Evelina; or, A Young Lady's Entrance into the World, Fanny Burney
Evelina; or, A Young Lady's Entrance into the World Fanny Burney
(Born Frances Burney; later Madame d'Arblay) English novelist, playwright, letter writer, and diarist.
The following entry presents criticism of Burney's novel Evelina (1778). See also Fanny Burney Criticism.
Fanny Burney's first novel, Evelina; or, A Young Lady's Entrance into the World, is an English novel of manners and is perhaps her best-known work, although it was originally published anonymously. An epistolary novel narrated by its eponymous heroine, it follows Evelina's entrance into society and her search for recognition of her true parentage. The popular novel has been recognized for its insight into social behavior and its humor, as well as its simple prose. Late twentieth century critical attention has focused primarily on Evelina's exploration of patriarchy and the issue of female identity.
Plot and Major Characters
Evelina's plot is driven by the heroine's attempt to secure a family and a name by confronting her father with her legitimacy. Evelina's problems begin before she is born when Belmont, a notorious scoundrel, secretly marries Evelina's mother, Caroline, and the bride's family reacts by cutting her off from her inheritance. An enraged Belmont burns the marriage certificate and abandons his pregnant wife. Caroline dies giving birth to Evelina and leaves the child to be raised by Mr. Villars. Evelina grows up without a true last name, and thus must assume a last name to protect both herself and the father who has refused to recognize her. As a young woman, Evelina visits London to see her friend, Mrs. Miravan, and is introduced into society. Although embarrassed by ill-bred relatives and persistently pursued by Sir Clement Willoughby, Evelina falls in love with Lord Orville—a man by all rights socially superior to a middle-class woman without a fortune. When asked by friends of Evelina to recognize his daughter, Belmont claims that his daughter has been in his care since her infancy. It is then revealed that Lady Belmont's nurse has passed off her own child as Belmont's. The fraud is quickly covered up and as Evelina's resemblance to her mother pains Belmont, she is finally recognized as his heir. Shortly thereafter, Evelina, now legitimized and with a fortune, weds Lord Orville.
Evelina focuses largely on female identity in late-eighteenth-century society. Once immersed into society, Evelina learns how little value women seem to have. Burney portrays the difficult position contemporary women were in—showing young women aggressively pursued as sexual objects and society's rejection of unmarried older women. Evelina matures through the course of the novel from the isolated innocent safely under Mr. Villars's care to a more experienced woman who wisely keeps her own counsel and cultivates a sense of honor. She also spends a good portion of the novel in search of her own identity, which can only be realized by gaining legitimacy through her father's name. Defying social convention, Orville intends to marry Evelina with or without her father's recognition of her and despite her lack of fortune. Once she is acknowledged as her father's heir and takes his name, she gives it up and takes Lord Orville's. This portrayal of true love in the face of social inequality was significant to a growing population of middle class young women, who themselves hoped for such good fortune. Attendant to the theme of female identity is the novel's exploration of the role of patriarchy in late-eighteenth-century society. Burney examines the way Evelina defines herself in terms of her place in a patriarchal society; her relationships with three different domineering father-figures emphasizes this struggle.
Modern criticism is heavily concerned with the novel's intertwining themes of female identity and patriarchal power. The accuracy and detail of Burney's observations of her society are seldom disputed, although many critics discount the novel as essentially trivial. Susan Staves takes issue with this, contending that the characters portray genuine and painful anxiety concerning the physical limitations of women. These societal limitations render women vulnerable to the unwanted advances of men, and to the psychological restraints society places upon women—forcing the often feigned and sometimes real ignorance about the realities of sex and money. Staves argues that the romantic plot serves to undercut Evelina's exploration of these issues. Like Staves, Judith Lowder Newton examines assaults on women in Evelina's world. Newton finds that while Burney reveals that men violate and control women in this society, at the same time the author seems to conceal the relationship between women's economic dependency on men and the fact that they are subjected to male control. The genteel class, including its patriarchal codes, is idealized even though Evelina entertains the fantasy of female power. Challenging critics who view the novel as a portrayal of late-eighteenth-century cultural patriarchy, Kristina Straub asserts that Evelina is a “divided text” in which the ideology of romantic love as the aim of young women is juxtaposed with the ideological attitude toward female