Evelina - Fanny Burney

Evelina - Fanny Burney

Or, as Wikipedia informs me, "The History of a Young Lady's Entrance into the World".


Fanny Burney, an eighteenth-century novelist in the style of Jane Austen, is little-regarded now, possibly because of her somewhat unfortunate first name, and rarely read outside of academic circles. This is, I think, a shame, because I certainly don't think Evelina is any worse than, for example, Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White or the Sherlock Holmes books, which have lasted much better. It's an epistolary novel about a young woman named (unsurprisingly) Evelina, whose father has disowned her and her dead mother. She's raised by an unassuming parson in retirement and seclusion until she's eighteen years old, when a friend of the parson invites her to stay; the family of that friend then take her to London, and she embarks upon society life all unaware of social convention, etc. Cue much hilarity and confusion as she dances with the wrong person, is caught in a compromising position with a baronet, and gets chased by hotblooded young men down dark park lanes, all because she's naive and innocent and totally not a cunning, artful minx, of course.


It is funny, laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes, and there are some irresistably engaging characters - the vulgar Captain Mirvan, the unassuming Monsieur du Bois, the roguish Sir Clement. At times it's almost Dickensian in its satire.


Towards the end of the novel, however, my interest began to flag noticeably, mainly when it became clear that, yes, every single male character was going to fall somehow irrevocably in love with Evelina, despite the fact that she has no money, title or manners. Two I can just about credit. Five or six I cannot. Also, Evelina is either extremely stupid or extremely deceitful with regards to Lord Orville, telling the virtuous parson (to whom she narrates most of her tale) that she didn't realise she was in love with him, despite her constant monologues on the subject of How Great Lord Orville Is.



Forgive me if I don't believe you, Evelina.


I did, on the whole, enjoy Evelina, though, as a sort of Woman in White for Jane Austen fans. I don't often say this about eighteenth-century novels, but it is a good, light read that doesn't tax the attention too highly.