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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.

455 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1778

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About the author

Frances Burney

350 books351 followers
Also known as Fanny Burney and, after her marriage, as Madame d’Arblay. Frances Burney was a novelist, diarist and playwright. In total, she wrote four novels, eight plays, one biography and twenty volumes of journals and letters.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,167 reviews
Profile Image for Bill Kerwin.
Author 1 book81.5k followers
February 17, 2020

This is a very good 18th century epistolary novel. The prose is precise and elegant, the voices of the various letter writers are well delineated and individualized, and the author makes us admire the heroine and fret over the difficulties which obstruct her happiness. The two lovers—the naive Evelina and the elegant Lord Orville—exhibit sentiment and good sense even in the midst of misunderstandings in a way that looks forward to Austen, and the misunderstandings themselves are both credible and interesting.

The novel is, however, not completely successful. Some of the comic characters—Captain Mirvan and Madame Duval, for example—are so crude in conception and so coarse in their behavior that they appear to have traveled here from a very different novel, making the charming Evelina sometimes look like a Disney princess surrounded by escapees from a Warner Brothers’ Looney Tune. These zanies soon take a back seat, however, and the novel resolves itself in a way that is both harmonious and satisfying.

("Evelina" is clearly within the tradition of the "sentimental" novel. Characters are continually commenting on the delicacy of sensibility that may serve to distinguish the superior person from the ordinary one. It is easy to make fun of this literary fashion, but some of the events in the novel--I'm thinking of the abduction, terrorizing and humiliation of the middle-aged Mme. Duval as a practical joke and the wager of two respectable noblemen on a race between two infirm old ladies--are treated in such a cavalier fashion by even this well-bred young female author that I have become convinced that eighteenth century society desperately needed the sentimental impulse--and its embodiment in popular fiction--as a civilizing force.)
Profile Image for Henry Avila.
458 reviews3,242 followers
April 18, 2019
Once upon a time in a rural home, many miles from any city lived a girl of seventeen of exquisite beauty with a country parson the humble Reverend Arthur Villars, a kindly old man of the cloth, her foster parent; Evelina of obscure birth, the rest of her name in doubt, maybe Anville...no, it's as good as any, besides one is required... she loved and knew no other guardian... from an epistolary novel of 1778. This lady needless to say unsophisticated in the ways of the world is about to set hearts beating faster when she makes a visit, her first to the great metropolis of uncountable attractions,( none better than she) London. A crisis before that though , her sleazy grandmother, Madame Duval a woman who abandoned the orphan girl, is arriving from France, to take over from the parson, the old lady smells money, the reluctant Rev. Villars dreads the change. Scared , uncomfortable more child than an adult brought there by a family friend Mrs. Mirvan, and her daughter Maria almost a sister to the uneasy Evelina. Another element to put in the pot and stir the plot, Mrs. Mirvan's husband , a rough, salty sea captain is returning after seven long years, the uncouth man, no gentleman, likes causing trouble...and does..Grandmother and the captain spark trouble, more like a forest fire, when they meet in the city .The nightmare begins... every man whom she sees, wants to seduce her, especially the bored rich, powerful Lords and Sirs , an a very elegant, but quite irritating fop too, Mr. Lovel, well dressed , much better than the ladies...
Blushes are common on the pretty face of the girl, tongue -tied, feeling faint, she runs away but gets further into the trap ...The wealthy privileged men think they're entitled to all of the lower classes. Young gangs of boys are tormentors of Evelina when she is out in the streets with her friends, viewing the sights... Sir Clement Willoughby doesn't know the meaning of no, always trying to make Evelina do things not in her nature...besides hating this arrogant aristocrat who follows her from the city to the country , even to the seaside town of Bristol. The girl in only six or seven months finds herself becoming very well educated...knowledgeable of high society and trying to defend herself, against the pretensions of members who in reality are not the best of the nation. However there is another Lord, young , good-looking, manners that never offend, a charming, debonair man Lord Orville, but can he be trusted or is he just another phony? This surprisingly well written, biting satire, nevertheless an entertaining book by Fanny Burney, as she dives deep into the upper crust and shows its shortcomings, warts and all, and the people of 18th -century England , they reveal a complex society of good and bad...like everywhere and every age.
Profile Image for Fionnuala.
779 reviews
March 28, 2020
Who'd have thought that reading the long interior monologue that is Ducks, Newburyport would lead to reading the long interior monologue that is Evelina—but that's exactly what happened. Lucy Ellmann mentioned Jane Austen's Persuasion so often in Ducks that I got the urge to reread that book, and in it, I found an intriguing reference to Fanny Burney's novel, Cecilia, so I read that one too, which led me to be curious about what else Fanny Burney had written, which is how I ended up reading Evelina*.

It is probably not accurate to say that Evelina is an interior monologue, but it is close to being one since it is almost entirely made up of a young woman's letters to various people in which she writes of everything that has been happening in her life since she last wrote to them. It's all couched in perfectly constructed sentences and paragraphs of course—which is the very opposite of Lucy Ellmann's narrator's style, but both narrators ponder what it is like to be a woman in their own time, the choices they have made or need to make, the traps they've fallen into. Both have lost their mothers at a young age too, and feel the lack intensely though other aspects of their lives and circumstances are very different since there are two hundred and fifty years between them as well as an entire ocean.

Yes, Ohio of today is very different from England in the 1770s, and not least when it comes to class differences. There don't seem to be any in Ohio which suits Ellmann's narrator perfectly. But Evelina lives in a society with very rigid class boundaries, and one of her dilemmas is the fact that she doesn't belong in any of them since her mother is dead and her father has never acknowledged her or his marriage to her mother. Evelina has a quite grotesque grandmother too, who, though wealthy, has no status in society, so the poor girl is doubly, triply, hampered.

Her indeterminate situation reflects the situation of the book itself in a way. While the central themes of this 'marriage plot' story are treated seriously, large sections revolve around a rambunctious ships captain and his hilarious confrontations with various other mettlesome characters. When the captain says, "Fore George, it runs in my head, I’ve seen you somewhere before! And now I think on’t, pray a’n’t you the person I saw at the play one night, and who didn’t know, all the time, whether it was a tragedy or a comedy, or a concert of fiddlers,” we can't help feeling like that 'person', not knowing whether the book is a serious romance or an out and out comedy. The captain's every word and action certainly scuttles many of the claims Evelina's personal story might have to seriousness.
“Plait-il, Monsieur?”, asks a Frenchman politely, wishing to know what he can do for the captain.
“No, nor dish me neither,” is the captain's blunt refusal.

And the captain somehow brings out the humour in those around him too:
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.”

The captain's arch enemy in the story (but all in a playful way) is Evelina's French grandmother who is herself the epitome of Farce from her gaudy clothes and overly-rouged face (she paints very high) to her ungrammatical language and exaggerated behaviour. The shouting matches between her and the captain, and the ridiculous schemes he comes up with to outwit her, reminded me of the culinary meaning of the word 'farce': in French, it means 'stuffing'. The book is full of stuffing, and I'm certain that the readers of Burney's day, brought up as they would have been on Restoration Comedy which is stuffed with Farce, must have enjoyed it very much.
I enjoyed it myself.

