusively by the upper middle class and full of rules that strictly delineated one's place on the social pecking order. Those who are familiar with Jane Austen's relentless focus on formal balls, flouncy bouncy dresses, and quests for marriage with suitably wealthy men will feel quite at home with Fanny. However, where Austen would have Elizabeth Bennett question the propriety of one rule or another, Fanny would have Evelina accept the underlying ideology that upheld the legitimacy of the heavy-handed patriarchy. As Evelina leaves the security of the home of Reverend Villars, who cares for her as his ward, she learns that she may be the daughter of the wealthy and high-born Sir John Belmont. At the beginning of the novel, as at the end, Evelina is the pure innocent. If one denies her flatness of character, it is only because her goodness is heavily diluted with a priggish sense of righteousness. The bulk of the book lies in her quest to find her identity, but the enduring appeal lies in the satiric peeks and pokes that Fanny Burney took along the way. With the exception of the Reverend Villars, nearly everyone else is flawed to one degree. Madam Duval, Evelina's grandmother, is a perpetual victim of ridicule by others, which goes a long way toward explaining her odious character. Her biological father, Sir John, is a pompous oaf who acknowledges his kinship only after he has no choice but to do so. Lord Orville, whom Evelina eventually marries as the supposed hero, is about as full of life as Evelina is of any trait other than her annoying goodness. The lessons that Evelina learns about life from the start to finish are superficial. She learns only how to move about in circles sufficiently well enough to climb that social ladder. Inwardly, she is more knowledgeable, but hardly wiser. Contemporary readers loved EVELINA because they could see that it was a rich vein of oafs, fools, and prigs, all of whom were ready victims, like Madam Duval, to be taken down a peg or two. Modern readers generally read it for the descriptions of a society that are so tightly wound in social caste that they resemble the nonsense world of the cartoon. There might not be such a big difference between the two after all.
on February 7, 2009
Francis Burney was a favorite author of Jane Austen's, and in Evelina we see Burney's sly wit and sharp eye for the ridiculous in her society (and ours!). The novel is about a shy young girl's first visit to London society in the 1780s. In the background is the fact that her mother's first exposure to society went horribly wrong, leaving Evelina orphaned and penniless. As Evelina moves throughout high and low life in the capital, she learns the difference between snobbery and good manners, opportunism and personal honor, and selfishness and love. Will she be acknowledged by her absentee father? Will she escape her embarrassing cousins? Will she elude the seductive Sir Clement or catch the eye of dashing Lord Orville? This is a funny, touching, satisfying read. It will make you squirm with embarrassment, laugh out loud, and cheer.
on April 9, 2014
Evelina Anville, a fresh and strikingly beautiful young woman of seventeen, has only recently learned her true history: Her French mother was disowned by her wealthy parents because of her elopement with an English lord, who then abandoned his pregnant wife and disavowed their marriage. Evelina's mother then died giving birth to her, but had already bequeathed her child to the care of her only friend, the Reverend Arthur Villars. The vicar raised Evelina as his daughter, giving her an excellent education but shielding her from knowledge of the world's evils. She is the legitimate heir to two fortunes and a title, but has little expectation of either. It is Mr. Villars opinion that "A youthful mind is seldom totally free from ambition; to curb that, is the first step to contentment, since to diminish expectation is to increase enjoyment."
Against Mr. Villars better judgment, he allows Evelina to accompany some friends on her first trip to London. Here she marvels at the theatre and the opera, but from ignorance of the rules and customs of society is constantly in danger of causing offense or creating a scandal. "I am new to the world," Evelina writes to Mr. Villars, "and unused to acting for myself;-my intentions are never willfully blameable, yet I err perpetually!" He cautions her in return: "Remember, my dear Evelina, nothing is so delicate as the reputation of a woman; it is at once the most beautiful and most brittle of all human things."
This is an epistolary novel, and Evelina herself is the chief letter-writer. In form and content there is much resemblance to Samuel Richardson's earlier novel Clarissa, in which an educated young woman also finds herself disowned by her parents and her virginity under siege by a clever libertine. But there is also much resemblance to the picaresque novels of Tobias Smollett. There are a number of outlandish characters, including a sea captain whose practical jokes inject much slapstick humor into the novel.
But Fanny Burney does more than just blend two styles of fiction. She creates characters and a story that are the direct forerunners of those of Jane Austen, where social satire and suspense are secondary to her principal character's growing self-awareness and self-command. Evelina's defining moment comes when she impulsively grabs a pistol to prevent an impoverished poet from killing himself; she is shocked at her own ability to take a decisive action. Burney passed herself as an anonymous male author when she wrote the novel, but her feminist sentiments are obvious when she has Mr. Villars write: "Though gentleness and modesty are the peculiar attributes of your sex, yet fortitude and firmness, when occasion demands them, are virtues as noble and as becoming in women as in men: the right line of conduct is the same for both sexes,..."
Evelina is a very entertaining novel that is, in turns, funny, suspenseful and touching. Much can be learned from it about the customs and entertainments of the day. The story is well-suited to the epistolary format. Like most novels of the time its plot relies overmuch on chance meetings and extraordinary coincidences, but, unlike most 18th century novels, it is quite moderate in length.
on August 17, 2001
Anyone who loves Jane Austen (and don't we all?) will certainly enjoy Fanny Burney's Evelina. Burney is really a precursor of Austen, but has unfortunately been completely overshadowed by the later novelist. In its time (1778) Evelina was a tremendous hit and shy Fanny Burney a celebrated author overnight. She was invited into the literary circle of Samuel Johnson, became a reluctant lady-in-waiting to Queen Charlotte because of her celebrity and at age 41 married a refugee from the French Revolution, thus becoming Madame D'Arblay (check out her interesting diaries). The subtitle of Evelina (The History of A Young Lady's Entrance into the World) says it all: Evelina is an innocent and naive young girl, who suddenly finds herself in unfamiliar London society, surrounded by suitable and not so suitable suitors and a host of other characters. Lots of misunderstandings and perilous situations block Evelina's road, but don't be surprised to find humour and suspense as well, for the continuing question is of course whether Evelina will survive Society unscathed. Even though the pace of a novel more than 2 centuries old may be a bit slow for some, this is something you get used to soon enough: the novel contains far too much life, fun and social commentary too be dull.