Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Frances (Fanny) Burney was the daughter of the musician and musicologist Charles Burney. Her mother died when she was ten years old (she had little rapport with her stepmother), at which time she began to write. She was persuaded to burn her youthful effusions, but she published her first novel, anonymously, in 1778: Evelina: Or, The History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World. This picture of contemporary society was an immediate success. The narrative of the advancement of a charming heroine of obscure birth and humble surroundings to a position of social prominence obtained for the author the friendship and admiration of Dr. Samuel Johnson and a place in the intellectual life of London. Her second novel, Cecilia: Or, Memoirs of an Heiress was salvaged from the material of a rejected drama, The Witlings. It enjoyed less success, but these first two works helped establish a new genre, the novel of manners. In 1786, Burney accepted the position of lady-in-waiting to the queen, but the honor proved distasteful to her and she retired from the court in 1791. In 1793, she married Alexandre D’Arblay, a refugee from France; a son, Alexandre, was born in the following year. After D’Arblay reawakened his wife’s interest in writing, Burney produced Brief Reflections Relative to the Emigrant French Clergy, a politicosocial pamphlet; Edwy and Elgiva, a blank verse tragedy that failed after one performance; the dull but...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Frances Burney, the third of six children of Charles Burney and Esther Sleepe Burney, was born on June 13, 1752, at King’s Lynn, Norfolk, where her father served as church organist while recuperating from consumption. In 1760, his health completely restored, Burney moved his family to London, where he resumed his professional involvements in teaching, composition, and music history. After the death of their mother on September 28, 1761, two of the children (Esther and Susannah) were sent to school in Paris, while Frances (known as Fanny) remained at home. Apparently, Dr. Burney feared that his middle daughter’s devotion to her grandmother (then living in France) would bring about the child’s conversion to Catholicism. He seemed prepared to change that point of view and send Fanny to join her sisters when, in 1766, he married Mrs. Stephen Allen. The fourteen-year-old girl thus remained at home in London, left to her own educational aims and directions, since her father had no time to supervise her learning. She had, at about age ten, begun to write drama, poetry, and fiction; on her fifteenth birthday, she supposedly burned her manuscripts because she felt guilty about wasting her time with such trifles.
Still, Burney could not purge her imagination, and the story of Evelina and her adventures did not die in the flames of her fireplace. Her brother Charles offered the first two volumes of Evelina to James Dodsley, who declined to consider an...
(The entire section is 875 words.)
Fanny Burney was born on June 13, 1752, in King’s Lyn, Norfolk, England. She was the daughter of Esther Sleepe and Charles Burney, who held a doctorate in music history. Her biographers claim that she was a very intelligent young girl who began writing odes, plays, songs, and farces at a very early age. Most of these early works were lost when Burney decided, as a teenager, to burn them. However she began to keep a diary around the age of fifteen, in which she recorded both typical, personal concerns of a young girl as well as anecdotes about her unusual experiences in court from the reign of George III to the beginning of the Victorian Age. Some of the incidents that Burney recorded and published in her The Early Diary of Frances Burney 1768–1778, were referred to for the 1994 movie The Madness of King George. Burney had served as lady-in-waiting to the king’s wife, Queen Charlotte.
At the age of twenty-six Burney published her first novel, Evelina; or, The History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World, anonymously in 1778. Although her father disapproved of her attempting to be published, he reconciled with his daughter after the novel became a huge success. From her popularity, she gained access to literary circles, including acquaintance with noted authors Samuel Johnson and Richard Sheridan. In 1782, Burney’s second novel, Cecilia; or, Memoirs of an Heiress, increased her fame. Author Jane Austen is said to have studied Burney’s works, which became such a strong influence on her writing that literary critics contend that Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has some very noticeable similarities to Burney’s style of writing. The title of Austen’s book is actually taken from the last chapter of Burney’s Cecilia; or, Memoirs of an Heiress. Historians have also recorded that Napoleon read Burney’s books and sent his compliments through Burney’s husband, General Alexandre d’Arblay, whom Burney married in 1793.
Burney’s third novel, Camilla; or, A Picture of Youth, was published in 1796 and it also enjoyed incredible success. A few years after this publication, General d’Arblay moved his family back to his homeland of France in an attempt to regain property he had abandoned there years before. The family remained in France for ten years, during which time Burney had to have an operation to remove a cancerous breast, which she suffered without anesthesia. She chronicled this experience in her diary, and for some people, this became her most famous writing. Burney’s last novel, The Wanderer; or, Female Difficulties, was published in 1814 after she had moved back to England.
Although Burney wrote several plays, none of them were produced during her lifetime. Writing novels was at first considered a dishonorable occupation for women. Burney’s success helped to change the attitude of most people in this respect However, the theater remained, according to Kate Chisholm, writing for the Guardian, “an unsuitable occupation for ladies of a certain class.” Not until 1993 did one of Burney’s plays reach the stage. Since then Burney’s material has been rejuvenated, culminating in not only having her plays produced but having a play written about her. In June 2002, in Westminister Abbey, on the 250th anniversary of her birth, Burney was commemorated in Poets’ Corner, joining Jane Austen George Eliot and the Brontë sisters as the only women so honored.
Burney enjoyed a long life, almost doubling the average life span of her contemporaries. She died at the age of eighty-eight in 1840.