* For books continue each other, in spite of our habit of judging them separately.
Virginia Woolf.
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book489 followers
May 15, 2016
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.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,738 reviews1,468 followers
January 6, 2020
I like neither the book nor the audiobook narration. I rate them here separately. Both I am giving one star.

I have not read many Georgian books, and this was supposed to be funny, so I thought I would give it a try. I was also curious because Jane Austen loved this author. I have tried to like the book, but I have utterly failed. The humor didn’t work for me. I would spot a line that clearly was meant to be funny, but I didn’t even crack a smile. The humor is satire, often related to what is allowed and not allowed in society, but it is not funny because there is nothing new or imaginative. Often the humor borders on the slapstick, particularly at the story’s end. Slapstick bores me. I prefer humor that demands that one thinks. This is not what is delivered here.

Let’s look at the plot. The book is an epistolary novel. We learn about Evelina through letters, the letters she sends and those she receives--all sent in one year from April to October. We learn about Evelina and her family, and the question is who will make up “her family” in the future, and obviously, whom she will marry.

The plot is predictable. The telling is melodramatic. It is sentimental. It is a retelling of the Cinderella fairy tale, made unnecessarily long and convoluted. I prefer the shorter original. Evelina could easily be cut in half.

The prose style is florid. Super wordy. It takes a whole page to say one thing. You might think the writing is long because it is supposed to sound lyrical and pretty. It isn’t.

The characters are black and white cardboard figures. Beautiful Evelina is so darn sweet, wonderful and perfect. I prefer complicated, messy people—people who are real.

Did I give the book up when I discovered I disliked the audiobook narration? NO, I did not! Seriously, I wanted to give Frances Burney’s written words a real try. The audiobook has three narrators--Finty Williams, Dame Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer. The latter two read well, very well. I have no complaints whatsoever regarding their performance. It is Finty Williams’ narration that gives me trouble, and unfortunately, she reads much more than the other two. She reads Evelina's letters. Williams dramatizes, and in a fashion I vehemently dislike. She reads too quickly, her French is poor and worst of all is how she renders conversations. She intones the different characters in a manner making it difficult to distinguish who says what. Male and female characters sound exactly the same. Her voice is that of a young girl. The exception is when she mimics a laugh--her laughs are extremely loud, throaty and boisterous. When she laughs, I cringe. Much of the time Finty Williams’ voice is unpleasantly shrill. I have given the narration one star because it is Williams who reads most of the book and her narration I do not like.

I wanted to like this, but I don’t. If you don’t test different types of writing, you don’t know what you might end up liking. I will soon be trying more Georgian novels. I am hoping I will like them more.
Profile Image for Sherwood Smith.
Author 168 books37.5k followers
February 26, 2018
This reread struck me with just how thin the veneer of civilization is. Burney was in her mid-twenties when she wrote this (and had probably been writing versions of it for ten years); the central romance is very nearly bloodless, Evelina and Lord Orville being such paragons. Their relationships is only interesting when Evelina thinks he wrote her an offensive letter, but one can just make out some human interest in the two when Orville keeps coming across Evelina in the most surprising places. They scarcely exchange fifty words for nearly half the book, possibly longer, but his delicacy as he keeps coming to her rescue secures her interest, surrounded as she is by a vivid range of comical figures.

When one considers that this novel, which was a huge best seller the instant it came out, did a great deal to make novels respectable, the reader gets a sense of just how rough and bawdy eighteenth century literature was. Casual cruelty to animals, the race between old women (a bet, arranged by people who purport to be part of high society), Captain Mirvan's persecution of Madam Duval and how funny everyone found it--polite society was a dangerous place.

Vivid and apparently realistic ( or at least recognizable within the confines of comedic broad strokes) are the various marriages as well as what society was like for middle class, gentry, and lords and ladies; Vauxhall was clearly in its decline (Tom Branghton's gleeful recounting of what it was like there the last night of each season, when basically there was a riot and women running about "skimper scamper" screaming and people smashing out lights), Ranelagh was at its height; we see a night at the opera and a couple of plays (she talks about current favorites and names real performers), as well as Bath, bathing, etc.

Also interesting is seeing the ghost of Jane Austen, as it were, for instance Orville's first, unconsidered put-down of Evelina, who, being a total innocent, behaves oddly at her first ball, is a reminder of Darcy's put-down of Lizzie Bennet the first time they all meet at a dance. Certain lines also evoke Austen.
Profile Image for Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂ .
797 reviews586 followers
May 27, 2016

This is the oldest work I have ever read by a female writer.

I enjoyed this book at the start & 18th century life (particularly in London) really came alive for me! & I admired Evelina's courage when she was left vulnerable in so many situations.

¾ the way through & my enjoyment started to ebb. This is because Evelina was left vulnerable in so many situations! By this time I had realised ( duh!) that I was reading a satire, but a lot of it felt quite repetitive & I was thinking, "Just get on with it!" when our heroine was (yet again) accosted. Evelina was accosted a lot! The epistletory format was also starting to seem strained. I don't think this method works well in novels - it is just too limited.

I can totally see that Burney inspired both Austen & Heyer, but I think both surpassed her. I enjoyed this well enough to try another novel by Burney in the future.
Profile Image for Wealhtheow.
2,432 reviews543 followers
July 1, 2013
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!'
Profile Image for Issicratea.
213 reviews365 followers
August 5, 2017
This is an engaging novel, as well as a historically interesting one. I can see why it was a hit at the time. It’s uneven, and rather diffuse for modern tastes; and the plot is artificial and implausible. On the plus side, though, it has a real freshness and zest about it; Evelina is an appealingly imperfect heroine; the satire can be sharp; and Burney handles the unforgiving structure of the epistolary novel far more deftly than most.

Burney published Evelina anonymously at the age of twenty-six, in 1778, although she was rapidly identified as the author. The origin of the novel makes a good story. Burney claims in the preface to her last novel, The Wanderer (1814), that, at the age of fifteen, she destroyed all her childhood writings, feeling that “scribbling” was no way for a respectable young lady to spend her time. Among the destroyed works was a novel about a seduced-and-abandoned young woman named Caroline Evelyn. Evelina, telling the story of Caroline’s daughter, is the sequel to this vanished work.

The main theme of the novel is the sheltered and countrified young Evelina’s “coming out” into the world of late eighteenth-century polite society, first in the respectable upper middle-class world of her childhood acquaintances the Mirvans; then in the ropier company of her grandmother, Mme Duval and her aspiring silversmith relatives, the Branghtons; and, finally—moving from London to Bristol (or, better, the short-lived spa resort of “Bristol Hotwells”) with the more aristocratic circles of Mrs Beaumont.

