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Burney, Fanny: Title Commentary





SOURCE: Greenfield, Susan C. "'Oh Dear Resemblance of Thy Murdered Mother': Female Authorship in Evelina." Eighteenth-Century Fiction 3, no. 4 (July 1991): 301-20.

In the following essay, Greenfield counters the common interpretation of Evelina as a quest for the validation of the father, instead arguing that Evelina—and Burney—in fact establish their legitimacy through the authority of the mother.

Frances Burney's first published novel, Evelina (1778),1 is a story about an orphan girl's quest for identity and her development as a writer. The novel traces the heroine's search for a parental author who can name her and establish her position in the world; at the same time, since the text is epistolary and most of the letters are written by Evelina, the heroine herself is an author. In this essay I examine Evelina 's representation of authorship in each sense of the term and argue that identity and literary power are depicted as matrilineal gifts. I also suggest that the book's femalecentred family romance parallels both Burney's personal myth about her own writing and her culture's narrative about the origins of the novel as a genre.

Such claims may seem puzzling because, on the surface, Evelina focuses on the heroine's longing for a patriarchal name. Patricia Spacks correctly points out that the "identity she cares about most is given her from without by husband and father."2 What studies of Evelina have not yet revealed, however, is that there is also a subtext that undercuts the patriarch and privileges Evelina's dead mother's authority. Surprising as it may seem, the account of the heroine author's search for her parental author suggests that identity, title, and the power of writing all descend through the maternal line. In the climactic recognition scene, for instance, when Evelina finally meets the father who abandoned her and precipitated her mother's death, she gives him her mother's last letter. After reading the text, he exclaims: "Oh my child, my child!…Oh dear resemblance of thy murdered mother!…Oh…thou representative of my departed wife, speak to me in her name" (pp. 385-86). In part, the moment represents the culmination of Evelina's efforts to gain paternal legitimation, to have her father describe her as "my child." And yet, it is ultimately the dead mother who signs the daughter's body (stamping Evelina with her own physical features) and she who writes the letter that defines kinship relationships. The father must acknowledge his familial history, but the mother's posthumous ability both to name the daughter and enable the daughter to speak in her name eclipses his authorial power.

I am not claiming that Evelina is a radical text, for every reference to female control is balanced by a contradictory position and the work concludes by glorifying the patriarchy. Indeed, as Kristina Straub points out, the novel is divided between its emphasis on "the autonomy of female consciousness" and its "deference to masculine authority."3 In terms of the problem of authorship, there is always a tension in the work. Clearly, Evelina appropriates hegemonic values, but it also subverts these values in its representation of female creativity.

It is useful to begin by examining Burney's stories about the family dynamics of her own early writing career,4 for the conflicting representation of patriarchal authority in the novel also surfaces in Burney's accounts of her relationship with her author father, Dr Charles Burney. According to autobiographical sources, Burney felt that in order to write she had to conceal her words from her father as well as distance herself from him and his name. Consider, for instance, the famous story about how Burney celebrated her fifteenth birthday by making a bonfire in the garden and destroying all of the writing she had produced since age ten. Included in the pile was a novel entitled "The History of Caroline Evelyn," the antecedent of Evelina. In her Dedication of The Wanderer (1814), addressed to her father, Burney explains how she burned the novel because she knew that the genre was generally held in low esteem. But then she goes on to describe how she had also assumed that her father was contemptuous of novels since he only had one in his library. Speaking to her father directly, Burney says that, even though he never knew she had written "Caroline Evelyn," she burned it in his honour, for "I felt ashamed of appearing to be a votary to a species of writing that by you, Sir … I thought condemned."5 Thus, Burney represents Dr Burney as her censor and as one of the primary sources of the fire.6 And yet at the same time that she empowers him by emphasizing her respect for his opinions, she also seems to take a certain pleasure in drawing attention to his ignorance of "Caro-line Evelyn" : "You, dear Sir, knew nothing of its extinction, for you had never known of its existence" (p. xxii).

Her account of the completion of Evelina more than ten years later repeats the theme. Burney wrote Evelina in secret and arranged for its anonymous publication. Because she did not want her father to read the novel but also did not want to be disobedient, she told Dr Burney about the text, but then requested permission to withhold its contents:

When I told my father, I never [wished or] intended, [that] … he … should see my essay, he forbore to ask me its name.…Hemadeno sort of objection to my having my own way in total secrecy and silence to all the world.… [He] is contented with hearing I shall never have the courage to let him know its name.7

Although in this story Burney tells her father about her text's existence, she again conceals her work as she twice points out that her father does not even know her book's name. Burney also announces that she will remove her name from the work. It was then common for novelists (especially women novelists) to claim anonymity, but in the Dedication Burney suggests that at the time of Evelina 's publication, namelessness also had personal significance. She had, she tells her father, always been proud that after the publication of Evelina both Johnson and Burke "condescended to stand for the champion of my … small work … ere they knew that I bore, my Father! your honoured name" (p. xviii). Recognizing that, as Gilbert and Gubar explain, a woman's proper name designates "her role as her father's daughter" and is "always in a way im proper because it is not … her own, either to have or to give,"8 Burney viewed anonymity as a form of self-promotion.

