Saturday, June 13, 2020

Author Birthday [June] : Frances Burney

#AuthorBirthday is a monthly feature, in which I highlight one author each month, mostly the ones I have not yet read. Part of the aim is to get familiar with the author and (hopefully) encourage me to start reading his/her work.

For June, please welcome:


Frances or Fanny Burney, born in 13th June 1752, was an English satirical novelist, diarist, and playwright - a prominent female figure in 18th century literary world, whose satirical caricature of English social circle would later influence some famous authors, including Jane Austen. Born from a musician Dr. Charles Burney, and Esther Burney, Frances was believed to suffer from dyslexia until 8 years of age. However, as soon as she's learned alfabets, she quickly educated herself by reading copious books from family library, that she began to scribble stuffs from age 10: small letters and stories, even plays - helped by his brothers and sisters. One of the most influential supporters of her writing is one Samuel 'Daddy' Crisp, who encouraged her writing after reading her journals and stories of life events and observations on family life and London's social circle.

However, five years after her mother's death (when she's only 10 y.o.), his father married a temperamental woman whom his children disliked. Frances, who felt increasing pressure to abandon her writing as it's regarded unappropriate for ladies, burnt her first manuscript: The History of Caroline Evelyn, but which she later used as the foundation of her first novel: Evelina - by making the heroine as the daughter of Caroline Evelyn.

In 1778 Frances published Evelina, or The History of a Young Lady's Entrance into the World anonymously. She took effort in copying the manuscript in disguised hand, less the publisher recognized her handwriting; while her brother James posed as the author. The book acclaimed success, and her father eventually supported Frances' writing career, only after witnessing favorable reactions towards Evelina - but partly because he thought owning a successful writer in his household would increase his social value... (old story, huh?) In 1779 Frances wrote a comedic play titled The Whitlings, but her family thought publishing comedic plays is unladylike, so it's never get performed.

After publishing her second novel Cecilia in 1782, Frances took a post at the court, offered by Queen Charlotte, as "Keeper of of the Robes". She knew that she wouldn't have enough free time to write, but considering she's still unmarried in age 34, she reluctantly took the post. However, Frances' health deteriorated under stress of court life and intrigues, that she left her post after 5 years of services, which brought her a warm relationship with the Queen and princesses, even long after her service ended.

During French Revolution, a group of French émigrés stayed in the neighborhood of Frances' sister, where she was staying. She became acquainted with one Alexandre d'Arblay, former aide de camper to the marquis de La Fayete. Frances and d'Arblay married in 1793, but her father - who objected the marriage - didn't attend the wedding. They led a happy marriage, though.

Frances' next novel was Camilla, which she published by subscription in 1796; the profits of which enabled the new couple built their own house, which they called "Camilla Cottege". The d'Arblays then moved to France in 1802 during French Revolution, where Frances wrote what would become her last novel: The Wanderer. It was then published after their return to England in 1814. It is also during her stay on France that Frances chronicled in her letter to her sister, the mastectomy without anaesthesia she'd had after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

Dr. Charles Burney died on 1814, followed by d'Arblay in 1818. After these events, Frances stopped writing fiction, and only focused her life to publish the Memoirs of Doctor Burney, and editing her own papers, which was later published posthumously as the Diary and Letters of Madame d'Arblay after Frances' death in London, 1840, at the age of 87.

Frances Burney is now still regarded as the mother of fiction. Throughout her career as writer, Frances' witty style has been admired by literary figures of her time, such as Dotor Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke, Hester Thrale, and David Garrick. And when she published Camilla, a Miss J. Austen was one of the subscribers. The same miss Austen even borrowed from Frances' final passage of Cecilia to title her own famous novel: Pride and Prejudice.

Have you read one of Frances Burney's works? What is your favorite?

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