Fanny Burney’s Evelina; or, The History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World is a fascinating and funny look at high society in late eighteenth-century Britain. Through a quite extensive collection of letters, the story unfolds and the reader is welcomed into the evolving world of a young, innocent country girl as she learns the ways of her society through misunderstandings and embarrassing social errors. Evelina’s innocence is matched in equal measure with the lies and pretenses of egocentric characters who make fools of themselves in their attempts to win influence.
With twists and turns, misunderstandings, and false identities, Burney tells a story that is reminiscent of Shakespearean comedies. When Evelina; or, The History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World was first published, Kate Chisholm writes in an article for the Guardian, “everyone wanted to know who had written such a wickedly funny satire on fashionable society.” This book marked the beginning of Burney’s very successful career as a writer, as well as the birth of one of England’s most famous female novelists. Her books were the talk of the town, and people impatiently waited for each new book to appear. Burney’s writing was, according to Lauren Goldstein, writing for Time Europe, “more widely read than Jane Austen’s” during her time.
Evelina; or, The History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World is the kind of book that is hard to put down. Even if the reader suspects how the book will end, the writing is so compelling and the story so convoluted that trying to figure out what will happen next keeps the reader turning the pages. The book was audacious in Burney’s time. Today it is a fascinating look into the eighteenth century through the eyes of an intelligent and witty woman.