In the prefatory ode to her father in Evelina, Burney again wields the power of censorship and treats the name of her father ironically. She honours her parent by dedicating the text to him, but then avoids naming him in the verses. Instead, she addresses the poem to nobody, "To——" and writes: "Concealment is the only boon I claim; / Obscure be still the unsuccessful Muse, / Who cannot raise, but would not sink, your fame" (p. 1). Thus, she paradoxically calls attention to her father and erases him in the same move. Although the omission obviously springs from her desire for anonymity, the effect on her father's name is telling. Burney's gesture at once deprecates her writing, honours the name of the father, and yet—by concealing his name, concealing his power to name her and concealing the name of the text from him—subverts his authority.9

Both the novel and the autobiographical accounts reiterate the idea that if a woman wants to own her writing—or indeed herself—she must be nameless, must divorce herself from the father's language. When Burney resumed journal writing after the bonfire, for instance, she addressed her diary to "Nobody." In her opening 1768 entry she explains:

To Nobody … will I write my Journal! since To Nobody can I be wholly unreserved.…No secret can I conceal from No-body … No-body's self has not power to destroy.…

From this moment, then, my dear Girl—but why, permit me to ask, must a female be made Nobody? Ah! my dear, what were this world good for, were Nobody a female?10

The passage is a marvel of wit and confusion. In part, Burney suggests that Nobody stands for what it means—absence. But she also transforms Nobody into an implicitly female figure who exists even though she has no body and no name. In contrast to her father, then, Burney can trust Nobody with her writing because "No-body's self has not power to destroy." Burney also implies that by addressing Nobody she is actually addressing herself. Indeed, in one 1774 entry she announces that she is writing "[to myself, that is to Nobody!]."11 Apparently, the idea of being and speaking to Nobody freed Burney to construct a journal. In order to design herself in prose, she had to erase all externally determined marks of identity and become a blank slate upon which only she could write.

Corresponding to Burney's stories about how she had to distance herself from her father and his language in order to become a writer, Evelina demonstrates that woman's rise to authorship is predicated on the fall of paternal control. We know that the novel must, in part, reflect Burney's feelings about authorship and paternity because she refers to the heroine as "nobody." Evelina is nobody because her father, Sir John Belmont, abandoned her at birth and left her no title and no social identity. Her two names signal her anonymous status: the first is an adaptation of her dead mother's maiden name, Caroline Evelyn, and she has no legal surname, only the fictitious "Anville," invented by her guardian.12 Often, Evelina's nobodiness is represented as a liability. She is deprecated in public ("really, for a person who is nobody, to give herself such airs," p. 35), ignored in high company ("like a cypher, whom to nobody belonging, by nobody was noticed," p. 340), and continually vulnerable to sexual attack.13 Because Evelina lacks a patriarchal identity nearly all the men she encounters (except the noble Lord Orville) assume she is public property and should be at their disposal. Most flagrantly, Sir Clement Willoughby wants to seduce but not marry her, because nobody "would recommend to me a connection … with a girl of obscure birth, whose only dowry is her beauty" (p. 347).

Despite these liabilities, however, in her novel as in her autobiographical stories, Burney links nobodiness with female literary power. Evelina depends upon the heroine's being a nobody, for the plot is based on the trials Evelina experiences as a result of her nameless state. Moreover, the epistolary form reinforces the link between the book's structure and the heroine's literary control. After all, it is Evelina who employs nobodiness as her literary subject. In one of his few letters Mr Villars describes her as the "child of a wealthy baronet … whose name she is forbidden to claim; entitled as she is to lawfully inherit his fortune and estate, is there any probability that he will properly own her?" (p. 19). True, Evelina's namelessness obstructs her right to own property. Yet the hidden implication of Villars's words—which he could not appreciate—is that anonymity is partly an asset, for were Evelina to be acknowledged, she would become property; she would be "owned." It is only because Evelina is not owned that she can go her own way in the world and describe the experience. Were she named, Evelina would be spoken for. Because she is nameless, she has both the opportunity and need to speak for herself.

Paralleling the way Burney presents her father as the suppressor of her writing, Evelina also suggests that a woman must determinedly produce her own narrative because the father has a tendency to destroy it. Indeed, Belmont erases a woman's story and body. The novel opens with the revelation that, for all practical purposes, Belmont murdered his wife—Evelina's mother—by denying that he was married to her. In addition to having precipitated Caroline Evelyn's death, Belmont's denial destroyed her history by creating the illusion that she had been seduced. The details here are important: Caroline died from shock and sorrow after Belmont "burnt the certificate of their marriage" (p. 15). In a sense, this was not the first time Caroline Evelyn had been burned, for "Caro-line Evelyn" was set aflame in the bonfire fuelled by Burney's father. Ignited by the patriarch, both the story of "Caroline Evelyn" and Caroline Evelyn's true story were destroyed.

In contrast to Belmont, Mr Villars appears to be a benign, trustworthy and helpful parent. "That man isalwaysright" Charles Burney said of him, and readers are apt to agree.14 But a closer scrutiny of Villars reveals that the old man is not always right. He candidly tells Evelina the accurate details of her past, but withholds this information from the public. "I am," he says "very desirous of guarding her from curiosity and impertinence, by concealing her name, family, and story" (p. 19). The concealment may at first seem wise, but it hurts the heroine. At the end of the novel we learn that Belmont had reformed after Caroline's death, and had wanted to acknowledge and care for his daughter. He had been under the impression that he was doing so, for Evelina's nurse had presented him with a baby she claimed was his daughter, but who was actually her own. Because Villars had so effectively secluded Evelina and buried her history, Belmont failed to discover the fraud. As Evelina explains, the "name by which I was known, the secrecy observed in regard to my family, and the retirement in which I lived, all conspired to render this [the nurse's] scheme … by no means impracticable" (pp. 373-74). Evelina does not emphasize the connection, but we should recognize that, since Mr Villars was responsible for the secrecy surrounding the heroine, he unwittingly assisted the nurse's plot to disinherit her.

