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Evelina (Oxford World's Classics) by Frances…
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Evelina (Oxford World's Classics) (original 1778; edition 2002)

by Frances Burney

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1,944335,077 (3.73)1 / 237
Member:gbeanie
Title:Evelina (Oxford World's Classics)
Authors:Frances Burney
Info:Oxford University Press, USA (2002), Paperback, 512 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
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Evelina by Frances Burney (1778)

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Showing 1-5 of 33 (next | show all)
A delightful read! A mix of Wilde's humor, Austen's perception, and Collins' intrigue. Even in those moments where I suspected exactly where the story was going, I felt so much pleasure in watching it unfold that it was not a moment's concern.

Poor Evelina, thrust upon the world without any armor but her good character to save her from the assaults of unscrupulous men, wanton women, ignorant relations and downright cruel associates, plods her way through the maze with a grace that makes you laugh when you ought to cry. Her innocence causes her to make some remarkably bad choices, but it could not be more obvious that she will need to trust to it for her deliverance. Even the well-intended in this story fall short of offering the assistance Evelina needs to navigate this world of pot-holes.

It is said that Burney was an influence on Austen, and I can certainly see that she was. Her character development and story line puts you in mind of Miss Jane right away. During some of the bantering between characters, I caught glimpses of that sharp humor that is so typical of Oscar Wilde and makes his plays such a joy. Example: "O pray, Captain," cried Mrs. Selwyn, "don't be angry with the gentleman for thinking, whatever be the cause, for I assure you he makes no common practice of offending in that way." Zing! She paints her buffoons and her true gentlemen with a broad brush, and she gives us every degree of coarseness and gentility side-by-side.

I find nothing to complain of in Ms. Burney's writing or style. My only disclaimer would be that it is very 19th Century (which I love), but if you are aggrieved by the state of a woman's lot during that time, you will find this frustrating. I kept wanting to advise Evelina myself to take the next carriage heading in the opposite direction! I give this a 4.5, only because I am very stingy with 5-star awards. Read it. You will be glad. ( )
  phantomswife | Jul 6, 2018 |
I picked this one up because it said “World’s Classic” on the cover and I’d never heard of it. Evelina is a young (17) orphan girl entering society (the subtitle is “or a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World”) in 1778. She goes to Balls, Operas, and Plays. She encounters a Rough-Mannered Sea Captain, a Rakish Aristocrat, Comical Foreigners, Venal Bourgeoisie, a Mysterious Scotsman, a Noble Lord, and some Ladies of Negotiable Virtue. After some turns of fortune, she is discovered to be an Heiress, marries the Noble Lord, and all Ends Happily.


Reading a novel like this is almost like reading science fiction about the social habits of space aliens. The customs of the time are so different from what we’re used to that the characters might as well be Martians. The class distinctions are ironclad; not one servant in the book has a name (they’re “the maid”, “the footman”, “the coachman”, etc.). There is, of course, almost no mention of the underside of London life at the time; there are no poor people, no criminals, no dirt, no squalor (I say “almost” because Evelina does meet some ladies who are no better than they should be, and it is assumed at one point that one character has written a letter while intoxicated.) Oddly, for a time in which religion is much more important than nowadays, none of the characters ever goes to church (perhaps it’s just so natural that it’s assumed). The epistolary style is an exotic antique (although it was used, probably for its anachronistic value, in the recent The Egyptologist). The morals of the time can be amusing; it’s horribly improper for a young lady to dance with a gentleman unless they’ve been introduced, which creates a sort of chicken-and-egg problem; who does the first introduction? For some odd reason, (perhaps the formality of manner) the whole thing reminds me of The Tale of Genji; there’s a similar glimpse into a very different world.


Reading something like this, in addition to is value as literary and social history, raises some questions about our own society. What will we look like to people 200 years hence? Will some of our cherished values seem laughable? Will the people of 2206 gasp in horror because we allowed abortions? Or because we didn’t fully support a woman’s right to choice? Will they roll on the floor in hysterics over the prurience of Sex in the City, or be disgusted by its permissiveness? Will our clothing styles be prudish or pornographic?


No Jane Austen, but at least three stars for the entertainment value. ( )
  setnahkt | Dec 8, 2017 |
This 1778 novel reminded me of Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen, except for the epistolary writing. Despite the somewhat predictable plot, the satirical social commentary is a lot of fun (especially for those who are familiar with the social mores of Georgian England). ( )
  leslie.98 | Jun 21, 2017 |
Another book that's been on my shelf for an age without the time or excuse to read it. I hadn't even heard of it when I picked it up used--I think I just liked the copy and cover. The 18th century was, as far as I can tell, exceptionally weird. It was also, on occasion, very funny. ( )
  likecymbeline | Apr 1, 2017 |
Written more than thirty years before Austen’s first novel was published, it concerns eighteenth century society rather than nineteenth century. As such, I found myself constantly at a loss. Before reading this book, I thought I had a good handle on the manners of the period. I know the difference between a barouche, a phaeton, and a curricle, and that a lady would never stand up and leave a conversation, and that men knew classical languages and women, only modern. And yet, I was utterly confused by Evelina. (The following block of text contains spoilers, so beware.)A major piece of the plot is that Evelina (a young girl only just out into society) receives the following note:

