Saturday, January 19, 2019


Evelina. Fanny Burney. 1778. 455 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: CAN any thing, my good Sir, be more painful to a friendly mind, than a necessity of communicating disagreeable intelligence?

Premise/plot: Fanny Burney's Evelina is an epistolary novel that was first published in 1778. Most of the letters are between Evelina and her guardian, Mr. Villars. Though others are included as well.

Evelina has been raised by Reverend Arthur Villars. She has been happy and content with her lot in life--even if she's never known her mother or father. Her life has been a bit sheltered in the past, but now that she's a young woman she's gaining opportunities to go out into the world. The book is a series of letters chronicling this new-and-exciting-adventure of growing up. It begins when Evelina goes to visit a friend of the family, Lady Howard. But that is just the start of her journey...

My thoughts: I really LOVED this one. There are EIGHTY-FOUR letters in all. A handful of those are lengthy, but most are not. Most just take a few minutes to read. Because the letters tend to be on the short side, it was easy to get swept up in this one saying just one more, just one more, just one more.

The novel is peopled with CHARACTERS. Some of them are oh-so-easy to love. A few of them fall into the hate-to-love or love-to-hate category. (For example, she meets her maternal grandmother and some of her cousins. They are so UNLIKE anyone she's ever met before.) And then there's Evelina's stalker, Clement Willoughby (boo, hiss). I haven't figured out exactly WHAT is going on in his world--I mean his mind--but I know he's TROUBLE. Evelina is in danger several times in this one. Evelina is a super-super-innocent heroine. The men in her life vary in shades of honor. Lord Orville stands in contrast to the villainy of Willoughby.

Evelina would make for a lovely period drama. Jane Austen was NOT the only woman writer in her day, and others deserve attention as well.

A youthful mind is seldom totally free from ambition; to curb that, is the first step to contentment, since to diminish expectation is to increase enjoyment.
I have just had my hair dressed. You can’t think how oddly my head feels; full of powder and black pins, and a great cushion on the top of it.
I believe you would hardly know me, for my face looks quite different to what it did before my hair was dressed. When I shall be able to make use of a comb for myself I cannot tell; for my hair is so much entangled, frizzled they call it, that I fear it will be very difficult.
Indeed, the more forcibly you are struck with improprieties and misconduct in another, the greater should be your observance and diligence to avoid even the shadow of similar errors.
“Indeed,” cried Sir Clement, “I must own myself no advocate for hats; I am sorry the ladies ever invented or adopted so tantalizing a fashion: for, where there is beauty, they only serve to shade it; and, where there is none, to excite a most unavailing curiosity. I fancy they were originally worn by some young and whimsical coquette.”
The play was Love for Love; and though it is fraught with wit and entertainment I hope I shall never see it represented again; for it is so extremely indelicate-to use the softest word...
“O yes, Sir, yes, very frequently: I have no time to read play-bills; one merely comes to meet one’s friends, and shew that one’s alive.” “Ha, ha, ha!-and so,” cried the Captain, “it costs you five shillings a-night just to shew you’re alive! Well, faith, my friends should all think me dead and underground before I’d be at that expense for ‘em. But, now I think of it, I believe I have a bill in my pocket; O, ay, here it is-Love for Love, ay,-true, ha, ha!-how could I be so stupid!” “O, easily enough, as to that, I warrant you,” said the Captain;
Generosity without delicacy, like wit without judgment, generally gives as much pain as pleasure.
How strange it is, Sir, that this man, not contented with the large share of foppery and nonsense which he has from nature, should think proper to affect yet more!
“So Miss,” said Mr. Branghton, “you’re quite in the fashion, I see-so you like operas? Well, I’m not so polite; I can’t like nonsense, let it be never so much the taste.” 
“There is nothing,” answered he, “which requires more immediate notice than impertinence, for it ever encroaches when it is tolerated.”
Indeed the more I reflect upon it, the more angry I am. I was entirely in his power, and it was cruel in him to cause me so much terror.
I felt myself very uneasy in his presence; for I could not look at him, nor hear him speak, without recollecting the chariot adventure; but, to my great amazement, I observed that he looked at me without the least apparent discomposure, though, certainly, he ought not to think of his behaviour without blushing.
The passion he pretends for you has neither sincerity nor honour; the manner and the opportunities he has chosen to declare it, are bordering upon insult.
 She lost her patience, and I my time.
But alas, my dear child, we are the slaves of custom, the dupes of prejudice, and dare not stem the torrent of an opposing world, even though our judgements condemn our compliance!
Nothing is so delicate as the reputation of a woman; it is at once the most beautiful and most brittle of all human things. 
 My heart beat with resentment; I pushed him away from me with all my strength, and demanded how he dared treat me with such insolence? “Insolence!” repeated he. “Yes, Sir Clement, insolence; from you, who know me, I had a claim for protection,-not to such treatment as this.”
 “The long alleys!” repeated Mr. Branghton, “and pray, what had you to do in the long alleys? why, to be sure, you must all of you have had a mind to be affronted!”    
 Where any thing is doubtful, the ties of society, and the laws of humanity, claim a favourable interpretation;
“My dear Ma’am, you must be a little patient; I assure you I have no bad designs, I have not upon my word; but, really, there is no resolving upon such a thing as matrimony all at once; what with the loss of one’s liberty, and what with the ridicule of all one’s acquaintance,-I assure you Ma’am you are the first lady who ever made me even demur upon this subject; for, after all, my dear Ma’am, marriage is the devil.”
“Your opinion, Sir,” answered I, “of either the married or the single life, can be of no manner of consequence to me; and therefore I would by no means trouble you to discuss their different merits.” 
   “Why, really, Ma’am, as to your being a little out of sorts, I must own I can’t wonder at it; for, to be sure, marriage is all in all with the ladies; but with us gentlemen it’s quite another thing!
How little has situation to do with happiness!
She is not, indeed, like most modern young ladies, to be known in half an hour: her modest worth, and fearful excellence, require both time and encouragement to show themselves.
She does not, beautiful as she is, seize the soul by surprise, but, with more dangerous fascination, she steals it almost imperceptibly.”
“You are in the right,” said Mrs. Selwyn, “not to watch time, lest you should be betrayed, unawares, into reflecting how you employ it.” “Egad, Ma’am,” cried he, “if Time thought no more of me than I do of Time, I believe I should bid defiance, for one while, to old age and wrinkles; for deuce take me, if ever I think about it at all.”

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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