Caroline had made Villars promise to hide her daughter from Belmont until the latter reformed, but Villars has his own reasons for concealing the heroine from her true parent. He wants Evelina to develop into an ideal domestic woman and believes she must stay home with him and be humble and private for this to happen. Often he echoes popular conduct book writers such as Lord Halifax, who tells his daughter that the "government of your House, Family, and children … is the province alloted to your Sex;" it is only the "Husband, whose province is without dores."15 Similarly, Mr Villars tells Evelina that she is "unfit for the thorny paths of the great and busy world," and that he hopes one day to "see my Evelina the … pride and delight of her family" (p. 116). Villars justifies his unwillingness to reunite Evelina with Belmont by claiming that the dissipated father would "expose her to the snares and dangers" of nondomestic life. The feminine virtues she developed in his own home away from the great and busy world—"her artless openness" and "ingenuous simplicity"—would be corrupted (p. 126).

Some studies of Burney have assumed that her texts endorse domestic ideology,16 but in Evelina the message is actually ambiguous. Although the novel ends with Evelina's marriage and retirement from public life, it shows no interest in depicting the heroine in her private state. As Burney pointedly says in her Preface, the text is about Evelina's emergence from retirement, an account of her experiences "after her Entrance into the World" (p. 8). Thus, as much as the narrative depends upon Evelina's being separated from her natural father, it equally depends on her dissociation from the domestic containment that her surrogate father and his home at Berry Hill represent.

In this respect, the heroine's first letter is especially telling, for in it she requests permission to travel to London, although she knows that Villars does not want her to go the place that for him epitomizes public danger.17 In effect, Evelina emerges as an author in order to defy her surrogate father and enter the forbidden public world. Indeed, she herself seems to realize that her writing passes beyond the boundaries of passive obedience:

I believe I am bewitched! I made a resolution when I began, that I would not be urgent; but my pen—or rather my thoughts, will not suffer me to keep it—for I acknowledge, I must acknowledge, I cannot help wishing for your permission.… [P]ray forget [this confession] … if this journey is displeasing to you. But I will not write any longer; for the more I think of this affair the less indifferent to it I find myself.

(p. 24)

Resembling the stories of the way in which Burney established a distance between her own father and her writing, this passage is suitably ambiguous. Like Burney, Evelina portrays writing as an act against the father: she knows he will disapprove of her request, and is, she claims, "half ashamed of myself for beginning this letter" (p. 23). And yet, as when Burney asked for permission to conceal her published novel, having already decided to withhold it, Evelina asks for permission to see London, but has already decided she must go. Both narratives associate the daughter's writing with filial defiance and public emergence, and both demonstrate how the daughter develops a dutiful rhetoric that masks her ulterior motives.18

Evelina's linguistic experiences with other male characters are also telling. She often describes herself as lacking verbal control when she encounters men such as Orville and Willoughby. Of her first meeting with Lord Orville Evelina says "I was seized with such a panic, that I could hardly speak a word" (p. 30). The pattern continues throughout their early encounters and is repeated at the end of the novel when their marriage is arranged. Willoughby presents a similar problem, for his sexual affronts shock her into speechlessness. When he tries to seduce Evelina, she is "so much embarrassed … that I could not tell what to answer" (p. 97). Although she avoids the seduction by screaming, Willoughby forces her to offer words of forgiveness: "for he … would not let me rest till I gave him my word" (p. 100). Thus even when the heroine speaks, her language is not her own.19 Given such suppression, Evelina's letters are all the more remarkable for offering her the opportunity to speak freely. Although silenced by Orville and Willoughby when she is with them, Evelina regains linguistic mastery by describing these men in prose. In her letters she does all the talking—she controls the representation of both Orville and Willoughby (as well as everyone else) and even the accounts of her verbal effacement are ironically offset by the fact that she is writing the description.20

The heroine's narrative is, in a sense, bound by patriarchal discourse because she directs her prose to Mr Villars. As Julia Epstein points out, "We cannot expect … that her letters to this guardian … will be straightforward. She has no choice but to edit them carefully."21 And yet, like Burney, who concealed information from her father, Evelina manipulates and censors Villars's access to her language. "She writes from the angle from which she chooses Villars to view her adventures … and he reads ultimately only what she wants him to know."22 So too, Evelina puts a spin on her words. In her letter about the London trip, she openly flatters Villars but at the same time persuades him to let her leave against his wishes—persuades him, that is, to undermine his own authority.

Although teleologically Evelina is designed to reunite the heroine and her father, much of the novel questions paternal authority. Both of Evelina's fathers injure and conceal women and their stories. In order to establish her identity, Evelina must separate from them and emerge in the world alone, and through this independence she becomes an author. Because the other men she meets also demonstrate the fathers' capacity for suppression, it is only by writing that she can consistently evade male control. By contrast, Evelina's dead mother is represented as a source of narrative power and legitimacy. The fathers would deny her access to a history and self; but through her transcendental union with her mother, Evelina gains these very entitlements. Ultimately, the mother becomes the supreme author who acquires the power to name her daughter and herself.

