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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1148

Abandoned by her father and her maternal grandmother upon the death of her mother, Evelina is for many years the ward of the Reverend Mr. Arthur Villars, an English clergyman. At last, her grandmother, Madame Duval, writes from France to say that she will take charge of Evelina, providing proper proof of the child’s relationship is forthcoming. Mr. Villars, however, refuses to send Evelina to France. He also objects to the invitation of Mrs. Mirvan, who wants Evelina to join her family in London. He thinks that Evelina, brought up carefully at Berry Hill in Dorsetshire, should not be exposed to London society life, particularly so since her own father, Sir John Belmont, will not admit his parentage and she is without enough income to permit her to live as the Mirvans do.

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After some urging, he finally allows Evelina to visit Lady Howard, Mrs. Mirvan’s mother, at Howard Grove. A short time later, Mrs. Mirvan and her daughter, who are delighted with Evelina, secure permission to have her accompany them to London.

Almost at once, she is swept into fashionable London life. Having grown up in the provinces, Evalina finds the city is a constant joy. She soon meets Lord Orville, and they are attracted to each other. On several occasions, her lack of London manners causes her embarrassment, and she expresses a desire to return to Dorsetshire. Sir Clement Willoughby is her chief tormentor.

By chance, she meets her odious grandmother, the vulgar and presumptuous Madame Duval. On an outing, the Frenchwoman becomes the subject of ridicule when she is pitched into a mudhole. Evelina meets some of her other relations and finds them no better than her grandmother.

Madame Duval, attaching herself to the Mirvans, succeeds in making Evelina very unhappy. Evelina goes reluctantly to the opera with her relatives and is made miserable by their crudeness. Hoping to escape them, she joins Sir Clement but is only further embarrassed when Sir Clement intentionally delays his coach while escorting her to her lodging. Evelina is severely scolded by her guardian for the escapade. In a letter to her, he indicates that he lives in daily fear for her honor. He is relieved when he hears that the Mirvans are at last returning with her to Howard Grove.

Lady Howard, urged on by Madame Duval, puts forth the plan of forcing Sir John Belmont to acknowledge Evelina as his daughter. Mr. Villars does not approve of this action; he promised Evelina’s mother that the young woman would never know her cruel and “unnatural” father.

At Howard Grove, Evelina unknowingly participates in a cruel joke planned by Captain Mirvan and Sir Clement. Again made a laughingstock, Madame Duval takes to her bed after she is sent upon a fool’s errand and loses her false curls. When Sir John Belmont refuses to admit that Evelina is his daughter, Madame Duval plans to take Evelina to confront Sir John in person and to demand his recognition. Mr. Villars will not listen to her proposal. He does agree, however, to let Evelina spend a month with her grandmother in London. Evelina is unhappy under Madame Duval’s chaperonage because her vulgar relations attempt to use her to ingratiate themselves with her fashionable friends. Sir Clement visits Evelina while she is staying with her grandmother, but Madame Duval embarrasses everyone by her uncivil remarks to him. She remembers the joke played on her at Howard Grove.

In her London lodgings, Evelina is instrumental in preventing the suicide of Mr. Macartney, an impoverished Scottish poet. Out of pity for his plight, she relieves his need with money from her own purse. At a fireworks display, Evelina is again chagrined, being discovered by Lord Orville while she is in vulgar company.

Madame Duval announces that she hopes to marry Evelina to the boorish young son of Mr. Branghton, a silversmith. Mr. Branghton is Madame Duval’s nephew. Evelina is much distressed, the more so when her grandmother’s friends attach themselves to Lord Orville in a familiar manner. When Mr. Branghton asks his lordship’s custom for any silver the nobleman might want to buy, Evelina feels ruined forever in Lord Orville’s eyes.

In her distress, Evelina writes to Mr. Villars, who orders her to return immediately to Berry Hill. From there, she writes about her London adventures to her friend, Miss Mirvan. A most painful surprise to her is a letter she receives from Lord Orville, to whom she wrote to disclaim responsibility for her relatives’ crudeness. His reply is so insulting that she becomes ill and has to be sent to a rest home at Bristol Hot Wells, where she goes in the company of Mrs. Selwyn, a neighbor.

At the watering place, Evelina meets many of her fashionable London friends, among them Lord Orville. He is so courteous that she forgives him for his impolite letter. As Evelina is beginning to feel at home once more among people of wealth and position, Mr. Macartney appears and embarrasses her with his importunities.

A new arrival at the baths is Miss Belmont, an heiress reputed to be Sir John Belmont’s daughter. Mrs. Selwyn, hearing of the young woman’s identity, decides to learn more about Miss Belmont. Mrs. Selwyn is convinced that Evelina is the true daughter of Sir John.

Mr. Macartney is trying to return the money Evelina gave him, but she does not want her friends to learn that she ever knew him. She fears that they will suspect her of having an affair with him. Lord Orville, however, encourages her to see the unfortunate young poet. From Mr. Macartney, Evelina learns that he believes himself to be an unacknowledged son of Sir John Belmont. Evelina, realizing that she must be the sister of Mr. Macartney, does not reveal her knowledge.

When Sir John Belmont returns to England, Mr. Villars is finally stirred to action against him; for by introducing to society the woman who poses as his daughter, Sir John is indicating that Evelina is an impostor. Determined that Evelina have her rights, Mr. Villars prepares to force Sir John to acknowledge Evelina as his daughter.

Through the good offices of Mrs. Selwyn and others, the affair is at last untangled. The supposed daughter of Sir John proves to be the daughter of a penniless nurse, who substituted her own child for Lady Belmont’s infant. Evelina, delighted to learn that Sir John’s attitude is the result of error and not neglect, is happily reconciled with her father, who receives her warmly. The impostor is treated with great kindness by all concerned as she herself is innocent of the design. She marries Mr. Macartney, who is also acknowledged by Sir John. As Sir John’s daughter, Evelina is sought after by Lord Orville, to whom she gladly gives her hand in marriage.

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