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Evelina by Fanny Burney
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Evelina (original 1778; edition 1967)

by Fanny Burney, Lewis Gibbs

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,714314,144 (3.77)1 / 198
Member:JVioland
Title:Evelina
Authors:Fanny Burney
Other authors:Lewis Gibbs
Info:Everyman's Library, No. 352
Collections:Your library, Everyman's Library
Rating:****
Tags:own, 2nd

Work details

Evelina by Frances Burney (1778)

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English (30)  French (1)  All languages (31)
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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 |
Wow. This book had me enthralled, staying up all hours of the night, turning page after page. The labyrinthine predicaments in which a young woman could find herself ensnared in the 18th century were dazzling and ghastly! Men are sinners or saints in this book and the sinners are truly some of the most covert (and overt), villainous, slime balls ever entered on the page. If you've read and enjoyed the works of any of Mrs. Burney's contemporaries or anyone who came after for 100 years, give or take, you can't possibly dislike this book. ( )
1 vote libbromus | Nov 1, 2015 |
What a wonderful book! It was so well conceived from beginning to end. There was never a dull moment. Every turn added another new piece to the puzzle, another mystery or entanglement, but without any hint as to its final outcome. At no time previous have I found myself so intensely rooting for a heroine’s good fortune. Whether I did so in vain, I will not disclose here. I will share this, the ending concludes perfectly. Not because it is happy or sad, but because it was handled superbly. A novel’s finale often leaves me disappointed. So much thought is given to the first two-thirds, or more, of a novel and then…poof!...it is as if the author was too exhausted with all other efforts to attend properly to his or her ending. I was not disappointed with Evelina, such was the strength of Burney’s emotionally charged drama. Unquestionably brilliant!

http://biibliophilebeth.blogspot.com/ ( )
  BALE | Mar 8, 2015 |
Delightful, satirical, melodramatic, comical....all of these adjectives accurately describe Frances Burney's feminine 18th century coming of age tale. Our protagonist, the naive, pure Evelina enters the brash, hypocritical, backstabbing, and often dangerous society world after a very sheltered childhood. The plot unfolds via correspondence between characters and moves rapidly between settings, plot twists, appalling behavior and satirical commentary of the social mores of the time. Wonderful read. It's one of those during which 400 pages fly by! ( )
  hemlokgang | Feb 24, 2015 |
I rated this a solid "B" after I read it. Now, less than 2 years later, I cannot recall a single thing about it. ( )
  JVioland | Jul 14, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 30 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (25 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Frances Burneyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bloom, Edward A.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Doody, Margaret AnnIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Doody, Margaret AnneEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jones, VivienIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nickolls, JosephCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thomson, HughIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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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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.

(summary from another edition)

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140433473, 0141198869

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