In order to trace this phenomenon we must first recognize that, because Belmont burned the marriage certificate, Evelina and her dead mother suffer the same plight. Both have been denied a name, both have been turned into nobody (the mother literally has no body), and both need to be legitimated: it is necessary to prove that Caroline had been a legal wife and that therefore Evelina was a legitimate daughter. In addition to having parallel problems, Evelina and Caroline reflect each other in a literal way, for the novel repeatedly draws attention to their physical resemblance. Produced at the very moment of Caroline's death, Evelina's body has grown into a seemingly perfect replica of the mother. She is described as "the lovely resemblance of her lovely mother" (p. 132) and "the living image of an injured saint" (p. 130). Indeed, when Belmont finally sees her he cries, "My God! does Caroline Evelyn still live!" (p. 372).

It is in part through her resemblance to her mother that Evelina is able to correct the injustices perpetrated against her parent and herself. When she is preparing to meet Belmont in the hope that he will acknowledge her, Villars reassures her of success and says, "without any other certificate of your birth, that which you carry in your countenance, as it could not be effected by artifice, so it cannot admit of a doubt" (p. 337, my emphasis). His language harkens back to the "burnt … certificate of … marriage" (p. 15) that constituted the father's original offence. The implication is that by reproducing her own features in those of her daughter, Caroline has inscribed the evidence of lawful kinship on her child's body and rewritten the marriage certificate. Evelina's countenance reflects the same information once contained in the legal document. There is no avowal of the tenuousness of this association—no admission that Evelina's resemblance to her mother does not necessarily prove that she is Belmont's legitimate child. It is simply assumed that since Evelina looks just like her mother, who was a virtuous woman, Belmont must be the father. Accordingly, when he sees Evelina for the first time, Belmont senses that she is his real daughter and suspects that the girl he raised is a fraud. Echoing Villars, Evelina explains that "the certainty I carried in my countenance, of my real birth, made him … suspect … the imposition" (p. 374).

The climactic recognition scene, however—the one in which Belmont definitively acknowledges Evelina as his daughter and Caroline as his wife—is not brought about by Evelina's body alone. Evelina must meet her father twice. During their first encounter, Belmont cries, "I see, I see thou art her child! she lives—she breathes—she is present to my view!" (p. 372). But Belmont does not cry, "I see thou art my child!" Nor does he refer to Caroline as his wife. He is moved by Evelina's appearance, but not moved to offer either woman legal recognition.23 Between this and the second encounter Mrs Selwyn uncovers the nurse's plot and convinces Belmont that his supposed daughter is not his real one, obviously an important step in the legitimation process.

But more important for our purposes is the fact that, when Evelina meets her father again, she bears new evidence of kinship. This time Evelina carries the letter that Caroline wrote to Belmont on her deathbed. Since she died in giving birth, we know that Caroline produced the text and the daughter at about the same time. Caroline's final acts of creation are conflated and Evelina's body and the letter are presented as simultaneous births. Moreover, like Evelina's countenance, the letter functions as a certificate of birth and a replacement for the burnt marriage certificate. In it Caroline tells her husband: "Thou know'st I am thy wife!—clear, then, to the world the reputation thou hast sullied, and receive as thy lawful successor the child who will present thee this my dying request" (p. 339). Thus the letter and Evelina's face both tell the true story of the heroine's heritage. Correspondingly, Belmont characterizes each in the same way. He tells Evelina that "Ten thousand daggers could not have wounded me like this letter!" (p. 385); then he says: "Evelina! thy countenance is a dagger to my heart!" (p. 386). By virtue of the interactive force of the letter and body, Belmont finally fulfils Caroline's desire. Acknowledging his legal relationship to both child and wife, he pronounces the key words: "Oh my child, my child.…Oh dear resemblance of thy murdered mother!… Oh then, thou representative of my departed wife, speak to me in her name" (pp. 385-86).

In destroying the marriage certificate, Belmont had erased the mother's story and body. But, because she reproduces herself in the body of her daughter and produces an irrefutable document about the marriage, Caroline replaces the certificate and finally overpowers her husband. Through her dual creation of Evelina and the letter, she generates the definitive text—the indelible mark of familial relationships. The silenced mother speaks again and her "voice of equity" (p. 339) sounds loud and clear. True, Belmont must claim Evelina as "my daughter" and Caroline as "my wife" for all to be resolved. But the novel diminishes his paternal privilege by showing how much Belmont's authority depends on Caroline's word. The father acts in response to the mother's command. It is Caroline who "charges" (p. 385) Belmont to claim ownership, she who "mark[s] the conditions upon which" he will be forgiven for his crime (p. 339). In Evelina and her letter, the mother writes the final version of the familial script. The father exerts no creative control; he merely reads and publishes the mother's printed lines. Thus it is really Caroline who composes the resolution. For all its emphasis on Evelina's need to be united with her paternal author, the novel actually proves that her ultimate author is her mother. It is only because Caroline speaks through Evelina that the heroine's identity is finally established and real history confirmed. Had it been left to either of the fathers, the daughter's story would have remained suppressed.

