Fanny Burney Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

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

In addition to editing the memoirs of her father—the noted organist, composer, and music historian Dr. Charles Burney (1726-1814)—Fanny Burney wrote diaries that were published after her death: Early Diary, 1768-1778 (1889) and Diary and Letters, 1778-1840 (1842-1846). Her Early Diary contains pleasant sketches of such well-known figures as Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, David Garrick, and Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Notable figures from government and the arts march across the pages of this work, which scholars have claimed surpasses Burney’s fiction in literary quality. The seven volumes of her latter diary and correspondence are notable for the record of the writer’s meeting in her garden with the insane King George III of England, the account of her glimpse of the French emperor Napoleon I, and the recollections of her chat with the weary King Louis XVIII of France.

Of Burney’s eight works of drama, three are worthy of mention: The Witlings, written in 1779 and never performed or published in Burney’s lifetime; Edwy and Elgiva, written in 1790, performed at Drury Lane on March 21, 1795, and withdrawn after the first night; and Love and Fashion, written in 1799, accepted by the manager at Covent Garden, but never performed. (All of these plays were published in 1995 in The Complete Plays of Fanny Burney.) Burney also published, in 1793, a political essay titled Brief Reflections Relative to the French Emigrant Clergy, an address to the women of Great Britain in behalf of the French emigrant priests.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Most critics tend to place the reputation of Fanny Burney within the shadow of her most immediate successor, Jane Austen. Reasons for this assessment are not immediately clear, especially in the light of responses to Burney’s novels from contemporary readers. Burney’s problem during the past two centuries, however, has not concerned popularity, subject matter, or even literary style; rather, certain personal circumstances under which she wrote seriously reduced her artistic effectiveness and considerably dulled her reputation. Essentially, Burney produced fiction at a time in history when a lady of means and social standing could not easily write fiction and still be considered a lady. Adding to that inhibition was the aura of her noted and influential father and his circle of even more influential friends: Samuel Johnson, Mrs. Hester Lynch Thrale, Oliver Goldsmith, and Sir Joshua Reynolds. Both her father and his friends held literary standards that were not always easy for a self-educated young woman to meet. She burned her early manuscript efforts, wrote secretly at night, and published anonymously; she labored under the artistic domination of her father and the advice of his friends; she remained cautious, intimidated by and dependent on elderly people who served as guardians of her intellect.

Nevertheless, Burney succeeded as a novelist and achieved significance as a contributor to the history and development of the English novel. She brought to that genre an ability to observe the natural activities and reactions of those about her and to weave those observations through narrative structures and character delineations similar to those employed by her predecessors: Samuel Johnson, Henry Fielding, Samuel Richardson, Tobias Smollett,Aphra Behn, Mary De La Riviere...

(The entire section is 729 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bloom, Harold, ed. Fanny Burney’s “Evelina”: Modern Critical Interpretations. New York: Chelsea House, 1988. Collection presents illuminating critical essays on Burney’s novel written between 1967 and 1988. Bloom’s introduction disparages the feminist tendency of recent Burney criticism, even though this volume includes essays by contributors who take primarily feminist approaches.

Chisholm, Kate. Fanny Burney: Her Life, 1752-1840. London: Chatto & Windus, 1998. Biography draws in part from the diaries that Burney kept from the age of sixteen, which offer detailed descriptions of life in Georgian England. Depicts Burney as a highly talented writer and places Burney’s life and work within the context of her times.

Daugherty, Tracy Edgar. Narrative Techniques in the Novels of Fanny Burney. New York: Peter Lang, 1989. Presents detailed analysis of Burney’s novels, discussing how she constructed plot, characterization, and point of view and critiquing the effectiveness of these techniques. Also reassesses Burney’s contribution to the craft of novel writing.

Epstein, Julia L. The Iron Pen: Frances Burney and the Politics of Women’s Writing. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989. Examines Burney’s work from a feminist perspective, focusing primarily on the violence, hostility, and danger in...

(The entire section is 606 words.)