Burney uses these shifts in setting to give a highly articulated vision of the class system of Georgian England. I was concerned after the Holborn moment (the déclassé world of the Branghtons) that Burney was siding with the elegant aristos over the pushy plebs, but it’s not at all that simple; the final section is at least as satirical as the others, and aristocratic characters like the languorous Lady Louisa Larpent are at least as lampooned as anyone who has gone before.

Burney has a great deal in common with Jane Austen—or, better, Austen learned a lot from Burney. Austen uses essentially the same ingredients, but she refines and condenses them, and eliminates some of the racier and more “eighteenth-century” elements. The meeting between Evelina and Lord Orville at a ball is clearly the model for Elizabeth Bennett���s meeting with Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, for example, but it’s impossible to imagine Austen touching with a bargepole the episode in Evelina where two gambling-mad young rakes decide to bet on a footrace between two eighty-year-old women for a lark.

It’s actually a very good scene, in a grotesque way—the footrace scene—in that the callousness these men display towards these “low-value” human beings (old, female, poor) points up the more refined, drawing-room cruelty we see elsewhere in the novel. Evelina is higher-value by virtue of being young and beautiful, but her lack of rank and “birth” and wealth leads this same set of rakes to regard her as pure, potential prey, while the women in their circle (I’m looking at you, Lady Louisa) treat her as if she simply didn’t exist.

Apart from its other merits, Evelina is extraordinary as a document of social history. The first two segments of the novel, set in London, take us on a tour of practically all the sights of 1770s London—not simply the theatre and the opera and Vauxhall Gardens and Ranelagh Gardens, but more ephemeral entertainments such as the “fantocini” (an Italian puppet theatre), or the exhibition of automata and curiosities known as Cox’s Museum, or the various downmarket inns and prostitute-haunted tea gardens frequented by the Branghtons.

We also hear the language of the moment, as well; that was something I loved in the novel. Burney tends to italicize colloquialisms that are not yet part of the language, so that you can catch English idioms that are now blandly familiar in their wilder youth. Among the entertainments initially offered to Evelina in London are going a-shopping or seeing sights; she is mad (in the sense of angry) at an importunate visit; a character comments on a practical joke that he has never heard anything so funny in his life.

Profile Image for Alex.
1,418 reviews4,383 followers
February 19, 2016
Saw With Manners

"How in the world can you contrive to pass your time?"
"In a manner which your Lordship will think very extraordinary; for the young lady reads."

First the good news: Evelina is a story about introverts in love, and it has moments that are lovely. I recognized my introverted wife in several passages. Burney has an insightful touch with characterization, and an engaging writing style. Evelina is rarely compelling to read, but it's usually pleasant.

Now for the bad news: unfortunately, the introverts in this book also happen to be wildly boring. The "infinitely lovely" Evelina spends most of her time getting into awkward social situations she lacks the strength to disengage from, and then fainting about it; especially in the first half, it's little more than one excruciatingly uncomfortable, lengthy interaction after another. It's like Saw with manners.

And the object of her constant mooning - the "cold, inanimate, phlegmatic" Lord Orville, so described by one of the many supporting characters who are complete dicks but also at least slightly more interesting than him - conjures up no fantasy more alluring than a lifetime of sitting around making polite conversation.

"Nothing is so delicate as the reputation of a woman: it is at once the most beautiful and most brittle of all human things."

The plot hinges - again and again - on misunderstanding leading to mortification, just like any number of modern situation comedies in which the whole thing could be cleared up instantly if people just communicated with each other like normal humans.

It's not terrible, but there's only so much you can do with a story about boring people falling slowly into boring love.
Profile Image for Katie Lumsden.
Author 1 book2,822 followers
July 28, 2018
Maybe 3.5. I did enjoy this, but it took me a little while to get into; for me the stronger section was the last quarter. The letter form didn't entirely work for me, but Evelina is an interesting character, and it's a fun read. I can certainly see how Burney inspired Jane Austen, although I have to say I much prefer Jane Austen!
Profile Image for shakespeareandspice.
342 reviews535 followers
November 13, 2015
The only thing that halts this from being a 5 star read is that while this book is clearly very satirical, there were some parts of the novel that somewhat made me uncomfortable.

However, I do wish more novels such as these existed. Rarely can I read an eighteenth-century classic and say it was hilarious (and not without some depth).

And now I just want to read more Austen too.
Profile Image for Margitte.
1,164 reviews511 followers
March 29, 2021
Here is the blurb in a spoiler:

Is it fate or destiny or simply boredom? Perhaps curiosity. I don't know. I finished reading Persuasion by Jane Austen, and in further reading discovered that she was greatly influenced by Fanny Burney's novels. Frances 'Fanny' Burney(1752-1840). I chose her novel Evelina, as introduction to her writings.

Early this year I decided to venture into older novels. Once again. Ended up with Persuasion(published 1817), which I thought was old enough. But no, Fanny Burney took me back to 1778! What a delightful discovery.

In the foreword of the Gutenberg version of the novel, Sir Walter Scott in his anonymous review of Emma (1816) had recast Jane Austen's novels as examples of a new genre, the realist modern novel, favorably contrasting them with old-fashioned melodrama and romance, which taught "the youth of this realm ... the doctrine of selfishness" in pursuing imprudent love. (Oh myyyy, right?! - allow me a few giggles, if you please. Old fashioned?! )

Astonishment: Fanny Burney was a much more successful author than Jane Austen, and highly popular (which Austen at the time was not). I would say Burney's novels fitted even better into the the realist modern novel-genre. Austen certainly applied the same flair to her own novels.

In the preface of the Penguin Classics version I chose to read, it is stated:
In this comic and sharply incisive satire of excess and affectation, beautiful young Evelina falls victim to the rakish advances of Sir Clement Willoughby on her entrance to the world of fashionable London. Colliding with the manners and customs of a society she doesn’t understand, she finds herself without hope that she should ever deserve the attention of the man she loves. Frances Burney’s first novel brilliantly sends up eighteenth-century society – and its opinions of women – while enticingly depicting its delights ...


(I believe it is the words of Fanny herself)
Let me, therefore, prepare for disappointment those who, in the perusal of these sheets, entertain the gentle expectation of being transported to the fantastic regions of Romance, where Fiction is coloured by all the gay tints of luxurious Imagination, where Reason is an outcast, and where the sublimity of the Marvelous, rejects all aid from sober Probability. The heroine of these memoirs, young, artless, and inexperienced, is No faultless Monster, that the world ne’er saw, but the offspring of Nature, and of Nature in her simplest attire.

Evelina, published anonymously in 1778, is in epistolary format. She introduced a string of relevant characters to the plot who really lit up the novel like a fire cracker.

One of my favorite rogues was Captain Mervin. He was the numero uno personna non grata, like Alfred. P. Doolittle, Eliza's father, was in George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play, Pygmalion. Remember the musical My Fair Lady which was based on this play? Captain Mervin was suppose to have a little more flair, or suaveness. Much higher up the class ladder, I you will, than the dust man Doolittle. Captain Mervin was married to sweet, gentle-hearted Mrs. Mervin.