Reread in this context, Burney's dedicatory ode to her father is even less complimentary. Burney calls Charles Burney the "author of my being," but then undercuts him by refusing to name him, to name the text to him, or to name herself as its author. The novel confirms the poem's irony, suggesting that, although the daughter must appeal to her father, the mother has ultimate authority. The frontispiece to the first volume of the fourth edition of Evelina (1779)24 offers a similar message. A woman in classical dress stares at a tombstone engraved with the word "Belmont." Beneath are the lines of the poem: "Oh author of my being." As Caroline Belmont is the only dead Belmont in the story, the tombstone must be hers. The illustration both reinforces the scene in which Evelina's mother proves to be the author of her being and pushes the implications of the poem to their extreme. In the poem the father's name is erased and in the frontispiece he is entirely replaced by the mother who is named (as Belmont) and designated the ultimate author.25

The novel also invests Evelina with the power to author her parent, for in bearing her mother's features and letter, she disseminates the legitimate words about Caroline's past. Caroline names Evelina, and Evelina finally establishes her mother's name. So too, because she writes the letters that describe Caroline's real story, Evelina produces the definitive manuscript about her mother's life. Through its insistence that Evelina is authored by her mother, who in turn is authored by Evelina, the novel demonstrates that the ability to delegate names and offer a legitimate narrative is a female generative power. The recognition scene challenges traditional familial roles by giving the mother the right to determine the kinship structure and establish identity.

I do not want to suggest that the entire novel should be viewed as a subversive account of maternal creativity. Caroline is dead, after all, and thus hardly an unwavering symbol of empowerment. Even worse, the other major maternal figure, Evelina's grandmother, is depicted as a vulgar woman and dangerous parent. It was because Mme Duval tried to force her daughter into an undesirable marriage that Caroline eloped with Belmont in the first place. Partly responsible for her daughter's death, the grandmother is barely less destructive than the father. Evelina's reunion with Caroline may be positive, but Mme Duval is a frightening fool from whom she must escape. As Margaret Anne Doody says of Evelina's encounter with her, the "discovery of the mother, of the inevitable female descent and fate, is very bad news."26

Moreover, the recognition scene itself is double-sided. For although the scene constitutes the novel's most radical moment, it also creates the conditions for a patriarchal conclusion. Once Belmont heeds Caroline's call and owns his relationship to Evelina, he owns her and Evelina can no longer act on her own. As she explains to Orville before travelling to see Belmont, this "journey will deprive me of all right to act for myself" (p. 354). The recognition scene may highlight the mother's ability to designate kinship relationships, but it does so only to give Evelina over to her father and transform her into marriageable property. Like a true hero, Orville proposes to Evelina before her origins are clarified, but she tells him she cannot marry until she finds a father to give her away (p. 370). After Belmont acknowledges her, Orville can both introduce Evelina by her "real name," and look forward to presenting her "by yet another name, and by the most endearing of all titles" (p. 381). Thus, Evelina becomes an item that men can exchange and rename, and the ecstatic Orville finally declares: "You are now … all my own!" (p. 404).

The most oppressive effect of this transition is that it deprives Evelina of her literary power. It logically follows that once she is named by the patriarch, the heroine must relinquish her own ability to name, must become a linguistic referent and cease to be a speaking subject. Thus, as soon as marriage plans are arranged, Evelina begins to have difficulty reading and writing. When Orville proposes, she is speechless and she faints. Later she says, "I cannot write the scene that followed, though every word is engraven on my heart" (p. 352). Again Evelina's body becomes a text,27 but in contrast to the time when she was her mother's text and promoted woman's word, here her body is a language over which she has no control. When Evelina receives Villars's letter of consent to the marriage, she is blinded by tears and cannot read it. Orville asks her about its contents, but she has "no voice to answer the enquiries" and has to "put the letter into his hands," and leave it "to speak" both for her and itself (p. 404). After this she produces only one more, brief letter in the text. Appropriated by the patriarchy, the heroine loses her voice, and the novel she has constructed must come to an end.28

Significantly, though, Evelina is permitted a final moment of self-assertion before the novel concludes. She signs her last letter exactly as she had signed her previous ones, with her first name only, making "Evelina" the last word in the text. Although at this point the heroine is married and could use her married name,29 the novel ends not by celebrating Evelina's changed state, but by valorizing her anonymity. Just as Burney derived power by separating from her father and his name, the final signature (and the title of the novel) erases patriarchal language and suggests that a woman is most herself when most removed from men. Moreover, since Evelina is a derivative of the mother's maiden name, the signature highlights the enduring authority of the matrilineal word.

The conservative conclusion is conventional, but the novel's subtext—its subversion of the patriarch and insistence that naming and textual production are matrilineal powers—is more perplexing. One could rely on biographical information and argue that here the work reflects Burney's personal need to undermine her author father. Her relationship with her mother, Esther, is also relevant. Autobiographical sources suggest that as a child Burney could barely read or write until age ten when she suddenly "began scribbling, almost incessantly, little works of invention."30 Significantly, this was the same year that Burney's mother died. Thus, as Doody notes, there "seems to be a connection between Frances's first great spurt of writing and the death of her mother";31 so too, the novel associates authorship with the dead mother.

But although Burney's psychobiography is revealing, much more can be gained by attending to the larger literary and historical context that produced both the writer and her work. Burney wrote Evelina at a time when the novel as a genre was beginning to be seen as a female product designed by, for, and about women.32 Viewed from this perspective, the emphasis on female authorship in Evelina can be read as a reflection of the genre's feminine status, the mother-daughter account of creation seen as a story about the evolution of the novel form. Current literary theory often defines textual production as a paternal, phallic act, but such a metaphor does not necessarily apply to the history of the late eighteenth-century novel. Evelina was born into a culture that saw the novel as a representative of female language and subjectivity; correspondingly, the heroine's history suggests that women have a unique capacity to generate words and identity. While it is hard to tell if Burney consciously associated Evelina's family romance with the process of novelistic production, it seems likely that she was influenced by the literary climate; for both Evelina's history and the stories Burney told about Evelina 's creation parallel contemporary attitudes about the origin of the genre.

