Friday, January 25, 2013

Friday Reading Assignment: Jane Austen's inspiration

We'll take a break from the Lisbon posts for another reading assignment.  But not really!  Because this is the book I was reading while we were in Lisbon.

Evelina by Fanny Burney was published in 1778.  It was, apparently, read by Jane Austen and served as inspiration for her novels, which must be why I added this book to my book list.  Eighteenth century literature can be challenging.  The novel was a relatively novel form of literature and the style is very different from what we're used to, although I'd say Evelina is probably the most approachable 18th century novel I've read.  (Not that I'm an expert, but I have read Clarissa, Tristram Shandy, Tom Jones and a few other novels of the period.)

It's written in epistolary form, a popular device of the time, and the subtitle pretty much explains the plot: The History of a Young Lady's Entrance into the World.  Evelina, who is estranged from her father and whose mother died at her birth, has been raised in the country by a respectable clergyman.  She has an embarrassingly vulgar grandmother, who has obliged everyone by living in France all these years until she turns up, with a young lover in tow, to take charge of Evelina's upbringing, which is all a great set up for a comic novel.  Evelina, is, of course, angelically beautiful and innocent and polite and perfect in every way, but she does an awful lot of stupid things, supposedly because she is so innocent.  And there's a man waiting to pounce on her behind every corner.

If Burney's novel is an accurate portrayal of manners in the 18th century, then we are still living in the grip of the Victorian age, even to this day.  Manners are formal, but there is some outrageous behavior in Evelina in the form of pranks and jokes and also in the aggressive passes that men make on unprotected females.  This novel may have inspired Jane Austen, but it is an entirely different sort of work than what Austen wrote herself.  Think farce, rather than ironic portrayal of the foibles of human nature. 


  1. This sounds like it might be a fun read!

  2. But is the language awful to slog through?

  3. The language wasn't too bad, Green Girl.

  4. I will have to check this one out.