- Series: Oxford World's Classics
- Paperback: 512 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (December 15, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0199536937
- ISBN-13: 978-0199536931
- Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 1 x 5.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 119 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #326,686 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Evelina (Oxford World's Classics) 1st Edition
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`Fanny Burney's first novel Evelina was the chick-lit novel of 1778 - all about a young girl's adventures in London, and one of the best of its kind ever written...the Oxford World's Classics edition has a knowledgeable preface by Edward A. Bloom' Derwent May, the Times
From the Back Cover
EVELINA TELLS THE STORY OF A YOUNG GIRL, FRESH FROM THE PROVINCES, WHOSE INITIATION INTO THE WAYS OF THE WORLD IS FREQUENTLY PAINFUL, THOUGH IT LEADS TO SELF-DISCOVERY, MORAL GROWTH, AND FINALLY, HAPPINESS. THIS NOVEL REVEALS SUPERBLY THE LIFE AND TEMPER OF EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY ENGLAND, AS SEEN THROUGH THE CURIOSITY OF IT YOUNG HEROINE.
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Lady Howard, the martriarch of the Mirvan family that lives near the Villars home invites Evelina to come with her and her family to London for a stay of around 2-3 months. Villars is torn between knowing that Evelina needs to see the world and meet other people besides himself and the need to protect her. He is worried that once she samples all the fine things of the city, she will never be satisfied with the simple life she leads with him. He also knows the kind of con artists, rakes, and money chasers that reside in London, and worries about her falling into corruption like her mother. Nevertheless, he accedes to the request, mostly because he knows Evelina wants to go.
In London, she enters an entirely new world of balls, promenades, parks, operas, and other amusements that almost overwhelm her. She is also approached by buffoons, libertines, and other less than scrupulous characters looking to seduce her. She does meet a guy she's interested in, the much older Lord Orville. Even though she's attracted to him she hears that he doesn't have much opinion of her, probably seeing as how she gets tongue tied everytime he addresses her directly. Evelina is afraid he must think her quite the foolish little girl. One of his acquaintances, Sir Clement Willoughby, on the other hand, seems QUITE interested in Evelina, even to the point of putting her in compromising situations.
Things get more complicated as Evelina's grandmother, Ms. Duval, arrives in a surprise visit from France to take Evelina back to the Continent, even though Evelina doesn't want to go. It doesn't help matters that Mrs. Mirvan's husband, Captain Mirvan, being a miltary man, absolutely HATES French people! The Captain spends most of his time figuring out how to make Ms. Duval angry, whether with his words, or through practical jokes. He finds Sir Clement an able accomplice in his fun and games.
When I think about this book, I am just amazed that a 16-year-old girl had to go thru these experiences back then. This book was first published in 1778, so I'm sure the average life expectancy was in the 40s so people married a lot younger. While the Mirvan family helps her and serves as a kind of buffer between Evelina and London, it doesn't seem like they put all their heart into protecting her from cads like Willoughby or even of Ms. Duval, who has a violent temper when crossed. But really, I guess Duval does have the law behind her since she is the legal guardian even though she has never even met Evelina. Villars and the Mirvans probably know that the only way Evelina can gain the knowledge on how to deal with this milieu is to experience it and learn the hard way.
Evelina is living on the edge almost the entire novel, because, in reality, she has no prospects or money of her own. She has been living a lie by taking the name Anville. Everyone in London just assumes she has money since she's hanging out with the Mirvans, but really she is freeloading off them. No man of means would even look at her if they knew that truth. Ms. Duval promises to make her the heir to her sizable estate, but only on condition that Evelina says "yes" to all her commands, starting with moving to France. So Evelina is always worried about being exposed to the nobility as a fraud. She also has to make her way quite catiously in order to have some freewill without upsetting her grandmother too much.
One of the coolest aspects of the novel was the grand tour we get of London in 1778. Evelina and her group visit most of the major attractions of the time, most of which no longer exist. You really get the ambiance of the city in this work.
