Archive for January 26th, 2010

Evelina! Evelina!

26 January 2010

By Christina Morin

As I was reading Frances Burney’s Evelina (1778), it became pretty clear to me why critics of the developing novel in the mid to late eighteenth century were so concerned about its potential effect on the impressionable minds of young women. Concerned that the imaginative, if not entirely implausible, narratives of the novel as a genre would prompt young female readers to ‘dream impossible dreams’, so to speak, many eighteenth-century critics condemned novels as ‘unsafe’ and ‘unsuitable’ for female consumption. Such anxieties were, in many instances, linked to ideological concerns about patriarchal order and the prescribed private and domestic role of women in society. Novels, it was understood, frequently urged women to consider entering into the public realm, thereby vitally disordering society as a whole. At the very least, novels such as Evelina, it was thought, could prompt women to desire things they shouldn’t want, things that they really had no right desiring in the first place. Take Lord Orville – the impossibly handsome, polite, and gentlemanly hero of Burney’s novel.  Had I been, like the novel’s eponymous heroine is supposed to be, a penniless orphan, I feel sure I would’ve dreamt day and night about a rich nobleman falling in love with me and soliciting my hand in marriage, all the while knowing I was simply a genteel country bumpkin with no money, connections, or resources to bring to the match.  Of course, I’d probably also fantasise about being revealed as the rightful daughter and heiress to a rich, ex-profligate desirous of repenting for the mistakes of his past (i.e. deserting my mother, burning their marriage certificate, denying they had ever married, and dooming me to a life of poverty and dependence.) These things happen every day, right?! Read More