Why do I think it should have been called Eugenia? She is the character whom you will respect and adore the most at the end of this book. But before I elaborate on that further, let me say that this is the second book of Fanny Burney's that I have read and she is the author who has, by far, the best gift for pulling her readers into the very emotions of her characters. The characters in Camilla felt like very real people to me by the end of this book. This is not just due to the fact that it is almost a thousand pages long - I felt this way within the first few chapters. Ms. Burney was a great inspiration to many later authors, most notably, Jane Austen. In fact, scholars believe that Camilla was the direct influence for Austen's masterpiece, Sense and Sensibility. The flavor of Austen's books were clearly cooked up while she was reading Ms. Burney, and you'll find that the inspiration and enjoyment Ms. Austen received while reading Camilla, as well as other Burney books, is no mystery.
The story follows two sisters, Eugenia and Camilla, and their cousin, Indiana, in the months preceding their marriages. Not only are the lives of these three women explored, but we see several equally strong male characters and the supporting cast is as delightful, frustrating, and dramatic as good supporting characters should be. Although Camilla is darling and sympathetic, you may, as I did, find that much of what she goes through could have been easily avoided. Much of what occurs involves Camilla's suitor, Edgar, who decides, based on the advice of a friend, to look for her faults and be sure she loves him before declaring his love and asking her to marry him. On the other hand, Camilla, who is deeply in love with Edgar is given advice by her father to avoid him and hide her feelings for him as much as possible (to avoid complications in their already established friendship). This of course, places everything in a muddle as both are working against each other. On top of this, Camilla seems to have a knack for finding herself in situations, which Edgar always just happens to witness, that appear less than flattering to her character. The reader finds themselves frustrated with the continual thousand page cycle that ensues, but fear not, by the end you find that Ms. Burney planned and shares these frustrations. As you can imagine, the book deals greatly with the expectations placed on young women, trust, prejudice, and giving individuals, especially those we love, the benefit of the doubt.
Ms. Burney writes about her characters in such a vivid manner that you feel as if you can actually see what's going on. Facial expressions, emotions, settings, etc. are painted with subtle yet strong master strokes. Besides giving us Camilla's story in full, Ms. Burney gives us multiple strong sub plots. Eugenia's story is perhaps the most dramatic and in my opinion, more powerful and moving that the main story. I will not spoil the book by giving you the details other than to say that she overcomes insurmountable odds, and does so with a grace that will endear her to you.
Besides giving us wonderful human interest stories, Ms. Burney once again weaves intrigue, wisdom, tragedy, comedy, and a host of surprising plot twists in this book that will hold the reader glued to every page. It's length was never felt. In fact, the closer I came to the finish line, the slower I read because I didn't want the book to end. Despite it's being a thousand pages long, I finished the book rapidly and never felt a numb, boring moment. Camilla will capture you from her opening pages and hold you betwixt the beginning and end in utter turmoil, suspense, awe, and, most importantly, rapture.