One obvious connection between the novel form and the heroine is that like Evelina, the novel was seen as an illegitimate child. Because the novel had not clearly descended from any previous literary tradition, its parentage was obscure; it was not part of the family. As Burney puts it in the Preface to Evelina, authors of novels were like bastard siblings: "In the republic of letters, there is no member of such inferior rank, or who is so much disdained by his brethren of the quill, as the humble Novelist" (p. 7). So too, just as the heroine's parentlessness is associated with the instability of her name, the novel was plagued by name problems. For one thing, the words "romance," "history," and "novel" were, for a long time, used interchangeably.33 For another, any work identified as a "novel" was liable to be viewed with contempt. Burney was all too aware of this: "The power of prejudice annexed to nomenclature is universal.… [I]n nothing is the force of denomination more striking than in the term Novel; a species of writing … rigidly excommunicated, from its appellation" (Dedication, p. xxi). Because of her problematic parentage and name, Evelina is marked as an outsider; she is always in danger of being categorized as inferior and always vulnerable to violence. So too, the novel's problematic parentage and name excluded it from the literary community, branded it as inferior, and exposed it to critical attack.

And yet the genre's liabilities were also the very characteristics that made it appealing to female writers. It was because the novel was an illegitimate form, because it did not require a traditional education, that a large group of women could actively participate in its production. On the other hand, the rise of the professional female writer was paralleled by the rising importance of female domesticity; increasingly women were taught to stay home and avoid all forms of public activity—especially wage-earning activity. Thus, at the same time that women had more opportunities to publish than ever before, those who published necessarily subverted feminine rules.

Obviously troubled by this contradiction, Burney was fiercely private about her work before Evelina was published, And yet she was also thrilled when the novel was printed precisely because it marked her own emergence as a public figure. In her journal she memorably exclaims: "At the latter end of January, the literary world was favoured with the first publication of the ingenious, learned, and most profound Fanny Burney!" And later she describes "this year" as "the first of my appearing in public."34

Again, the parallels are striking. In the novel's Preface Burney says that the text is "presented to the public." So too, in language that echoes her discussion of herself, she describes the heroine making "her first appearance upon the great and busy stage of life" (p. 7) and embarking on "her Entrance into the world" (p. 8). Thus, novel, author, and heroine are in analogous positions as all are in the process of crossing the boundaries of private feminine space. The movement is in keeping with the transgressive power of the novel genre itself, for the form allowed women to enter a public literary world for the first time.

For the most persuasive evidence that Burney associated the heroine's history with the history of the novel's production, we must return to the bonfire episode. Burney claimed that her father sparked the fire that destroyed the mother novel, "Caroline Evelyn," and in Evelina the father sets fire to the marriage document that destroys the mother character, Caroline Evelyn. But in the continuation of the bonfire story, Burney also describes how she could not prevent herself from beginning to write the daughter novel after the sacrifice. Despite her own best attempts to obey the father's censorship, Evelina rose out of the "ashes of 'Caroline Evelyn' " and "struggled herself into life" (Dedication, p. xxii). Similarly, in the novel, the daughter Evelina emerges on her mother's ashy grave (the mother is associated with the burnt certificate and more than once referred to as "ashes," pp. 130, 337), overcomes her father's attempts to annihilate her, establishes her identity, and produces the story of her life in her letters.

And yet it must be emphasized that, as much as Evelina celebrates female creativity, it simultaneously reflects Burney's overwhelming longing for paternal approval—her desire both to earn her father's acceptance and to be welcomed into the literary ranks to which he belonged. Just as Evelina needs to be read by her father, Burney clearly wanted her father to read and approve of Evelina (even though she withheld the work). After learning that Dr Burney had finally read and greatly enjoyed the book, Burney wrote, "the approbation of all the world put together would not bear any competition, in my estimation, with that of my beloved father."35 So too, she was understandably overjoyed when she learned that Dr Johnson liked her novel. Her response to his "approbation" is famous: "it almost crazed me with agreeable surprise—it gave me such a flight of spirits, that I danced a jig."36

Like Evelina, who addresses her letters to her "father" Villars and whose countenance is addressed to her father Belmont, Evelina is addressed to a male audience. Burney dedicates the book to her father, includes an introductory letter directed to "Gentlemen" critics (p. 3), and refers to a series of "great [male] writers" in her Preface. The plot emphasizes Evelina's need for paternal justice: Villars tells Lady Howard he has considered "presenting Evelina to her father, and demanding the justice which is her due" (p. 126); Lady Belmont accuses her husband of being "hardened against every plea of justice" (p. 338); and Mrs Selwyn tells Evelina "justice demands you should appear … [as] Sir John Belmont's daughter" (p. 378). Similarly, Burney uses the word "justice" with reference to the novel's reception. In her introductory letter to the "Gentlemen" "Authors of The Monthly and Critical Reviews," she writes "to your Justice alone I am entitled" (p. 4). And she concludes her Preface by saying "Whatever may be the fate of these letters, the editor is satisfied they will meet with justice" (p. 9). As in the case with Evelina, ultimately the most pressing question for Evelina is: will the text be properly legitimated by its father(s)—will it receive patriarchal justice?