He had a weird sadistic way of hiding his secret infatuation, and probably love-sick devotion to Evelina's equally outrageous grandmother from France, Madame Duval. It was like two monumental volcanic eruptions perpetually rubbing up against each other in mutual molten fury. Oh my goodness, it was really wild!

If he couldn't prank her, which had him in fits of laughter at her discomfort, he called her names: 'Old Madam French', 'Madame Furbelow'.

He would eventually admit that Madame Duval hit his fancy mightly. He never took so much to an old tabby before.

However, gross, obnoxious and vile he could be, he opened up the broader, more dangerous outside world to the young Evelina by accompanying and introducing her to London under his 'çare'. Here and there, he provided protection, although often unwelcomed or appreciated, and never without utter social chaos. He lacked decorum and modesty. He knew how to get rid of unsuitable beaus such as Mr. Lovel, but in his case Captain Mervin used pranks to scare the suitor off. Mr. Lovel, according to Evelina, was impertinent and malicious. Well, he actually was a kind of pathetic creature. Even Mrs. Selwyn had a thing or two to say about Mr. Lovel, in his presence. 'Oh 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.' In the absence of bodily pranks on Mr. Lovel, he was also called a few names by said Captain. 'Mr. Wiseacre', or 'Harkee, my spark', or 'Mr. Clappperclaw'.

Her introduction to new relations, friends, and the big city of London, was the opposite of what her devoted and loving foster parent Rev. Mr Villars had in mind. He preferred to keep her secluded, almost hidden away from the world to safe her the embarrassment of her history. She was the daughter of a secret marriage between Sir John Belmont and her mother Caroline. After Sir Belmont ripped up the marriage certificate, disavowing the marriage, Evelina's future was socially destroyed, even though Sir Belmont was unaware of her existence. By keeping these events secret, and her birth even more in the dark, Rev. Mr Villars was hoping to ensure another kind of happiness to the beautiful young woman.

Consider this: there was a peculiar cruelty to her situation; only child of a wealthy Baronet, whose person she has never seen, whose character she has reason to abhor, and whose name she is forbidden to claim; entitled as she is to lawfully inherit his fortune and estate.

However, Madame Duval found out about her granddaughter Evelina, and was on her own mission to show remorse for her own part in her daughter Caroline's demise. To make matters worse, she was determined to introduce eighteen-year-old Evelina to her 'other' family, the Branghtons.

Lord have mercy. Mr. Branghton had his hands full with his competitive and quarrelsome children and his work as a silver-smith. To top it all off, they had a lodger, poor Mr. Macartney, who had to survive the family's shenanigans and immediately upon meeting Evelina, formed a strange bond with her. He was not a contender to her love, neither were they best friends. Something else brought them together. Fate had a strong hand here. It would affect them both in mysterious ways. Dear innocent Evelina, the country bumpkin, apathetic to class differences and social discrimination, with her kindness and care, changed his motivation to live again. There was much more to this story than just that.

Rev. Mr Villars had reason to be concerned. There was conniving, vengeful, characters such as Sir Clement Willoughby out there in the social wild. He was like a hound dog set loose to discover Evelina's secret and to flaunt his unwelcome attentions on her. Evelina called him her persecutor. Strange, provoking, ridiculous, bold, disgustful. A perfect partner for Captain Mervin. He blew in every which direction of Captain Mervin's wind storms. The Captain did not have the same agenda as Willoughby, but they sure formed a strong bond in executing their own plans.

Other perky characters, such as Mrs. Selwyn, who had a wit and presence of her own, played a vital role in 'normalizing' Evelina's entrance, or coming of age experience into the world of nobility and their ilk. She was a strong-willed and determined woman in any challenge she took on. It was much better to suffer her laughter than provoke her satire, as people such as Mr. Lovel discovered. And later she taught Sir Belmont a lesson or two as well. Unstoppable and stubborn. That was Mrs. Selwyn.

Excluded from this social cast's mannerisms, was Lord Orville. The perfect gentleman. With a soul and presence like no other. The anchor of Evelina in her adventures and trials to maneuver through all the challenges when her grandmother arrived on the scene. Never a dull moment.

Numerous other characters came in play. Too many to mention. I will stop here.

Fanny Burney was a member of a big, complicated, popular family and it reflected in her work. The Cambridge Companion to Frances Burney by Peter Sabor, provided insight into the author as well as how she applied her own story and wit to her characters.

Evelina is not a gothic read. There is lightness and humor present in her plot and characters. It was her own journal-writing since she was a young girl, that lead to her first epistolary novel, with both her own father, Dr. Charles Burney, as well as her mentor, Dr. Samuel Johnson, embedded in the character of Rev. Mr Villars. Dr. Johnson teasingly described Fanny as a 'Character Monger'. It was clear that she enjoyed creating all her characters, the twisty plot with multiple surprises, and release her satirical view of the class differences into her writing, no matter the consequences at the time.

In his essay 'On the Aristocracy of Letters', published in 1821, the critic William Hazlit, close friend of James and Charles Burney junior, declared, There is no end of it [the Burney family] or its pretensions. It produces wits, scholars, novelists, musicians, artists in "numbers numberless". The name is alone a passport to the Temple of Fame.

It is clear why Jane Austen would have enjoyed the work of Fanny Burney. They were socially worlds apart in their backgrounds and writings. Jane Austen appeared to be reclusive and private, as well as morally differently wired, while Fanny Burney was the bell of the ball as far as social connections was concerned. Burney moved in the upper middle classes and was in constant contact with famous and accomplished people through her family.

I would love to continue writing about this novel. I have so many notes. I can only hope that Fanny Burney won't remain mostly an academic enigma, but will be discovered by many new readers on their own. She is worth a read.

The novel was a true delight. My word, what a discovery indeed!

More info on Frances (Fanny) Burney
Profile Image for Shala Howell.
Author 1 book23 followers
January 29, 2009
I read this because I was curious to know more about the novels Jane Austen herself read. And I must say that while this book has its strong points, its main effect is to increase my respect for how Austen reshaped the novel form. Burney's book is amusing, but the characters seem to be defined almost entirely by a single characteristic. They are either all good or all bad, entirely proper or thoroughly vulgar, fully conscious or fainted dead away. There is little development of character through the book, no fundamental changes in anyone's behavior. Just two marriages to conclude the farce, with no one the wiser. Austen, in contrast, treats us to real people, with all the nuance of character and emotional development that implies.

That said, I really enjoyed Mrs. Selwyn's character. Whenever she speaks I can almost imagine that I've stumbled into an Oscar Wilde play.

