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

The Temptation of the Night Jasmine, by Lauren Willig – A Review

The Temptation of the Night Jasmine, by Lauren Willig (2009)In the fifth installment in her Pink Carnation Series, more Napoleonic espionage ensues as Lauren Willig spins her captivating tale of the exploits of Robert Lansdowne, the reluctant Duke of Dovedail, and his bookish young cousin Charlotte in The Temptation of the Night Jasmine. Set in England in 1803, Robert’s unexpected return to his ducal estate in Sussex after a decade in the Army in India rekindles Lady Charlotte’s idealistic fantasies. Fueled by her passion for romantic novels such as Evelina she is hopeful that Robert, her knight in shining amour, has come to rescue her from her from the embarrassment of three failed London seasons and her grandmother’s succession of unacceptable eligible bachelors. However, Robert’s main objective is not romance, but to track down the spy who murdered his mentor during the Battle of Assaye. Even though their reunion sparks a quick romance, Robert abruptly ends their relationship and departs for London in pursuit of the elusive spy whose signature scent is the heady and seductive night jasmine. Infiltrating the notorious Hells Fire Club, he is witness to opium induced orgies and the dissipation of London society – all in the name of duty and honor, mind you. Meanwhile, Charlotte acting as lady in waiting to Queen is witness to the madness of King George, or is she? With the aid of her friend Lady Henrietta Selwick, they undertake a bit of espionage of their own, uncovering a plot to kidnap the king. Robert and Charlotte must join forces to thwart the scheme, and learn to trust each again before they can catch a spy, and, re-fall in love. 

All of Willig’s stories in this series unfold as a parallel plot prompted by the investigation of contemporary scholar Eloise Kelly as she conducts her own historical research into the enigmatic British flower spies during the Napoleonic wars. The trail of research has led her to Colin Selwick the descendant of the Pink Carnation who holds the family archive, and her affections under his control. Having read all of the previous novels in the Pink Carnation series, I was uncertain if Willig could continue to pump out fresh and engaging stories to match the intrigue, humor, and suspense of her previous four efforts. In addition, the dubious claim in the publisher’s description of the book that “Pride and Prejudice lives on in Lauren Willig’s acclaimed Pink Carnation series” really shot up an eyebrow. Talk about hitching your star onto a bandwagon! This series is not a Jane Austen sequel, though she does amusingly nod at Austen through allusions to her characters and plot lines, especially in this novel in the early chapters with young, naïve and bookish Charlotte Lansdowne. Any reader of Northanger Abbey will immediately see the similarities to Catherine Morland and smile. But the rest of the characters and plotline is entirely Willig’s own skillful imaginings. 

Given my reservations upon reading this new release, I was happy to discover that I cherish it among the best in the series. Willig’s effervescent style in almost tongue-in-cheek in its playfulness. Her strength, however, lies in her rendering of her characters unique and endearing personalities. Like Austen, she chooses an array of foibles and follies in human nature illustrated in her secondary characters to frame her hero and heroine. Charlotte’s grandmother is a great example. 

“The Dowager Duchess of Dovedale, the woman who had launched a thousand ships—as their crews rowed for their lives in the opposite direction.  She inspired horses to rear, jaded roués to blanch beneath their rouge, and young fops to jump out of ballroom windows.  And she enjoyed every moment of it.” 

Even though I thoroughly enjoy her writing style, Willig does have a few weaknesses that I hope will improve with experience. She handles comedy, historical context, and dialogue beautifully, but like Austen’s complaint about her own darling child Pride and Prejudice, her plots lack the deep shade necessary to offset the light, bright, sparkly stuff. Not only would I like to see more romantic tension between her protagonists, a bit more dastardly doings in her villains would please me exceedingly. Just channel a bit of Dickens Lauren, and you will succeed. Furthermore, I enjoyed the historical plot line so much more than the contemporary fumbling of her Bridget Jones clone-ish Eloise, mostly due to the fact that I am just really tired of clueless young woman who are so insecure that a run in their nylons ruins their day. 

Reverently harkening to her predecessors Austen and Heyer, Willig is one talented author who I hope will enjoy a very long career. In addition to The Temptation of the Night Jasmine, the Pink Carnation series included The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, The Masque of the Black Tulip, The Deception of the Emerald Ring and The Seduction of the Crimson Rose. Her next novel in the series is The Betrayal of the Blood Lily is due out in January, 2010. If you are in the mood for a Regency era romantic spy comedy romp, I recommend this book highly. 

