on 22 August 2000
Rather shorter and easier to read that Burney's later novels, this a delightful story about a naive and sheltered girl entering into 'polite' society in the last quarter of the 18th century. As a beauty, Evelina is subjected to unrelenting sexual harrasment that she is barely equipped to cope with and a range of social humiliations that would make a much less sensitive person cringe. As is usual in Burney's novels, Evelina is surrounded by a range of grotesque and entertaining characters (my favourites being the appalling, but enjoyably assertive 'French' grandmother and the acid-tongued Mrs Selwyn) and no punches are pulled in satirising the arrogance, hypocracy and deceit underlying fashionable society. In particular the ugly and offensive sexism to which all the women in the book are treated - young and old, rich and poor, plain and beautiful - is quite horrifying to modern eyes and it says a lot for Evelina that she manages to hang onto her self-respect and dignity in the face of it. Finally, the book gives a vivid impression of the range of new entertainments that were becoming available to amuse the 18th century leisured classes - including such novelties as "sight-seeing" and "shopping".
Fanny Burney is often unfavourably compared to Jane Austen which I think is very unfair. In Evelina, some of the similarities are more prominent than in her other books (in terms of plot and milieu, at least) but I don't think it's helpful to approach this expecting another Pride & Prejudice.
Evelina has a tangled family history full of eloped marriages and abandonments: brought up by her clergy-man godfather, she has lived a sheltered life in the country until a family friend invites her to stay and Evelina makes her unexpected debut in London. There she send all the young men into a spin, and encounters her French grandmother who has plans of her own.
This is written in epistolary mode, with the majority of the letters being Evelina's own account of her doings. Burney is far bawdier that Austen and reminds me a little of Fielding, with Evelina as a more moral Tom Jones let loose on the big world with all her innocence. Her French grandmother, in particular, is a wonderful character with her bad English and her dodgy manners; as is the father of Evelina's best friend, who is one of the rudest men in literature.
We know there's going to be a happy ending from the start and there are no twists in the romance plot. But for something far breezier and bracing than Austen (who I love) this is highly recommended.
on 17 August 2001
Anyone who loves Jane Austen (and don't we all?) will certainly enjoy Fanny Burney's Evelina. Burney is really a precursor of Austen, but has unfortunately been completely overshadowed by the later novelist. In its time (1778) Evelina was a tremendous hit and shy Fanny Burney a celebrated author overnight. She was invited into the iterary circle of Samuel Johnson, became a reluctant lady-in-waiting to Queen Charlotte because of her celebrity and at age 41 married a refugee from the French Revolution, thus becoming Madame D'Arblay (check out her interesting diaries). The subtitle of Evelina (The History of A Young Lady's Entrance into the World) says it all: Evelina is an innocent and naive young girl, who suddenly finds herself in unfamiliar London society, surrounded by suitable and not so suitable suitors and a host of other characters. Lots of misunderstandings and perilous situations block Evelina's road, but don't be surprised to find humour and suspense as well, for the continuing question is of course whether Evelina will survive Society unscathed. Even though the pace of a novel more than 2 centuries old may be a bit slow for some, this is something you get used to soon enough: the novel contains far too much life, fun and social commentary to be dull.
on 11 November 2009
I picked this up at a second hand bookshop for next to nothing as something to read along my commute. Having expected to find it an inferior version of an Austen, I was pleasantly surprised by Burney's debut novel and will certainly be moving on to Camilla. Although Evelina can be a frustrating heroine at times (for a large part of the novel she comes across as a bit wet, but perhaps that's my fault for comparing her to the likes of Elisabeth Bennett - which is a somewhat unfair comparison) and generate some eye-rolling, she does provide a fascinating insight into Regency manners and courtship. As the previous reviewer points out, this is a lot bawdier and more realistic than Austen. As an Austen fan this can take some getting used to, as can the epistolary style, but once the reader gets used to the style and into the story it just gets better and better.
