Friday, July 25, 2014

Evelina by Fanny Burney

This book was a lot of fun to read.  Surprisingly, it was a very easy book to get into and strangely light. So I'm going to give my reflections on this book in a slightly different style than I usually do:

Evelina, written in the 1700s, is about a young girl with a rather sad past that is kind of too complicated to explain.  To make a long story short, Evelina's mother was disowned by her rich husband, she was heartbroken, died, and left her baby Evelina in the care of a guardian, Mr. Villars.  When Evelina reaches 16 (I think that was the age), she goes to do some broadening travel under the care of the matronly Lady Howard.  She has all kinds of adventures along the way, most of them of the romantic sort, and eventually ends up with the guy who we knew was the hero from page 20 on.  That's a gross oversimplification and the story was really very well-written.  I had fun reading it and Fanny Burney did an excellent job.

And now for my reflections:

  • Evelina is a very interesting heroine to me.  We are so used to the spunky, can-do-anything, strong-willed heroine in our modern fiction and movies (and, really, it's not a new innovation...think of Lizzie Bennet).  In contrast, Evelina's most used descriptor is 'angelic'.  She is described as this gorgeous, faultless, innocent creature who charms and thrills everyone who she comes into contact with.  Surprisingly, this didn't drive me crazy, I think because I don't read about a lot of heroines like this.  And luckily, Evelina did have personality beyond her perfectness, which definitely helped.
  • In spite of my toleration of Evelina's perfection, I am annoyed by how overlooked Maria, her best friend, is.  Maria appears to exist simply to give Evelina somebody to talk to while she isn't dancing with countless suitors and to provide transportation for Evelina in the form of her mother's carriage.  Maria deserves her own personality and a few of her own suitors, bless her heart.
  • This book is supposed to be satirical.  I was surprised that I picked up some of it, such as the jabs made at the ridiculous head-gear of the time.  However, I am sure that there is stuff that I am missing. Of course there are the extensive footnotes, but it gets exhausting flipping back and forth.  
  • I am sometimes mortified for Evelina because of her naiveté and slips simply to lack of understanding.  Eeek!  *Cringe*  Evelina is supposed to be a simple country girl with a definite lack in refinement and this shows in many of her interactions in the first half of the book.
  • Okay, now for the hero analysis.  What is it with heroes?!  They are either stiffly, perfectly perfect, an absolute gentleman, and spinlessly bland, or the racy bad-boy portrayed in so much of fiction starting in the late 1950s.  Lord Orville, the hero, falls into the former category.   I'm calling for a hero reform.  We need heroes that are fully human, of course still attractive and mannerly, yet faulted, like all of us.  Heroes deserve rounding out, just like all characters do.  No wait, there are some human heroes.  The most famous one is Darcy, but I know there are others, just let me think...
  • The book's epistolary form is very enjoyable to read.  I felt just like I was looking over Evelina's shoulder as she wrote her letters to her beloved guardian.  Writing an epistolary book is a fine line to walk and I have to hand it to Fanny Burney, she did a very good job.
  • And finally, I loved this book.  If you are in need of a good summer classic, this is the one to choose.  I sped through it in just a couple days and was on to other things.  It's not preachy or dry and it's fun to read.  I highly recommend it.


  1. I read this for university a few years ago - I absolutely loved it! It's so interesting reading a pre-cursor to Jane Austen, you can see how the novel itself was developing. Thanks for posting, it was good to remember this book again :)

  2. After reading The Real Jane Austen I became very interested in reading Fanny Burney, who was one of Austen's favorite authors. I will have to make this book a priority for the next Austen in August. It's really good to know that it's not preachy or dry, I had that as a (totally unfounded) assumption.