Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

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.

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...

(The entire section is 487 words.)