maturity as something “culturally problematic.” Straub identifies both ideologies as abusive towards women: the former sexually exploits young women, and the latter finds mature women useless. Irene Fizer takes another approach in her evaluation of the paternal figures: Belmont, Villars, and Orville. Fizer argues that Belmont is portrayed as a lawless, irredeemable father who generates the novel's “crises of paternity.” Taking a psychoanalytic approach, Fizer then demonstrates that with Belmont's removal, the “sexual father” is thereby differentiated from the “legal father.” Agreeing with both Staves and Newton that violence pervades Evelina, Gina Campbell shows that the male characters in the novel objectify women, robbing them of subjectivity. Campbell suggests that Burney sought to advocate female authority in the novel, but negated this thematic thrust by writing from the traditional standpoint of feminine propriety. Some critics see in Evelina a commentary or reflection of the socio-political developments in late-eighteenth-century England. Mary Severance finds a relationship between the novel's ideas and the kingship of George III, as the novel is situated within and reflects England's transformation from a “failed patriarchal socio-political order” to a democratic, modern nation. Using Jürgen Habermas's analysis of the development of capitalism in Europe, Timothy Dykstal focuses on the cultural, or public sphere, that Habermas viewed as integral to the bourgeoisie's challenge to aristocratic dominance. Within this sphere, the bourgeoisie could exchange ideas on art and culture that could help place them on equal footing with the aristocracy. Dykstal argues that most characters in Evelina, save Mrs. Selwyn, fail to make appropriate use of the public sphere, but suggests that Burney's novel demonstrates the author's hope that a type of culture—such as that provided by her novels—can help encourage independent thinking and discourage cultural illiteracy. Helen Thompson claims that Evelina aids in the reassessment of Habermas's evaluation of the rise of the public sphere. Thompson views this as a feminist endeavor, finding an intersection between gender and the historigraphical elements that Habermas maintains encourage the progression of England toward modernity.
Evelina; or, A Young Lady's Entrance into the World (novel) 1778
Cecilia; or, Memoirs of an Heiress (novel) 1782
Edwy and Elgiva (drama) 1795
Camilla; or, A Picture of Youth (novel) 1796
The Wanderer; or, Female Difficulties (novel) 1814
Memoirs of Dr. Burney, Arranged from His Own Manuscripts, from Family Papers, and from Personal Recollections (memoirs) 1832
The Diary and Letters of Madame d'Arblay. 7 vols. (diary and letters) 1842-46
The Early Diary of Frances Burney, 1768-1778. 2 vols. (diary) 1889
The Journals and Letters of Fanny Burney, (Madame D'Arblay) 1791–1840. 12 vols. (diaries and letters) 1972-84
*A Busy Day (drama) 1984
*Written circa 1800.
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SOURCE: “Evelina Revisited,” Papers on Language and Literature, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1965, pp. 3-19.
[In the following essay, Malone offers a summary of Evelina in the hopes of renewing critical interest in the novel.]
The bicentennial of Fanny Burney's first and best novel is still fourteen years off as I write, but if I am to have a share in that event it will have to be well ahead of time, since I shall hardly be there (or indeed anywhere) in the flesh when the celebration starts. As it happens, I have just read Evelina again, after long neglect, and the reading moves me to write this essay, which I will end with a few words about the characters as they seem to each other; to each other, I say, because, in virtue of the epistolary form that the author chose to give her book, she kept herself off the stage throughout, ever present though she was behind the scenes. Even in the verses to her father, the Dedication, and the Preface, where she must needs speak in person, she hid behind the screen of anonymity, but here the words came from her own mouth, and I will begin with a look at what she said.
The verses, entitled “To … … …,” combine two extremes: extravagant praise of her father and utter depreciation of her own gifts. The one was doubtless sincere; the other, in part at least, the auctorial modesty of literary convention. The matter of the five...
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SOURCE: “Evelina; or, Female Difficulties,” in Modern Philology, Vol. 73, No. 4, May, 1976, pp. 368-81.
[In the following essay, Staves challenges those critics who find Evelina trivial and asserts that the anxiety felt by the main characters is quite real and is often induced by violence.]
There is a remarkable degree of critical consensus on the merits of Evelina, Fanny Burney's popular novel.1 This consensus is for the most part sound, but it has one aspect which strikes me as peculiar. Descriptions of the novel make it appear to be a combination of the usual romance with cheerful, albeit occasionally malicious, satire. The primary criticism of the book is that it is hopelessly trivial. Yet Evelina's predominant emotion seems to me to be an acute anxiety which is painful, real, and powerful.