A new favourite on my bookshelf...I only hope the BBC sees its merits and puts together a good old fashioned Sunday evening drama series soon!
on 16 July 1999
This story, although seeming to take the shape of a soap opera with the many twists and turns of society, was spellbinding in its wonderful protrayal of decorum under usually wild circumstances. The young Evelina is thrust into society and into the hands of wolves, mostly because she is so beautiful. The most wonderful thing about her is NOT her beauty, but her elegant and ignomious education and charm. She a beauty to the core and always wishing to do the right thing. To share her difficulties is almost heart wrenching. To share her delight is heart warming. Evelina will steal your heart as she did Lord Orville's. Wait and see.
on 20 December 2010
Evelina is the (unacknowledged) child of Lord Belmont, and after the death of her mother has been raised by the clergyman Mr. Villars. Having turned sixteen, she is now about to 'enter into the world', and it is mostly Evelina herself who tells her story in a series of letters to her godfather Mr. Villars while she is in staying with friends (in London and diverse other places). At first everything seems perfect bliss: Evelina stays in charming company, goes to her first ball, the theater, the opera, etc. But soon she is confronted with the fact that there's more to 'the world' than this carefree existence in the company of nothing but the most charming people: some men, so it seems, have hidden agendas, and neither are all the women as decent as one might suppose. There is the jockeying for position, (cruel) humour at the expense of others, shameless flirting, money-grabbing, ... Inexperienced and innocent, Evelina at times is bewildered and at a loss what to do or how to behave herself, but she is a quick learner and ultimately succeeds in her 'rites of passage' thanks to her good nature, intelligence, and almost intuitive feel for what is proper and what is not.
Although virtually everything is reported in Evelina's letters (there are but a few letters not written by her in the book), we nevertheless get to know all other characters extremely well because Evelina is a master not just at describing other characters' appearance, habits and quirks, but above all in rendering their speech, quoting dialogues in great detail. And so we get to know a very colourful cast of characters not just by what they do but also by what they say: the brutal Captain Mirvan, Evelina's low-born grandmother Madame Duval, the conceited Mr. Lovel, the deceitful Clement Willoughby, the charming Lord Orville, ...
To me it was above all the aforementioned liveliness of speech which made this book a very entertaining read. In terms of plot this is by no means a cliffhanger and there isn't much happening, but I felt myself nevertheless compelled to read on, often well into the night, largely because Evelina is such a likeable person and writes lovely letters. Other than that, I should add that the entire book is a fascinating journey back into the past, giving insight into a multitude of facets of late eighteenth-century (upper class) life. There are extensive notes too, and though they make for frequent leafing back and forth, I found them very informative.
First published in 1778, and still very enjoyable in 2010!
on 3 February 2012
If you like Jane Austen, you'll love this.
This is the first book by Frances Burney that I've read, but I will certainly be reading others. Like Austen's books Evelina is a witty tale of romance and people's place in society.
The book was a present and at first glance I thought I might not enjoy it because the story is told in the form of letters between the central characters and I thought that it might make it quite stilted, but Burney found each character's 'voice' and has a way of making the action unfold in a dramatic way.
The plot is compelling - briefly, Evelina has led a sheltered life, being raised by a country Parson who is not a relation and the book is about Evelina's introduction to society. Her mother died in childbirth and her father has refused to recognise her existence - without his acknowledgement, she cannot marry well. She obviously falls in love with a man far above her station and has other suitors beating a path to her door but will she find true love in the end? You'll have to read it to find out.
Wow - a stunning classic I can't believe I'd never heard of or read! This is genius, and though it's very long it speeds along zippily, with laughs all the way through.
Like Les Liaisions Dangereuses, this takes the form of a series of letters, mostly between two correspondents - the young country-raised Evelina, on her first trip to London, and her guardian write back and forth. Evelina relates her daily life, her guardian occasionally comments with his moral guidance and advice.
This is simply incredible. I am a lifelong fan of Austen, and from the tip of others, could see all the way through the influence that Evelina MUST have had on Pride and Prejudice - the similarities between their plots and characters are too much to be coincidence. Austen took a different direction, but this must have been a precursor to Darcy, Collins, Lizzy and Lady Catherine. It simply must.
Burney was incredibly talented at satire and humour. Evelina is just a teenager thrust into the world of London in the 18th century for the first time, but she soon shows herself to be capable and a resourceful young lady. At almost every turn a new suitor makes an advance, some more lasciviously than others. A true gentleman of course makes himself known early on, but of course the course of true love... Her love interest is a fascinating man, less uptight than Darcy, someone we come to know better, and to like.
Evelina's world is a more dangerous one than Elizabeth Bennett's - there is danger to females everywhere - men trying to take advantage at every level of society. Very refreshing to see that current issues of sexual harassment are not new, that Burney is honestly portraying a society where men treated women unfairly and a woman had to be wily to navigate through the perils.
