Despite the relative brevity of hercanon, Fanny Burney cannot be dismissed as a novelist with the usual generalizations from literary history—specifically, that the author shared the interests of her youthful heroines in good manners. She possessed a quick sense for the comic in character and situation, and those talents distinctly advanced the art of the English novel in the direction of Jane Austen. From one viewpoint, Burney indeed exists as an important transitional figure between the satiric allegories of the earlier eighteenth century and the instruments that portrayed middle-class manners in full flourish during the first quarter of the nineteenth century.
Burney’s contemporaries understood both her method and her purpose. Samuel Johnson thought her a “real wonder,” one worth being singled out for her honest sense of modesty and her ability to apply it to fiction, while Edmund Burke seemed amazed by her knowledge of human nature. Three years after her death, Thomas Babington Macaulay proclaimed that the author of Evelina and Cecilia had done for the English novel what Jeremy Collier, at the end of the seventeenth century, did for the drama: She maintained rigid morality and virgin delicacy. Macaulay proclaimed that Burney had indeed vindicated the right of woman “to an equal share in a fair and noble promise of letters” and had accomplished her task in clear, natural, and lively “woman’s English.”
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