(A longer version of this review is available on my book blog, Bostonwriters.wordpress.com)
Profile Image for Christian Nikitas.
295 reviews49 followers
June 16, 2022
Reread. I DNF this time. Not because it's not a good book. It's really good! Frances Burney is a really great author who inspired Jane Austen. And her diaries show what a genuinely good hearted person she was. This time around I just couldn't focus on it.
Profile Image for Kristi  Siegel.
192 reviews588 followers
July 13, 2010

If you think about the heroines in 18th century literature, most of them have a rather arduous time, e.g., Moll Flanders’ hard knock life (Defoe), Clarissa’s determination to endure and persevere (Richardson), Pamela’s dull, methodical virtue (Richardson), or Emily’s inability to understand the floor plan (Radcliffe). In contrast, Evelina's character exudes spontaneity, and the book—particularly set against the darker novels of this age—seems sunny in comparison.

Her novel is a true bildungsroman, for Evelina’s central problem is learning to act correctly in her world. [As a side note, I’ve developed a new respect for the niceties of etiquette after reading The Book of Household Management (Isabella Mary Beeton, 1861), which outlines the infinitely complex rules of conduct for the lady of the house in the mid-nineteenth century.:]

The country and the city form the two poles of Evelina’s life. As a “rustic,” Evelina’s rural values put her at a disadvantage in urban society. By learning the more polished social skills, she gradually establishes a harmonious relationship with the urban world and its complicated etiquette. In keeping with the broad aims of comedy, Evelina’s problems are small problems. Her main problem is one of balance; she must neither be destroyed by the urban world nor completely seduced by it. Rather, Evelina needs to retain the best of both worlds: the simplicity and honesty typically associated with the country along with the culture of the city.

Though Evelina’s mother is dead, and her father does not acknowledge her, she nevertheless has someone to whom she may appeal when her small crises arise. Unlike the other heroines of this era—who are often forced to act quickly—Evelina’s predicaments are on a far smaller scale, and she is either given enough time to control the outcome or someone intercedes on her behalf.

Evelina’s early mistakes prove less grave errors than humorous faux pas. Her initial enthusiasm for the wonders of London diminishes after she attends her first ball. There, Evelina declines her first invitation to dance, assessing her admirer, quite rightly, to be a conceited fop. When another man, Lord Orville, whom Evelina describes as “gaily, but not foppishly dressed, and indeed extremely handsome” asks her to dance, Evelina complies. His composure and grace, however, make Evelina feel awkward. When Lord Orville attempts to get her to talk, first discussing the ball, then public places and events, and finally the country, Evelina perceives his intent:
It now struck me, that he was resolved to try whether or not I was capable of talking on any subject. This put so great a constraint on my thoughts, that I was unable to go further than a monosyllable, and not even so far, when I could possibly avoid it.”
…And it is these types of passages that look forward to the wit of Jane Austen in the 19th century.

Meanwhile, Evelina’s embarrassment continues. Mr. Lovel, the man who had originally asked Evelina to dance, returns. As he begins to speak, his “stately foppishness” makes Evelina lose control and start laughing. Mr. Lovel—who had come back to ask why Evelina had refused to dance with him—becomes enraged and even Lord Orville can only stare. Dimly and belatedly, Evelina remembers the rules of decorum:
A confused idea now for the first time entered my head, of something I had heard of the rules of assemblies; but I was never at one before,--I have only danced at school,--and so giddy and heedless I was, that I had not once considered the impropriety of refusing one partner, and afterwards accepting another. I was thunderstruck at the recollection….

Evelina’s gaffes continue, but her problem is more a matter of fine tuning. The appeal of this novel rests in Evelina’s astute observations of herself and society.

Like Jane Austen, Fanny Burney casts a clear eye on her world and notes its foibles with wit, wisdom, and poignancy.

Profile Image for Marquise.
1,712 reviews404 followers
September 30, 2016
Well... This novel left me with feelings of dissatisfaction that threaten to overshadow all the initial enjoyment I got out of it.

Primarily, it is that I believe the epistolary format was inadequate for the story, it only allows a mere glimpse into the setting through a very narrow and deficient slit. We're confined to read everything mostly through Evelina's version of events in letters to her guardian, Mr Villars, and given that the heroine is an ingénue bordering on helpless maiden or silly princess stereotypes (despite not being characterised as silly per se), which to me was unappealing and irritating. Secondly, it was the characterisation, which Burney isn't very good at, for she endows everything good and pure and true on her heroine while she makes the rest of the characters (save for the beau and hero, Orville) look like caricatures out of a cheap farce. Which leads me to the third point I wasn't impressed with: the humour. Burney doesn't handle comic relief as well as she could here, and instead of making me smile, she made me wish she had got rid of her annoying side characters, particularly Captain Mirvan and Madame Duval, who are so grotesque and unfunny in Burney's attempts to make them be "funny" as she understands humour.

Finally, the whole story relied a tad much on the now commonplace Misunderstanding trope, and by that, became so predictable that the later parts of the book were harder to read, to the point that when the last letter finally arrives, it's a relief it was over as it was getting too sentimental and in need of a quick ending before more of its initial appeal dwindled further. Maybe this just wasn't the ideal introduction to Fanny Burney's work, for it was more of a mixed bag experience to me than I'd expected.
Profile Image for BAM the enigma.
1,858 reviews363 followers
November 6, 2017
Catching up with the classics #12

I had such high hopes for this novel. Hyped as THE ladies’ read of the late eighteenth century, it was so insipid I wanted to throw my phone and stop the audio play. It had its shining Austen-esque moments (there is even a Willoughby), but not enough to satisfy.
Evelina learns how to deal with posh society at the hands at the not so well meaning adults in her life. In fact they are fairly selfish and conniving. She is a new born babe utterly clueless, artless, and it’s quite painful to read about her escapades. I couldn’t hope but wish her well, and very soon.
I’m happy I reads this, and I really wouldn’t mind reading more Burney when I need a bit of fluff to come down from some heavy nonfiction.
Profile Image for Vanessa.
142 reviews723 followers
May 7, 2023
Evelina appare come un romanzo genuinamente divertente, colmo di assurde disavventure e di british humour. Traspare un'immagine molto chiara dell'Inghilterra georgiana di fine '700, in cui spiccano i forti dissapori tra l'Inghilterra e la Francia e la nascita della classe media, ancorata alla mancata istruzione ed educazione ma fremente di poter stringere rapporti con l'aristocrazia.
Tuttavia, Frances Burney muove una forte critica a quella società maschile che assediava giovani donne senza rispettare il loro volere e demolisce il libertinaggio in sé e per sé. L'autrice, difatti, sottolinea bene il disprezzo per l'intelletto femminile e il disinteresse per le loro opinioni insito in esso. Un "no" era, per loro "gentiluomini", sempre un "sì".
La Burney prende spunto da Samuel Richardson per il romanzo di formazione e da Henry Fielding il non prendersi troppo sul serio, ma al contempo demolisce le loro storie, forse in quanto una delle prime romanziere donna. Se la Pamela di Richardson si innamora del suo quasi-stupratore e il Tom Jones di Fielding è un libertino pur essendo innamorato di una ragazza (della cui zia, tra l'altro, approfondisce la conoscenza...), l'Evelina della Burney si scaglia molto severamente contro questo tipo di uomini, evidenzia i loro meschini sotterfugi e si innamora dell'unico uomo puro di intenzioni, dando per davvero il via al romanzo romantico ottocentesco. Ed è stata una donna a dover arginare un modello di uomo che gli uomini stessi stavano declamando nei loro scritti.
Profile Image for Abigail Bok.
Author 4 books191 followers
March 31, 2015
Fanny Burney is like Jane Austen in pupal stage. Her novels use the same marriage plot as the frame for social satire; but what was in Burney’s writing the promise of this premise was only elevated to high art by Austen. Evelina is supposed to have been Jane Austen’s favorite novel, and indeed one can often find echoes of familiar Austen characters or phrases in the book, betraying how deeply familiar it was to her (it was published in 1778, when Jane Austen was a toddler). One can’t read “Remember, my dear Evelina, nothing is so delicate as the reputation of a woman: it is, at once, the most delicate and most brittle of all human things” and not recall Mary Bennet’s spurious consolation to her sisters after Lydia elopes with Wickham in Pride and Prejudice. And “She has some good qualities, but they rather originate from pride than principle” foreshadows Darcy’s confession to Elizabeth after his second proposal.

