Evelina by Frances Burney, written by one of Jane Austen’s favourite authors should be on your reading list. In fact, Frances Burney provided the inspiration for Pride and Prejudice. Her style transports you into the late eighteenth century society as it follow to progress of the eponymous heroine, Evelina.
I have been suffering from an ailment I’m going to term ‘reader’s block’. Like writers block, this can strike at any time. It often results in much frustration as the reader struggles to get into any book she picks up! I’m back online track now though and it’s all thanks to Evelina by Frances Burney. I love re-reading books. I think it’s the sign of a really great book that, despite the vast choice in the bookshops, you choose to come back to it again, and again.
Evelina by Frances Burney is one of those books for me. I first read this when I was about 16 and I immediately loved the simplicity of the style. I was intrigued by the way Frances Burney uses the epistolary style (a series of letters). It gives France Burney the chance to show the private reactions, thoughts and feelings of her characters. It’s worth noting that this was a brand new technique when Burney was writing. Offering a reader a glimpse inside the mind of a character was not something authors had focused on before. For this reason, the epistolary style became hugely popular in the late 18th century. Evelina was my first introduction to the genre and is, I think, a brilliant example of its use.
For modern readers it can take some getting used to. If you’ve never read anything like this before, I would recommend making a mental of note of who the letter is being written to, as well as who is sending it. Otherwise things get a little confusing. Especially as one of the joys of epistolary novels is that the letters are often at cross-purposes, with characters gossiping about each other and giving different perspectives on the same event.
Why You Should Read Evelina by Frances Burney
Frances Burney belongs to group of women writers in the 18th century who I think should get a lot more credit than they currently do. Burney really paved the way for writers like Jane Austen and her successors. Evelina is considered to be her best work and the best example of her writing to start with. The novel was still a relatively new style when she was writing and her audience expected different things. In this sense she can shock us a bit more, there’s more experimentation, there’s more innuendo, there’s more scandal and there’s definitely more outright comedy than in an Austen novel.
Burney is one of the first authors to begin showing what her characters were thinking and feeling. Which marks a transition away from satirical characters who were relatively two dimensional. This is one of the first moves toward the novel as we would recognise it today, where there is a mixture of plot and character examination. The reader gets to know Evelina as the novel progresses and share in her worries and joys. Additionally, the epistolary style invites a sort of intimacy that straightforward third person story telling doesn’t.
In many ways the style and plot of Evelina by Frances Burney, is reminiscent of Austen, although you shouldn’t go into it expecting Pride and Prejudice with a different name. Burney isn’t as guarded or ‘polite’. When comparing the two authors I sometimes find Burney’s style more refreshing. She shows society as it existed, with good and bad in equal measure. When you read her books you get a sense of what life was actually like for a young girl in the eighteenth century.
The Best Bits
I picked up my copy of “Evelina” at a Car Boot sale because it had beautiful illustrations in it but I know that Penguin has recently published it, as well as Broadview – which is a really good study version as it has lots of extra appendixes and notes to help you understand the context of the novel. However you do it, I seriously recommend you give Frances Burney a try!
Have you read Evelina by Frances Burney before?
What’s your favourite ‘re-read?