Thursday, 26 April 2007

50 Books...

6. Evelina - Frances Burney

I was once advised by a fellow student that, if ever I was feeling stuck for words in a tutorial, I could pose the question "Frances or Fanny?" and confidently e
xpect the tutor to expostulate for the rest of the hour. I've gone for the name in the photo - though I would usually refer to Miss Burney as Fanny, I must confess.

As a nomination for my '50 Bo
oks You Must Read But May Not Have Heard About', this is perhaps a little too well-known - but I thought I'd throw it in anyway, to give the list some temporal depth. I don't know about you, but Burney is a name I heard for years in relation to Jane Austen (generally as proof that other women existed in the same period, and some of 'em could even hold a pen... tongue in cheek, please note) - but I hadn't read her until last year. And I am so glad that I did.
One of the things which comes as a surprise to most first-time-Austeners, I would think, is that she is extremely funny. Sense and Sensibility must be one of the most hilarious books I've ever read, and occasioned me to laugh out loud on a bus... quite embarrassing, but more than warranted. Well, Burney is also very amusing - perhaps not quite in the same league, but there are some ridiculous scenarios in Evelina (ridiculous in the best sense of the word) which can't help but provoke giggles. I actually wrote a fairly interesting essay on Laughter in Evelina - did you know that, after the time she laughs at Lovell at the ball, she doesn't laugh again until she is good and engaged? Lots of almost-laughing, and half-laughing, but no actual laughter. H'interesting.

Sorry if I gave away a spoiler there, but the fate of Evelina is never particularly
in doubt - plus, I haven't told you who she'll marry. The rest of the plot is filled with a mixture of memorable, rounded characters, and witty grotesques: Mme Duval's ongoing rivalry with Captain Mirvan; mysterious Mr. Macartney; dry Mrs. Selwyn; honourable Lord Orville. Now, as to Evelina herself - well, I like her, but I also like Fanny Price. I don't know how popular the heroine is - she's quite upright and moral, but has a sense of humour at the same time. Maybe Fanny tempered by twinges of Lizzie? It's an inexact science, to use Austen heroines as a spectrum for all other characters, but it's good fun.

And you'll have noticed in my photographs today that I AM revising, honest. Just wanted to make that obvious to certain mothers (or surrogate mothers) of mine...

5 comments:

  1. I've thought often of reading this and never quite gotten to it. I think I've been put off by it being in epistolary form. Thank you for reminding me of it.

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  2. I'm now having "must re-read" thoughts. And am so glad I am not the only person in the world who likes Fanny Price - I spent an entire term of my English A-level having to defend her afresh every week.

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  3. You've convinced me Simon, Evelina has just leapt from the tbr shelves onto the desk and will be making her way to my reading chair. I read Fanny's letters and journals a few months ago and loved them, but was distracted by other things.

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  4. Well, as someone who has been teaching this novel for some years, I'm delighted to hear you like it. I only wish I could say the same! My problem is I don't find it funny. How lucky that we don't all like the same things. Burney just does not do it for me,and goodness knows I've tried.

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  5. I'm sorry, I'm not sure a picture of a fountain pen = revision, I need to see evidence of bulging brain lobes and piles and piles and piles of notes, empty coffee cups, books up to the ceiling and the bags under your eyes.

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