Saturday, July 02, 2011

Evelina, History of a Young Lady's Entrance into the World

I recently completed a group read over at The Duchess of Devonshire's Gossip Guide of Evelina, it is a novel written by English author Frances Burney and first published in 1778. My stalking of Jane Austen this year has sent me to all things 18th Century, and the Gossip Guide.
I was aware from my reading of Jane Austen's memoirs and biographies that Fanny Burney had some influence on JA. It was subscribed to, by her family and her books are referred to in her letters. I wrote a little about the relationship here.
Evelina was written in the form of letters primarily to her foster father, the Reverend, Mr Villars but also to other characters in the book.  She was an orphan of dubious heritage, raised lovingly and sheltered by Mr Villars.When she is seventeen, he is convinced by Lady Howard to let her visit her at Howard Grove.  That visit ultimately leads her on a journey to London and the seaside near Bristol, growth and romance.  This is a sentimental example of early romanticism, definitely not a bodice-ripper. Her adventures lead her ultimately to that happy ending. 
This is not Jane Austen, While a good writer, Burney was limited in her characterizations by the viewpoint of the letters of Evelina.  You are looking at life through the eyes and sensibilities of a seventeen year old. You also have to look at this book as historical satire. Many of the absurd characters and situations were somewhat overblown and seemed contrived. Evelina is embarrassed by Captain Mirvan and Madam Duval.  Her new found relatives are social-climbing boors. and the hero Lord Orville bears little resemblance to Mr Darcy or Captain Wentworth, except in Evelina's eyes.
The story is compelling and by book two, I was hooked.  I tried to stay to the timeline of the group read, but found myself reading ahead to see what happens next.  There are several plot twists, a young man who tries to commit suicide, a seeming uncaring birth father, a repugnant French grandmother, and may other cads, fops and ne'er-do-wells. It is not a hard read, especially if you are familiar with literature of the time period. Gossip Guide has a review of an audio version you can down load here.
I liked the book, and plan to read more of Fanny Burney.


  1. I'm super impressed as often my interest in old British lit wanes. However, your review makes it sounds interesting. I love the letter format in books. I might have to try it. Happy Friday!