Traditional approaches to Evelina stress Fanny Burney's place in literary history as a transitional figure between the major novelists of the mid-eighteenth century and Jane Austen. Critics also seem to agree that her plots are perfunctory, simply “wood and wire” on which to hang the true attraction of her work, the humorous characters and delightful comic episodes. The plots, Macaulay wrote, “are rudely constructed and improbable, if we consider them in themselves. But they are admirably framed for the purpose of exhibiting striking groups of...
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SOURCE: “‘To Whom I Most Belong’: The Role of Family in Evelina,” in Eighteenth-Century Life, Vol. 6, No. 1, October, 1980, pp. 29-42.
[In the following essay, Olshin contends that Evelina's “obscure birth,” not her ignorance and inexperience, is the driving force of the novel. The critic also faults Burney for failing to move past Evelina's search for a societal identity into deeper emotional territory.]
In the original preface to Evelina, Fanny Burney describes her heroine and problems that confront her:
[A] young female, educated in the most secluded retirement, makes, at the age of seventeen, her first appearance upon the great and busy stage of life; with a virtuous mind, a cultivated understanding, and a feeling heart, her ignorance of the forms, and inexperience in the manners of the world, occasion all the little incidents which these volumes record, and which form the natural progression of the life of a young woman of obscure birth, but conspicuous beauty, for the first six months after her Entrance into th. World.1
Most studies of Evelina have tended to take Burney at her word and have elaborated on certain aspects of the work described in her statement: again and again, “the manners of the world” as they are portrayed in Evelina have been considered to be of major...
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SOURCE: “Evelina: A Chronicle of Assault,” in Fanny Burney's “Evelina,” edited by Harold Bloom, Chelsea House Publishers, 1988, pp. 59-83.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1981, Newton demonstrates the way in which Evelina's world is ruled by the imposition of men on women, arguing that male assault and control is the central expression of power in Evelina. Furthermore, Newton maintains that the novel endorses a gentlemen-run patriarchy, while at the same time fantasizing about female power.]
To read this history of a young lady's entrance into the world is to read a chronicle of assault: for having made her debut in “public company,” amid a round of London's most “fashionable Spring Diversions,” Burney's genteel young heroine finds that she can go but few places indeed without being forced, intruded upon, seized, kidnapped, or in some other way violated by a male. At her first assembly she is provoked by the “negligent impertinence” of a fop, at her second “tormented … to death” by a baronet. A trip to the opera marks her first kidnapping, an evening at the play a public attack. At the Pantheon a lord affronts her by staring; at Vauxhall “gentlemen” “rudely” seize upon and pursue her; and at Marylebone, when she loses her party and her way, she finds that her distress “only furnished a pretence for impertinent witticisms” on the part of...
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SOURCE: “Evelina: Gulphs, Pits, and Precipices,” in Divided Fictions: Fanny Burney and Feminine Strategy, University of Kentucky Press, 1987, pp. 23-52.
[In the following excerpt, Straub examines Burney's portrayal of female maturity in Evelina and finds that her treatment of independent, mature women depicts two opposing female fates: the idealization of romantic love as the only acceptable feminine goal versus negative eighteenth-century ideological assumptions about female maturity.]
Fanny Burney published her first novel, Evelina; or, the History of a Young Lady's Entrance into the World, when she was twenty-six years old and a spinster. Still young enough to be treated as a “young lady” by her friend and mentor Samuel Johnson, Burney was nonetheless on the brink of becoming an “old maid,” one of the most problematic and vulnerable roles for a woman in the eighteenth century, in part because of its marginal economic status, but also because female maturity, especially outside of marriage, compromised women's powers of self-assertion and their claims to public esteem. “Young ladies,” as Burney's outspoken “feminist” character, Mrs. Selwyn, suggests, might be “nowhere”—treasures too fine, too ethereal even to take up physical space—but the woman “over thirty” is, the misogynist womanizer Lord Merton retorts, “only in other folks way” (275). The...
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SOURCE: “The Name of the Daughter: Identity and Incest in Evelina,” in Refiguring the Father: New Feminist Readings of Patriarchy, edited by Patricia Yaeger and Beth Kowaleski-Wallace, Southern Illinois University Press, 1989, pp. 78-107.
[In the following essay, Fizer investigates Burney's scrutiny of paternity in Evelina, maintaining that the novel presents a crisis of the father figure because of the numerous paternal models it portrays.]