Evelina is an epistolary novel—written entirely as a sequence of letters, mostly from the heroine herself, with a few responses from her correspondents and others—and suffers from the awkwardnesses and improbabilities of most novels that use this device. The letters are ridiculously long, and faithfully report entire conversations word-for-word, including conversations the youthful and rustic heroine could scarcely have understood. Letters take a ridiculous amount of time to be delivered when it is useful for the plot to have misunderstandings prolonged, and so on. The book also suffers from the author’s divided loyalties: obviously, she feels compelled to place an innocent embodiment of virtue at the center of her story, but in fact she is much more interested in mocking contemporary mores and reporting the witty or outrageous conversations of secondary characters. This is especially evident at the end, when the scenes in which the hero and heroine come to an understanding and wed are treated almost offhandedly, overshadowed by the endless drawing-room chatter of the comic figures in the story. Minor characters also appear and disappear to suit the needs of the story or the author’s mood, and travel to odd corners of England simply to further the plot.

Nevertheless, many of the characters are vividly drawn and entertaining to read about, and one wishes the heroine to come to no lasting harm, if only because the shape of the marriage plot requires it. Fanny Burney gives us a more robust version of life among the Georgian gentry than in Jane Austen’s ladylike novels—at least the work she submitted for publication (JA’s unpublished works are a different matter).

I’m glad I read Evelina at last, and I’m glad it wasn’t as long as Burney’s later Camilla!
Profile Image for Peter.
476 reviews43 followers
December 7, 2016
Fanny Burney's Evelina is a book I have often heard about but never seemed to get around to reading. I'm glad I did. You can certainly see why Austen praised Burney so much, and it is evident that Evelina functioned as a template for Austen's novels.

This novel gives us a clear and candid look at a young woman as she tries to navigate her way around and through society. There are the literary tropes of the title character initially not knowing the full story of her background, male suitors both fair and foul vying for her heart, and the inevitable introduction of a country girl learning how to navigate herself into London society.

The novel is written in an epistolary fashion, but Burney manages to create distinct characters and personalities within this style. There is a clear control over the plot, and the characters do manage to reveal themselves to the reader (and the novel's characters) as the story moves along.

To me, the main attraction was to read a novel by a woman written just after Richardson's Pamala and Fielding's Tom Jones. There are elements of both those novels in Evelina, but Birney does not copy their style. Rather, she builds upon the earlier novels with a fresh perspective and creative energy. For any Austen fan this is a must-read novel.
Profile Image for Hannah.
238 reviews59 followers
July 31, 2016
5 Stars - Superb book!

I am genuinely surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. Not because I expected to not enjoy it but because I really didn't think I would enjoy it that much - no other real reason. (I'm a bit of a skeptical reader but this one won me over). I don't remember why I put this on my to-read list but I'm glad I did!

Fanny Burney was Jane Austen's predecessor and inspiration, really. I was hoping I would see some hints of Jane Austen in this book and I definitely did! In this particular story, I found elements of all of Austen's most popular books. I was actually astounded at the similarities. I also enjoyed, being a fan of Jane Austen, being able to see who inspired her writing. If you're an Austen fan I would highly recommend this one! I'm also a bit disappointed that because Ms. Burney preceded Austen and played a big role in Austen's writing, more people aren't aware of her. I think it's a disservice to both authors (for different reasons).

The book is written solely in letter format. At first I didn't know if I would like to read a whole book in that format but it got to a point where I didn't notice it anymore (because the letters were relatively long and contained dialogue).

The main character's Evelina's, background is really interesting and plays a big part in the story. I really enjoyed her character. She was strong but fit into the time period for which she was intended (much like Austen heroines). Her family though were all just absolutely awful but so well written you have to admire at least that. There are so many characters that I dislike and who annoyed me but, as I said, they're so well written - they are consistent in their awfulness. For instance in this story, the constant male assumption that they're saving females/doing them a favor is absolutely revolting (plus, they assume that women should be flattered by that!). It was annoying but I think the author made it purposely so, so I can't fault her for that.

The relationship between Lord Orville and Evelina reminded me .

My one qualm with the book is toward the end.

The formula of the book, if you've read Austen, is similar but there are some definite curve balls thrown in there. Absolutely recommend this one!
Profile Image for Justin Evans.
1,525 reviews799 followers
March 5, 2013
I'll admit that reading 18th century fiction is sometimes harder than I'd like it to be. The authors either don't know, or just don't abide by, the rules of fiction that we're all used to. But more and more often I'm struck instead by the sheer joy and verve that animates 18th century novels, and that often seems to have gone missing in the twentieth century--and, obviously, this very much the case with Evelina. There's not a whole lot of unity to the tale, and there are plenty of scenes that Burney includes for no reason other than that they're funny and or mortifying (e.g., random monkey attack towards the end of the novel. No, really.) But it turns out that the funniness, sentiment and mortification of these scenes is more than enough justification. Burney is funnier than Fielding, more touching than Richardson, and a better writer than everyone but Swift at his best--and this is her first novel. I'm looking forward to the others. If you're really into Austen, and can handle some rougher edges and a more satirical narrator, this is a great book for you: Evelina herself is the Great English Heroine a few years after Clarissa, and a few years before Lizzie Bennett.

The most interesting part of this book, though, is the way Burney plays with the modes of eighteenth century fiction: she gives us satire, sentiment, farce, social commentary, bawdy wit, and sententious BS in almost equal doses. And most impressively of all, you can sense that Burney is in total control of all of them, recognizes that each mode lines up well with a way of life as much as with a literary fashion (sometimes this is made obvious in the novel, as Mrs Selwyn stands for satire and Villars stands for sententiousness), and is willing to give each a say--before, ultimately, coming down on the side of Selwyn's satire and Evelina's proto-LizBennettian irony (which itself develops throughout the book rather than being, as in Austen, constant from the start of P&P). She wields a kind of authorial control that very few twentieth century anglophone authors can (Anthony Powell, William Gaddis, J. G. Farrell and Muriel Spark come to mind as possible comparisons).

