Saturday, June 18, 2022

Evelina by Frances Burney

♦️ Evelina, or A Young Lady's Entrance into the World is the complete title of this epistolary novel by a 18th century female British author: Frances Burney. This is my first time reading Burney, and I guess I'd like to read more of her. Though, like any other 18th century literature, Burney's flowery sentences often overwhelmed me, I enjoyed her witty satire very much.

♦️ Evelina can be considered a "half" orphaned girl. Or what would you call a girl whose mother has been denied by her husband (Sir Bellmont), and who then died after giving birth to her (the girl); while the father has never owned her, and so she was raised and educated by a village Reverend?

♦️ This story starts when Evelina's grandmother (her mother's mother) came to claim her. She brought Evelina - until then being sequestered under the Reverend's protection - out in the society; the opera, dinner parties, and what not. You can imagine how she made foolish blunders after blunders, especially in handling young men's attentions.

♦️ There are two particular young men who would take an important influence on Evelina - and kind of shape her future. The one is Sir Clement Willoughby, a boisterous, impertinent young nobleman who pesters Evelina wherever she goes, and forces her to love him. The other is Lord Orville, a charming, polite, and a truly gentleman, whom Evelina sees as a perfect character. And of course, it is this young lord who steals Evelina's gentle and kind heart.

♦️ Most of the chapters seem to be dedicated to tell us how the smitten Evelina, a high educated young woman, is ashamed of the shallow people with whom she is forced to associate with, and tries hard to conceal it from Lord Orville. But circumstances always plunge her to the worst incidents, right when Lord Orville is around to witness it. And that's what make the story more interesting.

♦️ These series of blunders was at first felt tedious to me, but along the way I quite enjoyed the hilarious comical scenes, particularly when I have got used to the tedious sentences.

♦️ It is interesting to learn about society mechanism in 18th century. I was confused, particularly, by the letter from Lord Orville that Evelina thought is impertinent, that she feels thoroughly insulted. I read it twice, and found nothing's wrong. I thought it's over-sensitivity on Evelina, but later on the Reverend has also the same opinion. I guess written communications are more intriguing because we can't hear the "tone", and just have to "read between the lines" to measure the exact sentiment that the writer means to convey. One thing I would've loved to keep from the 18th century is the art of correspondence!

♦️ Overall this is a very enjoyable novel, but only when you read slowly, savoring every passage. Otherwise, it's be just a bunch of tedious letters.

Rating: 4 / 5

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