Last Updated on September 22, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 636
Context: Though unable to read or write until she was eight, Fanny, the daughter of the organist Dr. Burney, made up for her late start. At the age of fifteen, she had such an accumulation of poems, stories, and essays that in an attack of conscience over the waste of time it represented, she burned everything. Then struck by the ridiculousness of her act, she used the episode as the basis for a novel, Evelina (1778), published anonymously. It became popular at once. Dr. Johnson and Sir Joshua Reynolds enjoyed it. Sheridan suggested she write a play for him. Under pressure from her father, she started another novel, Cecilia, in five volumes, that appeared in June, 1782, and sold as fast as copies could be rushed from the press. Edmund Burke (1729–1796) wrote to praise her natural vein of humor, her "tender pathetic," and the comprehensive and noble moral. Later, in 1793, Fanny married a French refugee from the Revolution, Alexander Gabriel Jean Baptist Pieuchard d'Arblay (1752–1818) a friend of Lafayette and commander of the prison guard that once allowed King Louis to escape. The couple lived in France until after the Battle of Waterloo, then returned permanently to England. Cecilia, or Memoirs of an Heiress follows the fortunes of Cecilia Beverley for two years, from the time she leaves the country estate of her family at the age of twenty-two for a life in London, until she marries young Delvile. It is a lachrymose novel, with men and women quick to weep and readers also moved to tears over her misfortunes. Cecilia faces an obstacle to her marriage. Her uncle, wanting to carry on his name, offers her an income of £3,000 a year, if her husband will take his name. The prospective husband has a father who values the Delvile name more than riches, and will not consent to the union on such conditions. Other obstructions are an unreal villain, Monckton, and Mrs. Belfield, "that grossly natural woman who resembles half the decent women of the Burough." Near the close of the novel, Cecilia, an Ophelia-like creature of innocence and beauty gone mad under pain and rough usage, lies dying while her lover, young Delvile, the source of her miseries, looks down at her figure, "sweet even in the arms of death and insanity," and mutters: "Well, then–I may grieve, perhaps, hereafter!" However, before Cecilia dies, or floats on the water, or even goes completely mad, and while the gentle reader continues on, with tear-filled eyes, the elder Mr. Delvile is persuaded to reconsider his son's marriage, and Cecilia's woes come to an end. Besides its sadness, the book contains much humor. Mrs. Belfield is a satirized character, as is her son, who escapes a career "in trade," like his father's, and becomes a gentleman of fashion. The retired London man of business, Mr. Hobson (formerly a bricklayer and landlord) and his cringing friend, Mr. Simkins, and the loquacious Miss Larolles, provide smiles, as does the languid fop, Mr. Meadows, who scorns England and adores Europe. The second chapter of Book IV takes place at the Pantheon, and is entitled "A Man of the Ton." Mr. and Mrs. Harrel have invited Cecilia to accompany them there. Several others join them. Mr. Meadows saunters up, demanding to be introduced. Then he lolls in the vacant place next to Cecilia, hoping to devastate her with his conversation.
"Have you been long in town, ma'am?"
"This is not your first winter?"
"Of being in town, it is."
"Then you have something new to see: O charming! how I envy you!–Are you pleased with the Pantheon?"
"Very much; I have seen no building at all equal to it."
"You have not been abroad. Traveling is the ruin of all happiness! There's no looking at a building here after seeing Italy."
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