(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

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.

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...

(The entire section is 1148 words.)