"To Miss Anville.
"With transport, most charming of thy sex, did I read the letter
with which you yesterday morning favoured me. I am sorry the
affair of the carriage should have given you any concern,
but I am highly flattered by the anxiety you express so
kindly. Believe me, my lovely girl, I am truly sensible
to the honour of your good opinion, and feel myself deeply
penetrated with love and gratitude. The correspondence you
have so sweetly commenced, I shall be proud of continuing;
and I hope the strong sense I have of the favour you do me
will prevent your withdrawing it. Assure yourself, that I
desire nothing more ardently than to pour forth my thanks at
your feet, and to offer those vows which are so justly the
tribute of your charms and accomplishments. In your next
I intreat you to acquaint me how long you shall remain in
town. The servant, whom I shall commission to call for an
answer, has orders to ride post with it to me. My impatience
for his arrival will be very great, though inferior to that
with which I burn to tell you, in person, how much I am,
my sweet girl, your grateful admirer, "ORVILLE."


After reading this, she is horrified and flees London, overcome with shame. WHAT? Ok, so an unmarried woman would not correspond with an unmarried man to whom she was not related or engaged. But she’s so shocked that she says, “As a sister I loved him;-I could have entrusted him with every thought of my heart, had he deigned to wish my confidence: so steady did I think his honour, so feminine his delicacy, and so amiable his nature! I have a thousand times imagined that the whole study of his life, and whole purport of his reflections, tended solely to the good and happiness of others: but I will talk,-write,-think of him no more!” Yeah, that’s what I want in a man—feminine delicacy and brotherly love. Eew. Then, she shows the letter to her guardian, the milquetoast Mr. Villars, who says, "I can form but one conjecture concerning this most extraordinary performance: he must certainly have been intoxicated when he wrote it." "That a man who had behaved with so strict a regard to delicacy," continued Mr. Villars, "and who, as far as occasion had allowed, manifested sentiments the most honourable, should thus insolently, thus wantonly, insult a modest young woman, in his perfect senses, I cannot think possible.” WTF, dudes? God forbid the man you love should actually *write* to you, or in any way communicate his affection. Oh no! Some time later, after Evelina and Lord Orville have reconciled, her guardian sends a fire and brimstone letter, writing,

“Awake then, my dear, my deluded child, awake to the sense of your danger, and exert yourself to avoid the evils with which it threatens you:-evils which, to a mind like yours, are most to be dreaded; secret repining, and concealed, yet consuming regret! Make a noble effort for the recovery of your peace, which now, with sorrow I see it, depends wholly upon the presence of Lord Orville. This effort may indeed be painful; but trust to my experience, when I assure you it is requisite.

You must quit him!-his sight is baneful to your repose, his society is death to your future tranquility! Believe me, my beloved child, my heart aches for your suffering, while it dictates its necessity.”

Because clearly, falling in love MUST NEVER HAPPEN. You must be calm and passionless at all times. If you like someone, you must flee their company! How did anyone get married in these days? You can’t go up and introduce yourself—you must hope to be introduced by some mutual respectable friend. You must not dance with any one partner more than a couple times a night, nor may you find yourself in intimate conversations with anyone of the opposite sex. You cannot write to your love, not even the most innocent and affection-free of notes. You cannot hint that you like someone, until you actually ask them to marry you. Only *after* you are engaged may you show any hint of affection or partiality, or indeed, write or talk to your fiancee. ARRGH!

Reading a romance set in a different century is really a trip. As a reader, I usually know who is being cast as the romantic lead, who is secretly evil, who will unexpectedly assist the main character, etc. But in this book, all the signals I rely upon were gone, or meant something else entirely. The man who seeks out Evelina’s company, befriends her friends, and tries to make her happy, is apparently a dissolute and foolish rake. The man who is cold, thinks of her as a sister, and has nothing to do with her for 8/9ths of the novel, is her love interest. His very coldness and “lack of partiality” is what is explicitly stated (by several characters) as his most romantic aspect. Her guardian, Mr. Villars, swears that the outside world is too indelicate and dangerous for her and tries to keep cloistered forever in the country, with only him for company. The first ten pages of Evelina show him refusing to allow Evelina out of his sight. Among many creepy assertions, he writes,
“She is one, Madam, for whom alone I have lately wished to live; and she is one whom to serve I would with transport die! Restore her but to me all innocence as you receive her, and the fondest hope of my heart will be amply gratified. “
He clutches her to his bosom all the time. When she writes about feeling affection for another man, he responds, “my Evelina,-sole source, to me, of all earthly felicity. How strange, then, is it, that the letter in which she tells me she is the happiest of human beings, should give me most mortal inquietude!” That reads as serious jealousy to me. Then Evelina’s father (who abandoned her mother many years ago) writes “It seldom happens that a man, though extolled as a saint, is really without blemish; or that another, though reviled as a devil, is really without humanity. Perhaps the time is not very distant, when I may have the honour to convince your Ladyship of this truth, in regard to Mr. Villars and myself.” Which again, reads to me that Mr. Villars is not what he seems. And yet, through to the end, all of the characters continue to think Mr. Villars is the most moral and high-minded of men. He is never revealed to have ulterior motives. His counsel is much sought after and well regarded. Weird.

