I was once advised by a fellow student that, if ever I was feeling stuck for words in a tutorial, I could pose the question “Frances or Fanny?” and confidently expect the tutor to expostulate for the rest of the hour. I’ve gone for the name in the photo – though I would usually refer to Miss Burney as Fanny, I must confess.
As a nomination for my ’50 Books You Must Read But May Not Have Heard About’, this is perhaps a little too well-known – but I thought I’d throw it in anyway, to give the list some temporal depth. I don’t know about you, but Burney is a name I heard for years in relation to Jane Austen (generally as proof that other women existed in the same period, and some of ’em could even hold a pen… tongue in cheek, please note) – but I hadn’t read her until last year. And I am so glad that I did.
One of the things which comes as a surprise to most first-time-Austeners, I would think, is that she is extremely funny. Sense and Sensibility must be one of the most hilarious books I’ve ever read, and occasioned me to laugh out loud on a bus… quite embarrassing, but more than warranted. Well, Burney is also very amusing – perhaps not quite in the same league, but there are some ridiculous scenarios in Evelina (ridiculous in the best sense of the word) which can’t help but provoke giggles. I actually wrote a fairly interesting essay on Laughter in Evelina – did you know that, after the time she laughs at Lovell at the ball, she doesn’t laugh again until she is good and engaged? Lots of almost-laughing, and half-laughing, but no actual laughter. H’interesting.
Sorry if I gave away a spoiler there, but the fate of Evelina is never particularly in doubt – plus, I haven’t told you who she’ll marry. The rest of the plot is filled with a mixture of memorable, rounded characters, and witty grotesques: Mme Duval’s ongoing rivalry with Captain Mirvan; mysterious Mr. Macartney; dry Mrs. Selwyn; honourable Lord Orville. Now, as to Evelina herself – well, I like her, but I also like Fanny Price. I don’t know how popular the heroine is – she’s quite upright and moral, but has a sense of humour at the same time. Maybe Fanny tempered by twinges of Lizzie? It’s an inexact science, to use Austen heroines as a spectrum for all other characters, but it’s good fun.
And you’ll have noticed in my photographs today that I AM revising, honest. Just wanted to make that obvious to certain mothers (or surrogate mothers) of mine…