“I hardly know myself to whom I most belong” confesses the young heroine, Evelina Anville, at a moment of crisis, uncertain as to which of her three putative fathers she should defer.1 In Frances Burney's Evelina; or, The History of a Young Lady's Entrance into the World (1778) paternity is radically decentered. The father who should occupy the center of authority, Sir John Belmont, is not only absent but a notorious libertine. By taking up the rake father, Burney exposes the most disturbing contradiction of paternal privilege: though Belmont is carnal and negligent, he nonetheless retains the exclusive legal right to his daughter, Evelina. Into the literal space he leaves vacant enter paternal facsimiles: Reverend Mr. Villars, Evelina's guardian, and Lord Orville, her paternalistic suitor. Offering multiple models of paternity, Burney opens the figure of the father to comparative scrutiny. In turn,...
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SOURCE: “Writing Innocence: Fanny Burney's Evelina,” in Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, Vol. 9, No. 1, Spring, 1990, pp. 43-57.
[In the following essay, Cutting-Gray studies the significance of Evelina's journal and assesses her “calculated innocence and concealed experience.” The critic concludes that Evelina's writing is an effort to portray herself as “an entity,” but this version of herself is in fact a narrowly-defined product of the patriarchal code.]
Fanny Burney explained the “original” innocent character of Evelina, protagonist of her famous novel of 1778, to her sister Susan by saying that “she had been brought up in the strictest retirement, that she knew nothing of the world, and only acted from the impulses of Nature.” Quoting from her own preface, she added that the heroine was the “offspring of Nature in her simplest attire.”1 According to the precept of common sense, innocence is a state of unreflective union with a world complete in every moment. Such a state of unselfconsciousness contrasts with a succeeding stage of irretrievable loss in which the emergent self stands separate from the world. The fact that innocence can only be seen from this perspective beyond innocence, that innocence is a reductive concept within the broader, reflective context of experience, is an important clue to the conduct of Fanny Burney's first heroine. As if...
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SOURCE: “How to Read Like a Gentleman: Burney's Instructions to Her Critics in Evelina,” in ELH, Vol. 57, No. 3, Fall, 1990, pp. 557-83.
[In the following essay, Campbell states that Evelina includes a “model of reading” similar to conduct literature in its concern with propriety, which is intended to instruct Burney's critics on how to read her work. Campbell further evaluates the way in which the male characters in the novel “read” Evelina, and render female characters into “texts” by objectifying them.]
In Evelina's dedication, “To the Authors of the Monthly and Critical Reviews,” Frances Burney courts her prospective critics' attention or, more precisely, their protection. What is peculiar about this dedication is its tone of instruction:
The extensive plan of your critical observations,—which, not confined to works of utility or ingenuity, is equally open to those of frivolous amusement—and, yet worse than frivolous, dullness,—encourages me to seek for your protection, since,—perhaps for my sins!—it intitles me to your annotations. To resent, therefore, this offering, however insignificant, would ill become the universality of your undertaking; though not to despise it may, alas! be out of your power.1
The extraordinary convolutions of her prose here testify to Burney's...
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SOURCE: “Writing Home: Evelina, The Epistolary Novel and the Paradox of Property,” in ELH, Vol. 60, No. 2, Summer, 1993, pp. 419-39.
[In the following essay, Tucker explores the epistolary nature of Evelina, concentrating specifically on the paradox of the ownership of letters.]
On June 4, 1741, Alexander Pope filed suit against Edmund Curll, the prominent London bookseller who had just published Dean Swift's Literary Correspondence, for Twenty-Four Years, a volume comprised of letters written by Pope as well as those he received from such literary luminaries as Swift, Gay and Bolingbroke.1 Pope claimed rights over not only his own letters, but also over the letters he had received from Swift, and, on the basis of this claim, sought to prevent Curll from continuing to sell the book. Because he had never relinquished his rights to his writing, authorial rights established thirty years earlier by the 1710 Statute of Anne, Pope argued that his rights as author had been violated by Curll's failure to get permission to publish the letters.2 For his part, Curll maintained he had received the letters included in the volume from “the several Persons by whom & to whom they severally Purport to have been written & addressed,” and argued that, as a result, “the Complainant is not to be Considered as [both] the Author & proprietor of all or any of the...
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SOURCE: “An Unerring Rule: The Reformation of the Father in Frances Burney's Evelina,” in The Eighteenth Century, Vol. 36, No. 2, Summer, 1995, pp. 119-38.
[In the following essay, Severance proposes a psychoanalytical approach to Evelina that focuses on political rather than individual psychology. From this standpoint, Severance examines the relationship of the theme and structure of Evelina to the kingship of George III and his evolution from a symbol of illegitimate power to an impotent emblem of national unity.]
