Fanny Burney

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111207065-Burney.jpg Fanny Burney Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Frances (Fanny) Burney was the daughter of the musician and musicologist Charles Burney. Her mother died when she was ten years old (she had little rapport with her stepmother), at which time she began to write. She was persuaded to burn her youthful effusions, but she published her first novel, anonymously, in 1778: Evelina: Or, The History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World. This picture of contemporary society was an immediate success. The narrative of the advancement of a charming heroine of obscure birth and humble surroundings to a position of social prominence obtained for the author the friendship and admiration of Dr. Samuel Johnson and a place in the intellectual life of London. Her second novel, Cecilia: Or, Memoirs of an Heiress was salvaged from the material of a rejected drama, The Witlings. It enjoyed less success, but these first two works helped establish a new genre, the novel of manners. In 1786, Burney accepted the position of lady-in-waiting to the queen, but the honor proved distasteful to her and she retired from the court in 1791. In 1793, she married Alexandre D’Arblay, a refugee from France; a son, Alexandre, was born in the following year. After D’Arblay reawakened his wife’s interest in writing, Burney produced Brief Reflections Relative to the Emigrant French Clergy, a politicosocial pamphlet; Edwy and Elgiva, a blank verse tragedy that failed after one performance; the dull but profitable novel Camilla: Or, A Picture of Youth; and a comedy, Love and Fashion. Between 1802 and 1812, Burney lived in Paris. In 1814, she published The Wanderer: Or, Female Difficulties, which was duller than Camilla but even more profitable. She followed her husband to Waterloo in 1815 and in Brussels tended the wounded of that battle; she left a vivid account of this experience in her diary. D’Arblay, who had been wounded in the engagement, was permitted to retire to England, where he died in 1818. Burney thereafter occupied herself with writing a life of her father, Memoirs of Dr. Burney. She was made a countess by King Louis XVIII of France.{$S[A]D’Arblay, Madame[DArblay, Madame];Burney, Fanny}

The discovery that the author of Evelina was a woman created a sensation at the time, for while Burney was by no means the first female writer, she was the first to write successfully on a serious level. Dr. Johnson praised Evelina and reported that he could not put it down; he had whole scenes of it by heart and considered that one of the characters had never been “better drawn anywhere—in any book by any author.”


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Frances Burney, the third of six children of Charles Burney and Esther Sleepe Burney, was born on June 13, 1752, at King’s Lynn, Norfolk, where her father served as church organist while recuperating from consumption. In 1760, his health completely restored, Burney moved his family to London, where he resumed his professional involvements in teaching, composition, and music history. After the death of their mother on September 28, 1761, two of the children (Esther and Susannah) were sent to school in Paris, while Frances (known as Fanny) remained at home. Apparently, Dr. Burney feared that his middle daughter’s devotion to her grandmother (then living in France) would bring about the child’s conversion to Catholicism. He seemed prepared to change that point of view and send Fanny to join her sisters when, in 1766, he married Mrs. Stephen Allen. The fourteen-year-old girl thus remained at home in London, left to her own educational aims and directions, since her father had no time to supervise her learning. She had, at about age ten, begun to write drama, poetry, and fiction; on her fifteenth birthday, she supposedly burned her manuscripts because she felt guilty about wasting her time with such trifles.

Still, Burney could not purge her imagination, and the story of Evelina and her adventures did not die in the flames of her fireplace. Her brother Charles offered the...

(The entire section is 1,891 words.)