Evelina – Frances Burney

I’ve has this book in my classics section ‘for this age’, but have never managed to get beyond the first few letters. This time, however, I managed to finish it. Mostly because I need to discuss it at my next Jane Austen meeting.

Here’s the blurb from the back

Written in secret, the manuscript copied for her publisher in disguised hand writing, Frances Burney’s first novel Evelina appeared anonymously in 1778.

It was a sequel to Caroline Evelyn, the novel burned by its author when she was fifteen; Evelina the apparently illegitimate daughter of vanished Caroline, happily enters a society much more dangerous than she realises.

Subtitled The History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World the novel records in letters its young heroine’s encounters with society, both high and low, in London and at fashionable watering places.

The novel explores representation and performance, social mores and masks, in a world full of distractions, from overturned coaches to golden automata, from opera to malevolent monkeys. Evelina is also a ‘family romance’, and, as Margaret Anne Doody’s Introduction indicates, it is acutely observant of the social laws regarding power, authority and authorship, which the author herself had to subvert, at least in part, like her naive letter writing heroine.

I liked it. I think it conveys the social mores of the time in an accessible manner (did you know that at a ball you can’t reject one young man and then dance with another?). Also, unlike Austen, we get so see how the middle class live (the Branghtons). The Branghton sisters (Poll and Bid) reminded me of the Steele sisters in Sense and Sensibility. Lord Orville is the perfect here – he treats everyone with polite kindness.

I found the letter thing a bit frustrating – how could she possibly remember conversations so exactly? I don’t think this book is for a general audience, but if you’re a keen reader of Austen and want to read the novels she read, then I would definitely recommend Evelina.

Here are some links …


(a review of Evelina)


(audio book)


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  1. Pingback: Jane Austen Reviews : Fanny Burney A Biography - Claire Harman

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