If in my heart the love of Virtue glows, ‘Twas planted there by an unerring rule; From thy example the pure flame arose, Thy life, my precept—thy good works, my school.(1)
For most of Frances Burney's critical afterlife, these verses dedicated to her father have served mainly to indicate her status as a daddy's girl. A recent resurgence of critical interest in Burney's life and work, however, has taken up Burney's relationship with her father and the proliferation of father figures in her fiction as part of a larger examination of women's relationships to and within patriarchy that focuses on the contradiction in these relationships.2 This new theoretical turn has criticized psychoanalytic interpretations of fictional works as expressions of the psychic history of their authors, and which therefore isolated women authors within the family...
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SOURCE: “Evelina and the Culture Industry,” in Criticism, Vol. XXXVII, No. 4, Fall, 1995, pp. 559-81.
[In the following essay, Dykstal's reading of Evelina is informed by Jürgen Habermas's analysis of the role of the bourgeoisie in early capitalist Europe. According to Dykstal, Evelina presents Burney's hope that the fictional culture she presented would encourage independence and cultural literacy, both of which are necessary in Habermas's view for the bourgeoisie to challenge the dominance of the aristocracy.]
In an early scene from Volume III of Frances Burney's Evelina (1778), Mrs. Selwyn, the experienced, independent “lady of large fortune” who acts as Evelina's guardian after her arrival in the resort community of Bristol Hotwell, reproaches Lord Merton, a dissolute aristocrat, for making a play for her charge.1 After “listen[ing] in silent contempt” to his flirtatious banter with Evelina, Mrs. Selwyn tells Merton that “his Lordship's rank and interest will secure him a place” in hell (274). Evelina, who had earlier confessed her apprehension of Mrs. Selwyn's “masculine … understanding” (268), is “surprised” now by her “severity” (274), yet it pays off: Merton abandons his pursuit of Evelina for a later time when he may catch her alone. With everyone else in Burney's novel deferring, even groveling, to the rank and...
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SOURCE: “Evelina's Two Publics,” in The Eighteenth Century, Vol. 39, No. 2, Summer, 1998, pp. 147-67.
[In the following essay, Thompson offers a re-examination of the relationship between Evelina's literary background and the feminist aspects of the novel. Thompson maintains that Evelina must mediate between two distinct publics: that which is aroused by her as a spectacle, and that which is summoned by her literary self.]
In concluding a recent volume of essays devoted to Frances Burney's Evelina; or, The History of a Young Lady's Entrance into the World, Margaret Doody makes the following appraisal: “It concerns me that none of these writers seems interested in the background of eighteenth-century literature (literature in its broadest sense) which lies behind Evelina … Attention to the literature does not mean disdaining the biographical approach (after all, what the author has read is an aspect of biography). But it does mean opening up the biographical approach, and not putting the entire emphasis, when discussing author or fable, on personal psychological material.”1 In what reads as a rejoinder to much of the last two decades' worth of attention to Evelina, Doody expresses concern at the critical latitude available to readers who locate the novel's referent in Burney's biography.2 Julia Epstein, who introduces the same volume, reviews the...
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Deitz, Jonathan and Sidonie Smith. “From Precept to Proper Social Action: Empirical Maturation in Fanny Burney's Evelina.” In Eighteenth-Century Life 3, No. 3 (March 1977): 85-88.
Maintains that Villars is a less admirable character and consequently is more influential on Evelina's maturation than critics generally acknowledge.
Dowling, William C. “Evelina and the Genealogy of Literary Shame.” In Eighteenth-Century Life 16, No. 3 (November 1992): 208-20.
Discusses Burney's use of embarrassment in Evelina and suggests that this “appeal to shame”—an Augustan satirical convention—significantly influenced Jane Austen.
Hilliard, Raymond F. “Laughter Echoing from Mouth to Mouth: Symbolic Cannibalism and Gender in Evelina.” In Eighteenth-Century Life 17, No. 1 (February 1993): 46-61.
A psychoanalytic reading of Evelina whereby group violence against women—termed “ritual cannibalism”—plays a vital role in the creation and enforcement of gender identity.
Jeffrey, David K. “Manners, Morals, Magic, and Evelina.” In Enlightenment Essays 9, Nos. 1-4 (Spring-Winter 1978): 35-47.
Compares Burney's use of epistolary novel conventions in Evelina with Richardson's Pamela and...
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