Burney mythologizes female literary creation in Evelina, but the heroine's search for paternal acknowledgment also symbolizes her own desire to be claimed and named by male authors and readers, accepted as an offspring of the masculine literary lineage. Her longing is understandable. The novel may have revolutionized women's literary possibilities and been seen as a matrilineal product, but a woman's work still could not gain prestige unless it was read, published, and promoted by important men. At least Burney's repeated references to "justice" suggest she believed that, like Evelina, Evelina warranted such respect because of its intrinsic worth.

But, as the author discovered after Evelina was treated with more justice than she had ever dared hope, paternal recognition had its disadvantages. Burney wrote Evelina her "own way in total secrecy and silence to all the world," but once she was publicly named as author (in a pamphlet written by the Reverend George Huddlesford), her father began to control her words. He and "Daddy" Crisp denounced her subsequent production, "The Witlings," and insisted that the play be suppressed. Dr Burney also interfered with the creation of Cecilia. Eager to advance his daughter's (and thus his own) fame, he supervised Burney's progress, forced her to write the novel too rapidly, and pressed her so much that she became ill. Despite his interference, the novel was a success and the author became an even greater celebrity. As a result, she was offered a position at court and, although she had reservations, Burney accepted the role at her father's urging. In addition to making her ill and depressed, five years of court life left her no time to pursue her literary career. It was not until 1796, fourteen years after Cecilia 's publication, that Burney was able to complete Camilla, her third novel.37

Thus, with uncanny accuracy the resemblance between novel and heroine foreshadowed the author's own future. As soon as Evelina gained the paternal acknowledgment that Evelina sought and won, Burney experienced the very defeat her heroine's fate had anticipated. She lost her anonymity, gained legitimation, and was subsequently stripped of her literary independence. As with Evelina, paternal acceptance ultimately deprived Burney "of all right to act [and write] for myself."


  1. Frances Burney, Evelina; or The History of a Young Lady's Entrance into the World, ed. Edward A. Bloom (London: Oxford University Press, 1968). References are to this edition.
  2. Patricia Meyer Spacks, Imagining a Self: Autobiography and Novel in Eighteenth-Century England (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1976), p. 179.
  3. Kristina Straub, Divided Fictions: Fanny Burney and Feminine Strategy (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1987), p. 1.
  4. I deliberately use the word "story" here. Burney's autobiographical descriptions may be based on "true" events, but she develops a narrative about her history that has become legendary among those interested in her work and bears remarkable similarity to the story told in Evelina.
  5. Frances Burney, "Dedication to Doctor Burney" in The Wanderer; or Female Difficulties (London: Pandora Press, 1988), p. xxii. References are to this edition (cited as Dedication).
  6. See Margaret Anne Doody, Frances Burney: The Life in the Works (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1988) pp. 35-38 for a discussion of the link between the bonfire and this passage in the Dedication. In their respective introductions to Burney's diary and letters, both Charlotte Barrett and Annie Raine Ellis suggest that Burney was reacting to her stepmother's attacks on scribbling girls when she burned "Caro-line Evelyn." While this may have been true, in her published Dedication Burney focuses only on her anxiety about her father's role in the destruction. See Diary and Letters of Madame D'Arblay, ed. Charlotte Barrett, 7 vols (London: Bickers and Son, 1876), p. xiv; The Early Diary of Frances Burney, 1768-1778, ed. Annie Raine Ellis, 2 vols (London: George Bell and Sons, 1907), I, lxv.
  7. The Early Diary, II, 164.
  8. Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, No Man's Land 1: The War of the Words (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), p. 237.
  9. In her discussion of the dedicatory ode, Doody points out that, while here "Charles Burney is only '——,'" he is also "the Super-Author, the author of the author." Ultimately, my reading of the poem differs from Doody's, for she de-emphasizes Burney's act of censorship and suggests that the daughter "apologizes for doing something on her own; she apologizes for being an author" (p. 32).
  10. The Early Journals and Letters of Fanny Burney, 1768-1773, ed. Lars E. Troide (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), I, 2.
  11. The Early Diary, I, 338. The brackets indicate that Burney probably substituted this passage later in life.
  12. See Julia Epstein, The Iron Pen: Frances Burney and the Politics of Women's Writing (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), p. 96. For an interesting discussion of the "Eve" in "Evelina," see Doody, pp. 40-41, and Gina Campbell, n. 28, below.
  13. For Evelina's vulnerability to sexual violence see Susan Staves, "Evelina; or Female Difficulties," Modern Philology 73 (1976), 368-69, 376. Cf. Judith Lowder Newton, Women, Power and Subversion: Social Strategies in British Fiction, 1778-1860 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1981), p. 23.
  14. The Early Diary, II, 242. Six months after the novel's publication Dr Burney learned that Evelina was his daughter's work and read the book with great delight.
  15. "Advice to a Daughter," in The Works of George Savile Marquis of Halifax, ed. Mark N. Brown (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), II. 381, 383.
  16. For instance Nancy Armstrong writes that Evelina "had the virtue of dramatizing the same principles sketched out in the conduct books." Nancy Armstrong, Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 97.
  17. Villars contrasts London with private country living, associates the city with "the thorny paths of the great and busy world," and calls it the "harbour of fraud and of folly, of duplicity and of impertinence," and the centre of "public and dissipated life" (p. 116).
  18. Cf. Julia Epstein's useful discussion of Evelina's first letter, pp. 102-3.
  19. For other examples of Evelina's silence with Orville see pp. 61, 71, 78. For evidence of her verbal powerlessness with Willoughby see pp. 198-99. For an analysis of the recurring problem of female expression in all of Burney's novels see Juliet McMaster, "The Silent Angel: Impediments to Female Expression in Frances Burney's Novels," Studies in the Novel 21 (1989), 235-52.
  20. Other critics have also drawn attention to the narrative power Evelina develops in her letters—especially the power she gains by satirizing the social world. See John Richetti, "Voice and Gender in Eighteenth-Century Fiction: Haywood to Burney," Studies in the Novel 19 (1987), 270-71. Also see Newton, pp. 43-44.
  21. Epstein, pp. 98-99.
  22. Epstein, p. 100.
  23. See Irene Fizer, "The Name of the Daughter: Incest and Identity in Evelina," in Refiguring the Father: New Feminist Readings of Patriarchy, ed. Patricia Yaeger and Beth Kowaleski-Wallace (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1989), pp. 91-97.
  24. Doody reproduces and discusses this frontispiece in her biography, where I first learned about the illustration.
  25. As Doody explains: "if—as makes sense within the context of the story—the tomb is the mother's, at last properly acknowledged with her name on it, then the first two lines of the verse which appear underneath refer not to the idea of father, but to the idea of mother" (pp. 32-33).
  26. Doody, p. 51. See Straub, pp. 28-33 for a sympathetic reading of Mme Duval and the general problems of female maturity.
  27. See Epstein, p. 100.
  28. For an excellent discussion of Evelina's representation of the problems of marriage, see Straub, pp. 53-77.
  29. In her first letter to Villars, Evelina laments the fact that she can sign no last name. But now that she has one, she avoids using it.
  30. Frances Burney, Memoirs of Doctor Burney, arranged from his own Manuscripts, from Family Papers, and from Personal Recollections, 3 vols (London: Edward Moxon, 1832) II, 123. Quoted in Doody, p. 21 and Epstein, p. 23.
  31. Doody, p. 22.
  32. One writer's remarks in the Monthly Review (Dec. 1790) are often quoted on this point: "Of the various species of composition that in course come before us, there are none in which our writers of the male sex have less excelled, since the days of Richardson and Fielding, than in the arrangement of the novel. Ladies seem to appropriate to themselves an exclusive privilege in this kind of writing."
  33. See Michael McKeon, The Origins of the English Novel 1600-1740 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987), p. 25.
  34. Diary and Letters, I, 1, 3.
  35. Diary and Letters, I, 7.
  36. Diary and Letters, I, 18.
  37. For a more detailed account of the suppression of The Witlings as well as a thorough discussion of how Dr Burney affected his daughter's writing throughout her life see Doody's biography. For a brief description of Burney's difficulties after Evelina's publication see Judy Simons, Introduction in Cecilia (New York: Virago Press, 1986), pp. xii-xiii.


