So, it’s been more than a week since I last posted anything, the reason: my internet was down. I have also 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 s/he picks up! I’m back online track now though and if the adverts are anything to go by, my internet supply should now be infinite, so yay for that!
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”is one of those books for me. I first read this when I was about 16 and I was in a phase of reading obscure authors, I know right? Anyway, I enjoyed it and as a result it inadvertently influenced my choice of university, and degree, as I saw that “Evelina” was one of the books to be studied in a second year module…don’t ask me why I was perusing the list of second year modules before I’d even started university, I just was! So, I ended up studying this novel in university and it was through that class that I was introduced to my favourite topic…Women’s Fiction in the 18th Century. The rest, as they say, is just a nerdy little ball of history but I owe it all to “Evelina”!
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. She is even supposed to have influenced Austen and “Evelina” is considered to be her best work. It’s written in the epistolary style, where the story is told through a series of letters, which was really popular in the late 18th century. It takes some getting used to if you’ve never read anything like this before because you have to make sure you know who the letter is from, as well as who they are writing to otherwise you might get confused. Personally I think it’s a really interesting way to get into the characters thoughts and feelings, which to be honest is sometimes lacking in other 18th century novels, like “Moll Flanders”, who we never really get to know, for example. 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, the epistolary style invites a sort of intimacy that straightforward third person story telling doesn’t, as you become much more involved in the “present” of the plot.
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. The novel was still a relatively new style when she was writing and her audience expected different things, and 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 like “Evelina” because reading about her is a bit like being introduced to Lizzy Bennet’s saucy cousin.
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?