PS: this edition is great, too--lovingly and helpfully annotated and introduced.
Profile Image for De Profundis.
26 reviews14 followers
February 27, 2022
Es lo más Jane Austen y Oscar Wilde que leí hasta ahora. Agradecida es poco 🕯️🕯️🕯️
Profile Image for Ely Rugiada.
Author 11 books30 followers
July 20, 2019
Un romanzo epistolare carico di contenuti, humor e classicità.In ogni missiva di Evelina verso il suo benefattore riusciamo a percepire l' evoluzione caratteriale delle protagonista,giorno dopo giorno, non certo senza difficoltà o cadute.Con eleganza, schiettezza e lungimiranza, il lettore viene catturato nella vita di Evelina, nella sua crescita personale e in società sentendosi in empatia con la protagonista.Per tutti coloro che amano la letteratura inglese questo romanzo è imperdibile.Passerete delle ore piacevoli immergendovi in ambientazioni vittoriane.tra intrighi e sentimenti.
Profile Image for Ellery Adams.
Author 58 books4,126 followers
February 23, 2021
I was excited to read this epistolary novel because Jane Austen was fan of Frances Burney, but Evelina didn't meet my expectations. The pace felt tedious (owing to lots of florid dialogue) and the characters lacked complexity. Lord Orville is too perfect (compare him to a flawed Mr. Darcy and he falls flat). Clement Willoughby is an obvious cad (unique the Sense and Sensibility Willoughby who is also a cad, but by expressing regret is worthy of sympathy). And while Evelina is a charming, kind-hearted, naive young woman and I enjoyed how Burney used her to satirize high society, our heroine's romance with Orville lacks the tension or doubt necessary to arrive at the kind of swoon-worthy ending achieved by Austen, Bronte, or Heyer.
Profile Image for Kate.
1,841 reviews1 follower
June 1, 2014
"Evelina, the first and best of Fanny Burney's novels, 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. Hilarious comedy and moral gravity make the novel a fund of entertainment and wisdom. Out of the graceful shifts from the idyllic to the near-tragic and realistic, Evelina emerges as a fully realized character. And out of its treatment of contrasts -- the peace of the countryside and the cultured and social excitement of London and Bristol, the crowd of life-like vulgarians and the elegant gentry -- the novel reveals superbly the life and temper of eighteenth-century England, as seen through the curiosity of its young heroine."
~~back cover

I disagree that Evelina underwent self-discovery or moral growth. Granted, she learned to converse with other people on social occasions; she also learned how to behave at assemblies and dances. Other than that, it seems to me she remained the same uncritical, unmetamorphed from the shy, humble young lady who first ventured away from the idyllic Berry Hill and a doting father who had done his best to keep her unspoiled and unworldly. I understand that the characters were made sterotypes and drawn larger than life to make a point, but I found Evelina's eternal self-depreciating modesty, Lord Orville's perfection, Captain Mirvan's abominable cruelty and coarseness, Mr. Villar's fond devotion of his entire life to Evelina -- all boring and predictable after the first hundred pages or so.
Profile Image for Lectora Empedernida.
118 reviews147 followers
February 22, 2021
3 🌟

Me ha gustado cómo retrata la alta sociedad inglesa del siglo XVIII con su frivolidad, crueldad, apariencias y doble moralidad, en la que sin un nombre o título importante no eras absolutamente nadie; esta sociedad impacta sobre Evelina que se ve envuelta en ella sin estar del todo preparada para hacerle frente. Se describen muy bien las costumbres y convenciones sociales de estas altas clases.

El que la novela sea epistolar me ha gustado, también tiene buenos personajes y cierto humor que ayudan a que se haga amena la lectura, pero confieso que se me ha hecho bastante larga, en la zona media especialmente. Hay que tener en cuenta que son casi 600 páginas, dándole vueltas una y otra vez a situaciones muy similares a mi modo de ver. Tiene elementos que me han gustado pero esperaba disfrutarla más, incluso me atrevo a decir que me hubiese planteado un abandono en su parte media si no llega a ser por su ambitación y temática, bastante de mi gusto. Al finalizar me quedo con la sensación de que en general tampoco ha estado mal, valoro aquello que más me ha gustado pero sin olvidar esos momentos que se me ha hecho cuesta arriba.
Profile Image for Sotiris Karaiskos.
1,141 reviews81 followers
October 30, 2018
In the last few weeks I have been reading books of the 18th century to learn more about the history of British literature and to understand the influences on later writers. Of course, in these later writers is my beloved Jane Austen, who was a fanatical reader of the novels of the time. Some of her favorites were those written by the author of this book and were, in fact, the ones that influenced her most and gave her the inspiration to seriously start writing.

This influence becomes apparent from the beginning to the end of the book, especially considering the fact that in the first attempts Jane Austen experimented with the epistolary novel, with the first version of Pride and Prejudice being written in this form. In this book, then, we find many things we loved later. Its basis is a classic romantic story in which the heroine joins the social circles and somewhere there finds her other half and a lot of obstacles between them. Through it, the author shows us the life of the upper classes, their intense social life and their interests, from the most essentially all the way to the stupid ones, and presents us with some characteristic figures of the time. Above all, however, she shows us the position of the woman at a time when the first steps were taken to her emancipation. The heroine of the book is seemingly shy and weak, and follows all the norms of the time for the behaviour of women, but at the same time she is a woman who has been educated, demands respect and actively seeks a way to secure her future happiness, without deducting her dignity. The criticism of the writer in this issue extends to men, commenting on the superficiality of many of them that is happily compensated by serious men, such as the one who attracts the erotic interest of our heroine and reminds us of Mr Darcy.

Of course, I can not say that there is any kind of copying, there are quite a few differences, a greater emotionality that characterized many novels of the time and a didactic tone that is, however, clearly less obvious than it was usual then. What is definitely there is a great influence from the style of writing. The restrained satirical mood, the equally restrained romance, the intense social critique, the essential dialogues, the beautiful and intelligent female look are the main elements that characterize it and gave rise to its adoption and further development. Apart from the comparison and the influence it had, however, the book has value in itself. It is an extremely interesting reading, particularly pleasant and entertaining and certainly of very high quality. From the first page I liked it very much, as I kept going, I liked it more and more as I was identified with the characters and the plot became interesting and in the end I left with the most excellent impressions, absolutely satisfied and confident that I will read some more books of this author.

Τις τελευταίες εβδομάδες διαβάζω βιβλία του 18ου αιώνα για να μάθω περισσότερα για την ιστορία της βρετανικής λογοτεχνίας και να καταλάβουν ποιες ήταν οι επιρροές των μεταγενέστερων συγγραφέων. Φυσικά μέσα σε αυτές τις μεταγενέστεροι συγγραφείς είναι η αγαπημένη μου Jane Austen, η οποία ήταν φανατική αναγνώστρια των μυθιστορημάτων της εποχής. Μερικά από τα αγαπημένα της ήταν αυτά που έγραψε η συγγραφέας αυτού του βιβλίου και ήταν, μάλιστα, αυτά που την επηρέασαν περισσότερο και της έδωσαν το έναυσμα να ασχοληθεί σοβαρά με τη συγγραφή.

