Jim Grimsley's Reviews > Cecilia

Cecilia by Frances Burney
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This is the most recent reading project I have undertaken, having heard that Jane Austen admired this novel; it is a late 18th century novel about the inevitable young woman of immense virtue, beauty, and wealth, and the extraordinary lengths to which she must go in order to marry as she chooses. Her uncle, who left her a fortune, made the money contingent on her husband taking her surname; the man she comes to love has an obdurate father who will not consider such a possibility. The book is a phenomenally good read in spite of a couple of quirks brought about by the style of fiction written in the era. Burney's best passages are her comic sequences; the conversational passages that include the tradesmen and lower class folks are wonderful and funny. The funniest sequence is the slapstick-worthy episode surrounding Cecilia's first attempt to marry her beau in secret. On the way, in secret, to the wedding, she encounters nearly everyone she knows in London. The wedding does not work out, of course; Burney has a heavy-handed touch with plot, throwing up obstacle after obstacle to nearly every move Cecilia makes during the course of the novel. The result is is a potboiler at high steam; occasionally the pot boils over, however. I was forced to skim some of the higher emotional passages where the lovers part forever with long, intense speeches praising one another's virtue. And the last hundred pages (of nine hundred or more) were almost unendurable as Burney repeats much of what she has already done in terms of overripe speech and plot. She wrings out the last drop of sentiment and melodrama from the conclusion. Nevertheless the novel is worthy and the satirical dialogs (Lady Honoria wins the championship) are acidic. She had a great ear for comic speech, did Burney. One has to wonder if the higher-flown passages of conversation are in any way an accurate depiction of the way people spoke to one another. I am glad to have read the book and might essay another of Burney's novels in time.

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Finished Reading
September 15, 2020 – Shelved

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