Evelina's story is twisty and brilliant - there is a history of her parentage that flows through the whole book, with relatives making appearances to her advantage and disadvantage at various points - some wonderfully low and lewd relations were my favourites. We also see scenes that wouldn't be out of place in a Monty Python sketch (a race is set up between two old women for a bet! A highway robbery is staged to humiliate and scare an adversary!). It's almost screwball.
But then the period returns and we have scenes at the theatre with lines that could come out of Wilde's plays.
Visitors stay for days and weeks in house they haven't been invited to. Form must be kept, society's rules and conformity restrains Evelina's words and deeds.
She is delightful - comic misadventures, with lots of mistakes and mistaken words and deeds put her in positions of embarrassment, but through her letters to her guardian we feel we can trust her honest narration and see theh ridiculous around her.
I just loved this. I intend to read it again and also to read up on Austen's work in relation to Burney's.
This is referred to by some as 'the first chick-lit'. It is so much more than that but you can see why this is also accurate. Evelina is adorably clueless in many ways, but also a very capable young woman slowly being allowed to blossom and searching for (and eventually finding) true love through adversity and a sea of ridiculous suitors.
Do NOT be put off by the length. I'm going to be pushing this on other readers far and wide.
on 15 January 2015
An avid fan of Jane Austen, I must admit I'd never heard of Burney until recently having read some favorable comparisons between the two authors, hence my seeking out this book. Certainly I can see the likeness; just as Austen's books, this too provides a witty and satirical observation of society, with plenty of colorful characters and a delightful central romance, and as such makes for an engaging, intelligent and lively read.
The story centres around Evelina, a young lady just recently out in society; who having lived a sheltered life, often finds herself ill equipped as to how to cope in the face of the barrage of awkward social situations she encounters. Beautiful and charming, she is, however, rather naive; and coupled with her unfortunate orphanage and sole reliance on the generosity of her benefactor, she is rather akin to a lamb among wolves. Indeed she is rather surrounded by a host of vulgar and unpleasant characters, only the genteel Lord Orville shining out amongst the company; though naturally there follow plenty of misunderstandings and obstacles before our heroine can have her happy ending.
The novel itself is in epistolary form, a device that worked well I thought; most of the letters being written by Evelina, and comprising accounts of her experiences as well as her private thoughts on them. The story provides a wonderful insight into fashionable society of the time, places of interest, pursuits etc. I have to say though that there was a marked contrast in the depiction of the manners of such society compared to Austen's books; the majority of the gentlemen behaved quite deplorably, the ladies treated as mere objects to be preyed upon, with very few characters portraying anything approaching true gentility. As such it could rather leave me wondering which is the more accurate depiction of society of the time. Some of the characters were simply so irritating or vulgar, however, that the length of time dedicated to them could but rather frustrate, such as Clement Willoughby and the Branghtons; and I did at times find the parts of the book pertaining to such individuals rather repetitive.
The central romance is engaging, and I particular enjoyed the scenes in Bristol in the latter part of the book, where Evelina and Lord Orville finally become better acquainted with each other and overcame all the previous misunderstandings. I also particularly enjoyed the sub-plot of Evelina's troubled parentage; and there were more twists and turns regarding this than I had initially expected. Finally there are also some truly comic scenes in the book; such that all in all this makes for a delightful read, though I would say, despite certain similarities, not to expect another Austen.
on 21 January 2013
Like the well-known Austen plot of a parentless young girl negotiating her way into the wider world of adulthood, Burney's novel follows Evelina as she leave her secluded country life for the cunning and manipulative world of eighteenth-century London society. Austen obviously drew great inspiration from Burney's host of amusing, despicable and/or outlandish characters, but she toned down Burney's burlesque style, using a subtler, more subversive voice to critique her society. Although Burney's novel lacks the polish and sparkle of an Austen novel, it is well worth reading for its comic characters, interesting plot turns and compelling narrative voice. Of course the ending is predictable and like Austen, it pairs everyone off neatly and succinctly, but that is not without revealing the many dangers and difficulties for young women in a patriarchal society along the way. Although the beautiful Evelina appears to have every eligible bachelor falling at her feet, she is coerced from all angles into following other peoples desires for her future.The claustrophobia of Evelina's position highlights the lack of autonomy for women in the eighteenth-century and the worth Burney invested in her female character's morals and perception, signalled the beginning of a female writing tradition that attempted to subtly elevate the moral status and intelligence of women to that of their male counterparts, through literature. An important novel for anyone interested in Austen or in a female writing tradition, it offers an interesting portrayal of eighteenth-century society from a female perspective.