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...


  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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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