Group Read of Evelina by Frances Burney Begins Today at The Duchess of Devonshire’s Gossip Guide

Evelina Group Read Banner June 2011Head’s up for literature lovers. The Duchess of Devonshire’s Gossip Guide to the 18th Century Blog is hosting a group read of Evelina or the History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World, by Frances Burney during the month of June, 2011.

Evelina is an epistolary novel in three volumes written by English novelist, diarist and playwright Frances Burney (1752-1840). First published anonymously in 1778, Evelina is considered a sentimental novel influenced by the cult of sensibility and part of the early romantic movement. With it’s cutting satire of eighteenth-century society, many scholars view it as a “significant precursor to later works by Jane Austen and Maria Edgeworth, whose novels explore many of the same issues.”

We know that Jane Austen read Evelina and other works by Fanny Burney from her mention of them in her letters. Of particular note is a passage from June 2, 1799 to her sister Cassandra illustrating Jane’s frequent use of hilarious sarcasm.  She is writing of news from her journey and stay in Bath, updating her sister on her social activities and the people she has met.

I spent friday evening with the Mapletons, & was obliged to submit to being pleased inspite of my inclination. We took a very charming walk from 6 to 8 up Beacon Hill, & across some fields to the Village of Charlcombe, which is sweetly situated in a little green Valley, as a Village with such a name ought to be. – Marianne is sensible & intelligent, and even Jane considering how fair she is, is not unpleasant. We had a Miss North & a Mr. Gould of our party; – the latter walked home with me after Tea; – he is a very Young Man, just entered Oxford, wears Spectacles, & has heard that Evelina was written by Dr. Johnson.

One can only imagine the intense personal amusement that Jane Austen received by this Young Man’s mention of Dr. Johnson, (Samuel Johnson, poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and esteemed author of A Dictionary of English Language (1755)) as the author of a work of fiction concerning the natural born daughter of dissipated English aristocrat. Oh, the irony of it!!!

Evelina has been on the top of my TBR (to be read) pile for quite possibly as long as it takes to age a fine wine. It intrigued me immediately because it was one of the novels that Jane Austen had read that influenced her writing. I had also read Claire Harman’s biography of Frances Burney many years ago. With honorable intentions I had purchased the Oxford World’s Classics edition and read the excellent introduction by Vivien Jones. That’s as far as I got. Then I downloaded Girlebooks ebook edition of the novel hoping that the convenience of having it on my Nook digital reader would do the trick. Now Heather of The Duchess of Devonshire’s Gossip Guide is offering this wonderful guided group read every Thursday in June with posts and discussions of the letters all planned out and convenient. How can I pass it up? Here is the schedule:

  • 2 June: Volume 1 Letters 1-20
  • 9 June: Volume 1 Letter 21- Volume 2 Letter 6 (21-37)
  • 16 June: Volume 2 Letter 7- 22 (38-53)
  • 23 June: Volume 2 Letter 23- Volume 3 Letter 9 (54-71)
  • 30 June: Volume 3 Letter 10-23 (72-84)

Today Heather has posted the first group summary and discussion. There is also great giveaway of the Oxford World’s Classic edition of Evelina for those participating in the salon-style group read. Please join in!

Cheers, Laurel Ann

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

8 thoughts on “Group Read of Evelina by Frances Burney Begins Today at The Duchess of Devonshire’s Gossip Guide

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  1. Well, of course Johnson didn’t write Evilina, but Francis Burney may well have encouraged people to think that he did. They were friends after all. Dr Johnson was a colleague of her husbands and Samuel and Fanny knew each other well. It was not accepted in polite society that a woman should write. Jane, for instance, did not let her identity known easily. George Elliot wasn’t George for instance. The young gentleman in the quote from Jane’s letter might not have been so stupid as you think.


    1. Thanks for bringing this point forward Tony. I read the line as Jane knowing who the author of Evelina was when she made the comment.

      Evelina was published anonymously in 1778, but in the same year the author was revealed as Frances Burney in a poem Warley, a Satire, also published anonymously, and later credited to George Huddesford.

      We do not know for certain that Jane Austen knew this fact, but by 1799, anyone who was as interested in novels and read Burney, who was a widely popular novelist, would most likely have known who the authoress was.

      It is very interesting that Dr. Johnson admired Burney’s works and they were friends, but his style is so different than hers that personally I think that Jane knew that Burney was the author and saw the irony in the erroneous thought that Johnson had written it.

      I am not a scholar and stand to be corrected.

      Thanks for your comments.


  2. Thanks for that Laurel Ann. I wasn’t aware of the dates involved. In that case the young man should have known better. Perhaps the explanation is that he was not a reader but was trying to impress. I’ve always thought, apart from the doomed affair with Tom Lefroy and the abortive proposal of marriage by Harris Bigg Wither, Jane was such an intelligent being and could be so sharp with her wit that men must have shrivelled before her. This young man in question.


  3. Loved this post and the discussion that followed. As always, you two are fascinating.

    I will have to check to see if Evelina is available on the Kindle. I had not thought to check for that.


  4. I recently finished reading Camilla by Fanny Burney and am not quite ready to take on Evelina, but I know the read along will be fun. I decided to read Camilla after seeing a first edition of the novel at the Morgan Library and Museum exhibition on Jane Austen a couple of years ago. Jane Austen’s name is listed among the subscribers to the novel — I have heard this is the only time JA’s name appeared in print during her lifetime. Reading Camilla was my 2011 New Year’s resolution and I made it — my OUP edition is 913 pages long!


  5. Evelina is the only work by Frances Burney that I have read thus far and it certainly won’t be my last. To say I loved it is an understatement. It has it all for this incurable romantic: sentiment, great humor, a splendid heroine and hero, suspense, a surprise twist of an ending, and a satirical weave. Camilla is next in my sights.


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