Evelina, Paperback Book
3.5 out of 5 (1 rating)


Leaving the secluded home of her guardian for the first time, beautiful Evelina Anville is captivated by her new surroundings in London's beau monde - and in particular by the handsome, chivalrous Lord Orville.

But her enjoyment soon turns to mortification at the hands of her vulgar and capricious grandmother, and the rakish Sir Clement Willoughby, who torments the naive young woman with his unwanted advances. And while her aristocratic father refuses to acknowledge her legitimacy, Evelina can hold no hope of happiness with the man she loves.

Published anonymously in 1778, Frances Burney's epistolary novel brought her instant fame when the secret of its authorship was revealed.

With its ingenious combination of romance and satire, comedy and melodrama, Evelina is a sparkling depiction of the dangers and delights of fashionable society.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Classic fiction (pre c 1945)
  • ISBN: 9780140433470

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Great fun, if a little clumsy in parts. Burney obviously had technical problems with the different voices needed for the epistolary form, so the book ends up as essentially a first-person narrative by Evelina with occasional letters from other characters interspersed here and there. But this doesn't matter: although she is sometimes an irritatingly dense character, Evelina is always a very lively narrator. The comic characters are great as well, even though they are all a bit stagey. The plot races along and the resolution has a very theatrical quality about it: you can just imagine an audience groaning with pleasurable vexation as they discover who are the long-lost siblings, and which babies were switched at birth...If you look at this as a stepping-stone from Richardson, Smollett and Fielding to the fiction of the 19th century, there's a lot to engage with. Something I found very interesting was the representation of class. We normally think of Georgian society as grandees at the top, peasants and the urban poor at the bottom, and everyone else more-or-less at the same level in the middle, but in this novel the plot relies heavily on the contrast between the social standards of Villars and the Mirvans on the one hand and Mme Duval and the Branghtons on the other. The former are minor gentry, and model their behaviour and values on those of the aristocracy; the latter are in trade, and are much more free and easy in their manners (for instance, the Branghton girls can go around unchaperoned with young men, whilst Evelina and Molly Mirvan would never think of doing so). The interesting thing is that Burney is describing a period when these two groups exist closely together, multiply linked to each other by marriage, and characters like Evelina and Captain Mirvan find themselves moving (albeit sometimes uncomfortably) back and forth between the two. By the time we get to Dickens and Thackeray, this gap has become a lot bigger.If you come to this novel expecting something like mature Jane Austen, as many people seem to, you'll be disappointed. The humour is clumsier, relying on slapstick rather than irony; there is too much going on; we don't have time to identify with the characters' real problems. On the other hand, if you read it on its own terms as a first novel by a clever young woman in her twenties - late 18th century chick-lit, if you will - you can get a lot of pleasure from it.

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