June 28, 2011

Evelina by Fanny Burney: Review

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I'm trying to get my thoughts together about Evelina by Fanny Burney. It's quite a story. Where do I start?

Sweet Evelina has lived her whole 17 years in the country with her adopted father, Reverend Villars, until her natural grandmother, Madame Duval, wants to get her paws on her. The Reverend is nervous letting her go off to London under the influence of Madame Duval. Many years before Evelina's mother was coerced into a marriage with a ne'er do well by the woman. Her mother ran to the safety of the Reverend and begged him to take care of the infant Evelina just before dying. She's been coddled by him her whole life. Now Evelina is about to enter the world without his protection. What could possibly go wrong?

Plenty. There were times Evelina read like an episode of the latest reality TV show. There were relatives behaving badly, boys who can't take no for an answer, crazy pranks, world class snubbing, and social faux pas up the ying-yang. Where was Snooki during all of this? She missed some fun times. It is over the top in every way. Evelina gets into scrapes again and again. She has no idea how to behave and her mistakes cause her more than embarrassment. And she's soooo preeeeetty that men fall at her feet, grab at her hands, kiss her in carriages and molest her on the street. These guys need to learn some manners.

Evelina is a pretty, country rube in need of a hero and she finds one in Lord Orville. Orville is well breed and as exciting as oatmeal. There are a few Three's Company misunderstandings before Evelina gets her fella. Most of the misunderstandings arise from her complicated family tree. She's got a Daddy that won't own her, a former French barmaid for a Grandma, and a bucket load of bad-mannered cousins. She tries to keep them all under wraps but that just confuses Lord Oatmeal.

Evelina is a epistolary novel. Most of the letters are from Evelina to the Reverend. Sometimes I wondered why in the world she was telling him all that she does. Wasn't she worried she'd give him a stroke? Evelina is the naive darling of the story but the supporting characters are where the money is. Madame Duval, Captain Mirvan, Sir Clement Willoughby, the Braughtons, Mrs Selwyn are all cringe worthy but entertaining.

Jane Austen was a fan of Fanny Burney's work and there are the shadows of her novels in Evelina: the misunderstandings, the unsuitable girl and the man of rank. Austen, however, was much subtler in her satire. Evelina is a romp in comparison to Austen's novels.

Anyway, Evelina is pretty silly but an interesting look at British society in 1778. Recommended.

I read this free ebook copy from Girlebooks.


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10 comments :

  1. Thanks for reviewing this. I have this as part of my book group starting in september and I wondered about it. I think I'll find it enjoyable if its abit of a romp.

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  2. I found your blog though a link at My Porch. I thought, anyone reading Evelina is someone I should be following.

    I like your review. I'm a fan of Evelina. It's actually a pretty tame book for its time. I've always seen it as a bridge between the 18th century novel and Jane Austen. Didn't it strike you as likely source material for Pride and Prejudice?

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  3. Jessica- Yeah, it's pretty silly at times, especially the pranks Captain Mirvan pulls.

    CB- Thanks! I thought Lord Orville was the prototype for Mr Darcy. The embarrassing family mirrors the Bennets although the Braughtons were pretty low class.

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  4. Lord Oatmeal? Hilarious. I always enjoy your reviews, Chris, and have put this on my list!

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  5. Funny review. Molest her on the street? Lol when you said they need to learn some manners. Nice review, best chuckle I've had all day.

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  6. God, I laughed so hard all the way through this book. Such camp! I lurved it. :)

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  7. I've got this sitting on my TBR shelf. It sounds kind of fun. :)

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  8. If Jane Austen liked this author, I am sure I will too!

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  9. Hmm, not sure I want a hero as exciting as oatmeal.

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  10. Sounds like I definitely do need to read Fanny Burney. Thanks for this.

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