Bill Kerwin's Reviews > Evelina

Evelina by Fanny Burney
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Feb 28, 15

bookshelves: 18th-c-brit, epistolary
Read in February, 2011


This is a very good 18th century epistolary novel. The prose is precise and elegant, the voices of the various letter writers are well delineated and individualized, and the author makes us admire the heroine and fret over the difficulties which obstruct her happiness. The two lovers—the naive Evelina and the elegant Lord Orville—exhibit sentiment and good sense even in the midst of misunderstandings in a way that looks forward to Austen, and the misunderstandings themselves are both credible and interesting.

The novel is, however, not completely successful. Some of the comic characters—Captain Mirvan and Madame Duval, for example—are so crude in conception and so coarse in their behavior that they appear to have traveled here from a very different novel, making the charming Evelina sometimes look like a Disney princess surrounded by escapees from a Warner Brothers’ Looney Tune. These zanies soon take a back seat, however, and the novel resolves itself in a way that is both harmonious and satisfying.

("Evelina" is clearly within the tradition of the "sentimental" novel. Characters are continually commenting on the delicacy of sensibility that may serve to distinguish the superior person from the ordinary one. It is easy to make fun of this literary fashion, but some of the events in the novel--I'm thinking of the abduction, terrorizing and humiliation of the middle-aged Mme. Duval as a practical joke and the wager of two respectable noblemen on a race between two infirm old ladies--are treated in such a cavalier fashion by even this well-bred young female author that I have become convinced that eighteenth century society desperately needed the sentimental impulse--and its embodiment in popular fiction--as a civilizing force.)
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Judith (new)

Judith Klinghoffer I agree that Captain Mirvan and Madame Duval almost spoil the broth. But - Elizabeth may talk a better game but Evelina acts. Elizabeth does not respond to Darcy's letter. Evelina writes one. Evelina stops a man from committing suicide, gives him money and remains in touch. Evelina's judgment is superior. She knows a fool when she sees one and laughs at him. Evelina fibs to avoid dancing with the wrong man and manages to dance with the right one. Evelina demands total trust from her fiance and gets it. She demands total surrender (acceptance) from her father and gets it. She acts forcefully to have a rank and fortune equal to her mate. Forget the swooning. Evelina is amazing. Austen's father was right. Much of P&P is a reworking of the Evelina story especially Lord Orville. His sister is Caroline Bingley. Seducer sir Clement is Wickham and Arthur Villars is not that different from irresponsible Mr. Bennet.


message 2: by Bill (last edited Jun 03, 2013 01:22PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bill  Kerwin I too admire Evelina. She doesn't suffer from pride as Lizzie does, only inexperience, and therefore does not hesitate to do right--and do it forcefully.
Thanks for your clear examples and forceful argument.

"Pride and Prejudice" owes a great debt to "Evelina." I believe that the subtle moral voice of the narrator makes P&P clearly the superior novel, but the heroines are both wonderful girls, far too good for me and most of the men I know.


message 3: by Judith (new)

Judith Klinghoffer You've accounted nicely for Mr Palmer and Bennet others


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