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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 487

Fanny Burney is one of the few women novelists whose reputation as an important figure in the development of the novel has been traditionally acknowledged. Writing in formats developed by dominant novelists Samuel Richardson and Henry Fielding, Burney is also often singled out as a major influence on Jane Austen, whose classic work Pride and Prejudice (1813) borrows many elements, including the title itself, from Cecilia: Or, Memoirs of an Heiress, Burney’s second novel.

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Focusing on the issues of romantic love and the use and abuse of money, Burney’s narrative moves chronologically through a seventeen-month period surrounding Cecilia’s inheritance of a family fortune, provided she abides by the restriction that she not surrender her surname if she marries. This stipulation, which is first mentioned casually, will turn out to be the pivotal issue of Cecilia’s future happiness. The novel opens with Cecilia’s farewells to her friends in her quiet, rural hometown of Bury in Suffolk before she moves to London, where she will reside with one of her three guardians, Mr. Harrel, until she reaches the age of twenty-one. Although she is clearly out of place in London society, Cecilia is levelheaded, gracious, and confident, and she astutely discerns that her enthusiastic reception has more to do with her inheritance than any genuine fondness for her personally. She is at first amused by the egocentric, frivolous, shallow manner of the people she meets. When the flighty Miss Larolles intently recalls the fortunate circumstance of obtaining a last-minute invitation to a party only when a friend became ill and was unable to attend, Cecilia laughs at the irony. Later, however, Cecilia learns that such insensitivity has its serious side and potentially tragic consequences, as in the case of the Hill family, ill and starving because Mr. Harrel refuses to pay Mr. Hill for work done months ago. Cecilia’s attempt to persuade Mr. Harrel to pay his workers are the first of many frustrations in dealing with the callous, cruel insensitivity of many members of the privileged classes. Her generosity in helping this family and others, which ironically contributes to the depletion of her fortune and to her own destitution, gives her a sense of purpose in life.

The superficial, vain judgments of people in regard to status become painfully and more personally evident to Cecilia when she falls in love with young Mortimer Delvile, whose family coldly rejects her as an appropriate bride because of her inferior social standing and because they are not willing for Mortimer to give up their family surname. After many tragedies and much suffering, including a period in which Cecilia is first penniless and then driven temporarily insane, the marriage is sanctioned and the family united. Although the costs have been exceedingly high, Cecilia observes and accepts the reality that life will always be imperfect, that good people can have serious flaws, and that love has its qualifications.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 302

Fanny Burney has long been acknowledged as an important literary figure in the history and development of the English novel, although only in the last half of the twentieth century have critics begun to subject her work to intense and in-depth analysis. Both Evelina and Cecilia were enormously popular, as were her later works, and Burney was one of the first women to make a living as a writer. Yet, as a woman in the eighteenth century, Burney felt compelled to conceal her writing until after the success of Evelina.

Cecilia presents an atypical eighteenth century heroine who is intelligent, who cherishes independence, and who is emotionally stronger than her mate. The novel offers a rare, perhaps visionary insight...

(The entire section contains 1852 words.)

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