4 out of 5 Regency Stars 

The Temptation of the Night Jasmine, by Lauren Willig
Dutton Adult, New York (2009)
Hardcover (400) pages
ISBN: 978-0525950967

Visit Lauren Willig’s beautiful website

Jane Austen Book Sleuth: New Books in the Queue for December 2008

The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet, by Colleen McCullough (2008)The Austen book sleuth is happy to inform Janeites that Austen inspired books are heading our way in December, so keep your eyes open for these new titles. 

The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet: A Novel, by Colleen McCullough. When best selling author of the Thorn Birds and The Masters of Rome Series Colleen McCullough saw the Pride and Prejudice miniseries on television recently she was intrigued by the Bennet’s middle daughter Mary and how Austen unsympathetically portrayed her. Inspired to give Mary a new chance, McCullough starts the story twenty years after the close of Pride and Prejudice with the death of Mrs. Bennet freeing Mary from her role as parental caretaker. Bookish, pious and socially awkward Mary gets a makeover, a social cause, and a romantic adventure. (let’s hope she doesn’t sing) From the advance press when the book was released in Australia in October, we may very well be in for a very bumpy ride. Hardcover, Simon & Schuster (December 30, 2008). ISBN: 978-1416596486 

The Little Book of Jane Austen, by Emily Wollaston. This petite volume offers an introductory biography to the author’s life, her works, the television and movie adaptations, celebrations, and the Jane Austen Society with photos of her homes, countryside and towns she visited, and generally all the highlights to entice the reader to read a book, watch a movie or visit her on the Internet. A great stocking stuffer for the holidays, or a gift to include with one of her novels. Green Umbrella Publishing. ISBN 978-1906229580 

The Later Manuscripts, (The Cambridge Edition of The Works of Jane Austen), edited by Janet Todd. Serious students of Austen will be happy to hear that this new volume brings together for the first time all of the literary manuscripts from Jane Austen’s adult years (with the exception of the canceled chapters from Persuasion) and includes the novella ‘Lady Susan’, the novel fragments of ‘The Watsons’ and ‘Sanditon’, poems and charades, and the comic ‘Plan of a Novel’ and various other novelties. I can not deny that it is remarkable to have everything in one place at last, but only deep pockets will be able to acquire this volume at $130.00. Unless I win the lottery, I hope to borrow it from inter-library loan. Cambridge University Press. ISBN: 978-0521843485

The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Jane Austen 9 volume HB set (The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Jane Austen), edited by Janet Todd. Wow, wow and double wow! My hat is off to Janet Todd and Cambridge University for completing nine volumes of scholarship devoted entirely to Jane Austen. This may very well be the mother lode of Austen information compiled by leading scholars available today. The nine volumes include an annotated edition each of the six major novels and Juvenilia, The Later Manuscripts mentioned above, and Jane Austen in Context. Even though Cambridge has reduced the price when you purchase this as a set, it is still a hefty chunk of change at $900.00. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521868402 

Do you remember this passage in Northanger Abbey defending novel reading? 

“And what are you reading, Miss – ?” “Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.” The Narrator, Chapter 5 

Here’s your chance to find out what Austen was defending with these two reprints of important late eighteenth-century novels that Jane Austen read and influenced her writing reissued by Oxford University Press. 

Cecilia, or Memoirs of an Heiress, by Frances Burney (2008)Cecilia, or Memoirs of an Heiress (Oxford World’s Classics), by Frances Burney. (publishers description) Cecilia is an heiress, but she can only keep her fortune if her husband will consent to take her surname. Fanny Burney’s unusual love story and deft social satire was much admired on its first publication in 1782 for its subtle interweaving of comedy, humanity, and social analysis. Controversial in its time, this eighteenth-century novel seems entirely fresh in relation to late twentieth-century concerns. Oxford University Press. ISBN: 978-0199552382 

Evelina, by Frances Burney (2008)Evelina (Oxford World’s Classics), by Frances Burney. (publishers description) Frances Burney’s first and most enduringly popular novel is a vivid, satirical, and seductive account of the pleasures and dangers of fashionable life in late eighteenth-century London. As she describes her heroine’s entry into society, womanhood and, inevitably, love, Burney exposes the vulnerability of female innocence in an image-conscious and often cruel world where social snobbery and sexual aggression are played out in the public arenas of pleasure-gardens, theatre visits, and balls. Oxford University Press. ISBN: 978-0199536931 

Until next month, happy reading to all,

Laurel Ann