Overall, Evelina is a very fun read. I could hardly put it down, and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone. Nevertheless, it contains some very creepy messages. Evelina’s beauty is praised, but what everyone finds the most attractive about her is her timid inability to say what she thinks or be negative in any way. She constantly gets into trouble (and in fact, is almost raped) due to her naïve and bashful nature, yet it is exactly what everyone likes best, and what critics of this book call and exceedingly moral message. Any character who speaks clearly (Captain Mirvan, Mrs. Selwyn) is thought of as very uncouth. Neither character has patience for the long, drawn out methods of polite society, and mock the pretentions of the fops and would-be aristocrats. Mrs. Selwyn is particularly effective at exposing the ignorance and foolishness of Evelina’s companions, and so of course she is described as unpleasantly masculine and rapidly shut out from truly nice society*. I have some very strong feelings about this book, and I’m not the only one—apparently there have been FLAME WARS about this novel, which is freaking awesome.


*'"I have an insuperable aversion to strength, either of body or mind, in a female."

"Faith, and so have I," said Mr. Coverley; "for egad, I'd as soon see a woman chop wood, as hear her chop logic."

"So would every man in his senses," said Lord Merton, "for a woman wants nothing to recommend her but beauty and good-nature; in everything else she is either impertinent or unnatural. For my part, deuce take me if ever I wish to hear a word of sense from a woman as long as I live!"

"It has always been agreed," said Mrs. Selwyn, looking round her with the utmost contempt, "that no man ought to be connected with a woman whose understanding is superior to his own. Now I very much fear, that to accommodate all this good company, according to such a rule, would be utterly impracticable, unless we should choose subjects from Swift's hospital of idiots."

How many enemies, my dear Sir, does this unbounded severity excite!' ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Frances Burneyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bloom, Edward A.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Doody, Margaret AnnIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Doody, Margaret AnneEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gibbs, LewisIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jones, VivienIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nickolls, JosephCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thomson, HughIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To the Authors of the Monthly and Critical Reviews   (Original dedication)
Oh, Author of my being! -- far more dear
To me than light, than nourishment, or rest,
Hygeia's blessings, Rapture's burning tear,
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Can anything, my good Sir, be more painful to a friendly mind, than a necessity of communicating disagreeable intelligence?
When Frances Burney was 8 years old, her father recalled, her response to seeing a play was to 'take the actors off, and compose speeches for their characters; for she could not read them'. (Introduction)
Gentlemen,
The liberty which I take in addressing to You the trifling production of a few idle hours, will, doubtless, move your wonder, and, probably, your contempt. (To the authors of the monthly and critical reviews)
In the republic of letters, there is no member of such inferior rank, or who is so much disdained by his brethren of the quill, as the humble Novelist: nor is his fate less hard in the world at large, since, among the whole class of writers, perhaps not one can be named, of whom the votaries are more numerous, but less respectable. (Preface)
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Innocent yet wise,
A heroine of her time,
Acknowledged at last.
(hillaryrose7)

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0192840312, Paperback)

Frances Burney's first and most enduringly popular novel is a vivid, satirical, and seductive account of the pleasures and dangers of fashionable life in late eighteenth-century London. As she describes her heroine's entry into society, womanhood and, inevitably, love, Burney exposes the vulnerability of female innocence in an image-conscious and often cruel world where social snobbery and sexual aggression are played out in the public arenas of pleasure-gardens, theatre visits, and balls. But Evelina's innocence also makes her a shrewd commentator on the excesses and absurdities of manners and social ambitions--as well as attracting the attention of the eminently eligible Lord Orville.

Evelina, comic and shrewd, is at once a guide to fashionable London, a satirical attack on the new consumerism, an investigation of women's position in the late eighteenth century, and a love story. The new introduction and full notes to this edition help make this richness all the more readily available to a modern reader.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:14 -0400)

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This is the story of a young woman's education in the ways of the world in 18th century England. Commentary, notes and a reading group guide is included.

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140433473, 0141198869

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