Η επιρροή αυτή γίνεται ολοφάνερη από την αρχή μέχρι το τέλος του βιβλίου, ειδικά άμα λάβουμε υπόψη μας το γεγονός ότι στις πρώτες τις προσπάθειες η Jane Austen πειραματίστηκε με το επιστολογραφικό μυθιστόρημα, με την πρώτη εκδοχή του Pride and Prejudice να γράφεται σε αυτή τη μορφή. Μέσα σε αυτό το βιβλίο, λοιπόν, συναντάμε πολλά πράγματα που λατρέψαμε στη συνέχεια. Η βάση του είναι μία κλασική ρομαντική ιστορία, στην οποία η ηρωίδα μας κάνει την είσοδό της στους κοινωνικούς κύκλους και κάπου εκεί βρίσκει το άλλο της μισό και ένα σωρό εμπόδια ανάμεσα τους. Μέσα από αυτήν η συγγραφέας μας δείχνει τη ζωή των ανώτερων τάξεων, με την έντονη κοινωνική ζωή και τα ενδιαφέροντά τους, από τα πια ουσιαστικά μέχρι τα εντελώς ανόητα και μας παρουσιάζει κάποιες χαρακτηριστικές φιγούρες της εποχής. Πάνω από όλα, όμως, μας δείχνει τη θέση της γυναίκας σε μία εποχή όπου γίνονταν τα πρώτα βήματα για τη χειραφέτηση της. Η ηρωίδα του βιβλίου είναι φαινομενικά ντροπαλή και αδύναμη και ακολουθεί όλες τις νόρμες της εποχής για τη συμπεριφορά των γυναικών, παράλληλα, όμως, είναι μία γυναίκα που διαθέτει μόρφωση, επιδιώκει να τη σέβονται και αναζητά ενεργά έναν τρόπο και να εξασφαλίσει τη μελλοντική της ευτυχία, χωρίς να κάνει εκπτώσεις στην αξιοπρέπειά της. Η κριτική της συγγραφέως σε αυτό το θέμα επεκτείνεται και στους άνδρες, σχολιάζοντας την επιπολαιότητα πολλών από αυτών που ευτυχώς αντισταθμίζεται από σοβαρούς άντρες όπως για παράδειγμα εκείνον που προσελκύει το ερωτικό ενδιαφέρον της ηρωίδας μας και κάτι μας θυμίζει από τον Mr Darcy.

Φυσικά με κανέναν τρόπο δεν μπορώ να πω ότι υπάρχει κάποιου είδους αντιγραφή, υπάρχουν σαφέστατα αρκετές διαφορές, ένας μεγαλύτερος συναισθηματισμός που χαρακτήριζε πολλά μυθιστορήματα της εποχής και μία διδακτική τάση που είναι, όμως, σαφώς μικρότερη από ότι ήταν συνηθισμένο τότε. Αυτό που σίγουρα υπάρχει είναι μία μεγάλη επιρροή από το ύφος του γραψίματος. Η συγκρατημένη σατυρική διάθεση, ο εξίσου συγκρατημένος ρομαντισμός, η έντονη κοινωνική κριτική, οι ουσιαστικοί διάλογοι, η όμορφη και έξυπνη γυναικεία ματιά είναι τα κύρια στοιχεία που το χαρακτηρίζουν και έδωσαν το έναυσμα για την υιοθέτηση και την εξέλιξή του στη συνέχεια της λογοτεχνικής ιστορίας. Πέρα από τη σύγκριση και την επιρροή που είχε, όμως, το βιβλίο έχει αξία από μόνο του. Είναι ένα εξαιρετικά ενδιαφέρον ανάγνωσμα, ιδιαίτερα ευχάριστο και ψυχαγωγικό και σίγουρα ιδιαίτερα ποιοτικό. Από την πρώτη του σελίδα μου άρεσε πάρα πολύ, όσο προχωρούσα μου άρεσε όλο και περισσότερο καθώς ταυτιζόμουν με τους χαρακτήρες και η πλοκή γινόταν ενδιαφέρουσα και στο τέλος έμεινα με τις πιο άριστες εντυπώσεις, απόλυτα ικανοποιημένος και σίγουρος ότι θα διαβάσω και κάποια άλλα βιβλία της συγγραφέως.
Profile Image for Nicola.
535 reviews55 followers
February 10, 2017
This was quite an unexpected delight. I generally find books from this era a little hard going; taken overall I enjoy them but the long winded and often oppressively religious and virtuous heroines can be a little trying to my patience at times. Evelina, the eponymous heroine, was a pleasant surprise. Yes, she was virtuous but she didn't make a parade of her virtue and didn't write a single line of poetry! I can't remember if she ever even fainted but I don't think that she did. What she did do was blush a whole lot as her inexperience in social situations in the books early stages landed her in some hot water and then her family and the embarrassing scrapes she frequently fell into continued the process as she became a little more worldly wise.

I could relate to Evelina so very well; an excited young girl, tasting the delights of society for the first time under the auspices of the kindly Mrs Mirvan, whose daughter became a great friend of Evelina's. I watched Evelina fall afoul of societies rules through ignorance with sympathy. Her shame being greatly heightened by the teasing from the men she offended by her gauche behaviour. Still she shouldn't feel too hardly done by as it was this cruelty (social cruelty) which first fixed the eye of Lord Orville upon her and he intervened with great courtesy to spare her the embarrassment and shame that he saw she was suffering under, thus marking him out to the eye of any remotely experienced reader, as the romantic interest that our sweet little Evelina is destined for.

Lord Orville was a little colourless to be honest. In contrast to the delightfully real Evelina he seemed mostly to consist of good manners, very well in their way, but I was hoping, as the book progressed, to see something of his personality under all those courtesies but I never really did.

Once Evelina found her footing a little more, another source of embarrassment was added by the addition of her grandmother (Madam Duval) and her very vulgar cousins. They were hilarious. The fights between the english hating Madam Duval and Evelina's french hating host, Captain Mirvan, were epic. Madam Duval, for all her pretensions of great learning was extremely credulous and fell victim to several of the Captains 'pranks'. Much though I disliked the women, the barbaric treatment she received at the hands of the Captain and his accomplice Sir Clement Willoughby, was extreme.

Sir Clement Willoughby was quite an interesting character, although obviously pretty thoroughly disreputable he certainly had more character than Lord Orville and I couldn't quite help thinking that it was a shame that Fanny Burney didn't put as much effort into developing Lord Orville that she did into Sir Clement Willoughby.

All in all a great book; I can certainly see why it was a favourite of Jane Austen's.
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