Seeing these characters interact, you also get a feel for how rich people thought back in those times. There's a scene in the book where two nobles want to race their carriages against each other and bet money on the winner. After being persuaded by another character that it would be too dangerous, they decide to recruit 2 old women off the street to run a footrace against each other to settle the bet. Yeah, this is how rich people think. Actually, this is STILL how rich people think. That one scene made me decide how to vote in this year's presidential election. It was really bizarre. When these two women raced, none of the characters, even Evelina, or the supposedly moral Lord Orville, raised much of an objection. The common people of London are pretty much a non-factor in this novel. I do find strains of Dickens in Burney though. Mostly in its comedy. Even though Evelina might seem familiar as a Jane Austen type tale, Burney is so much funnier than Austen.
An overall entertaining work and a special treat for those interested in London's history.
The most important aspect of 'Evelina', is its incredible realism. Unfortunately considered long-winded and cumbersome by today's standards, 'Evelina' was revolutionary in its day. Over a period of seven months, the letters meticulously describe a world that is completely alien to us today. Though the eyes of the heroine, we see London, hot, dirty...but terribly exciting. There are balls to visit, gardens, Cox's Museum, which was an array of elaborate mechanical devices. Evelina writes, "They tell me that London is now in full splendour. Two playhouses are open, - the Opera-house, - Ranelagh, - and the Pantheon. - You see I have learned all their names." When she goes to visit them, we find out first-hand, what it's like to sit in an 18th century box and watch an 18th century opera.
And of course, no period romance would be complete without balls, and Evelina goes to her share of them and has her share of misunderstandings when she accidentally breaks the social codes; "[she is] A poor weak girl!" Lord Orville remarks when asked his first impression of her. In this way, at least, 'Evelina' isn't quite accessible to the modern reader. Frances Burney was writing for her time; she didn't realize that two hundred years after the fact, people would still be reading her book. There are many things taken for granted that her readers would have known, such as realizing the full import (or the impossibility) of an Earl proposing marriage to seemingly penniless (and possibly illegitimate) young girl; this doesn't detract from the story...it's all the more interesting for learning about how different it was to live then.
On the other hand, 'Evelina' is a very modern book. We still feel the emotions they felt then and are delighted by the same things. Not only are the circumstances surprisingly easy to relate to, but the language is modern. Contractions are scattered liberally through the dialog and Miss Burney's ease at writing dialect marks her as a fore-runner of Charles Dickens. Many expressions which we still use today are scattered throughout 'Evelina', such as `in a huff', `sick of it', `the man in the moon', `putting in one's oar', `point-blank', `changing with the tide' and `thing-em-bob'. Even some of our prejudices can be dispelled; women might not have had the vote in 1778, but they had a voice. Mrs. Selwyn, an independent woman with a large fortune, regularly runs rings around the men with her wit and intelligence. As Mrs. Selwyn says, "Come, gentlemen...why do you hesitate? I am sure you cannot be afraid of a weak woman?"
We all know Shakespeare had wit, but so did Fanny Burney. I don't think any of Jane Austen's books are as laughter-inducing as 'Evelina'. Partly because she was so young and partly because she had a natural turn for humor, Frances Burney often turned serious moments into comedy. There's a pre-planned hold-up and mugging of Evelina's pretend-French grandmother by pretend-highway bandits and Sir Clement Willoughby, Burney's hilarious and good-natured villain, is always ready to be amusing. Even the near-perfect hero, Lord Orville, on closer inspection, becomes a flawed, but humorous and kind-hearted character.
Frances Burney went on to write other books, but the spontaneity and light-heartedness of 'Evelina' set it apart. Yes, it deeply influenced Jane Austen and her much more famous books, but 'Evelina' can stand very well on its own two feet. It marked a turning of the tide, the opening of the door to a genre that we still can't get enough of. It is tragic, then, that 'Evelina', and its author, are not better known. They deserve to be.