Evelina by Frances Burney is written by one of Jane Austen’s favourite authors. In fact, it was Frances Burney who provided the inspiration for Pride and Prejudice. Her epistolary style transports the reader into the late eighteenth century society as we 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 and 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
In times of great woe (i.e. when reader’s block strikes) when nothing new will do, I like to return to an old favourite. A book that I know I have enjoyed before. I love re-reading and 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. 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 letters to allow the reader into the private thoughts and feelings of her characters. The epistolary style was hugely popular in the late 18th century. However, for modern readers it can take some getting used to. If you’ve never read anything like this before it’s important to make a mental of not of who the letter is being written to, as well as who is sending it. Otherwise things get a little confusing.
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.
Evelina by Frances Burney occupies a unique place in the development of the novel. Burney is one of the first authors to begin showing what her characters were thinking and feelings. 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 knows Evelina’s 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 is reminiscent of Austen, although you shouldn’t go into it expecting Pride and Prejudice with a different name. Although it’s basically the story of a girl who tries to negotiate society and its prejudices, which readers of Austen will be familiar with, Burney isn’t as guarded or ‘polite’.
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.
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 Frances Burney before?
What’s your favourite ‘re-read?