SOURCE: Choi, Samuel. "Signing Evelina: Female Self-Inscription in the Discourse of Letters." Studies in the Novel 31, no. 3 (fall 1999): 259-78.

In the following essay, Choi examines the motif of naming in Evelina.

The story of Frances Burney's entrance into the literary world could hardly be more complicated if she herself had designed the various deferrals, deceptions, and deflections that problematize any attempt to characterize her authorial status. One would be hard pressed to decide among Evelina, which appears unsigned, "The History of Caroline Evelyn," which perishes unpublished, and A General History of Music, which appears with her hand unacknowledged, as Burney's first literary work. I do not propose to establish, in these or any other works, the moment of Burney's authorial emergence, but, rather, to discuss the ways in which she consciously draws attention to her anonymity and her active deferral of authority in the formal features of Evelina. Each of the book's abundant introductory apparatuses—the title page, the epigraph, the dedication, the letter "To the Authors of the Monthly and Critical Reviews," and the preface—seems designed to play with the reader's expectation of finding an author—each acting like a drumroll, each calling out "Oh author of my being!" But in each case Burney refuses to reveal her name. In this essay I argue that Evelina's acts of signing her name to her letters are not haphazard but significant and legible events of self-inscription. Each of her signatures represents a conscious self-positioning individually considered and specifically framed within local issues, contingencies, and conventions. These performances reflect, in turn, the way that Burney creates a space for herself, her name, and her work by manipulating the conventions of the literary world from her own position as an unknown and unrecognized outsider.

In general, the suggestions that Evelina raises the issue of authority, that the story plays on concepts of names and naming, or that the book's publication history allegorically represents Burney's understanding of her place in literary history are not new. For instance, Susan Greenfield asserts that "Evelina demonstrates that woman's rise to authorship is predicated on the fall of paternal control," arguing that Burney links traits considered liabilities under a patriarchal system with female literary agency.1 Margaret Anne Doody would warn, however, that Burney gains this agency only by facing great difficulties and by overcoming enormous obstacles in writing and publishing Evelina. Doody rightly points out that because Burney made fair copies of her father's manuscripts, she had to copy Evelina "in a hand artificially assumed for the occasion."2 In Julia Epstein's reading, Burney most willingly engages with authority in the medium of the letter as "a site of struggle" against cultural norms.3 These and other writers have already discussed various aspects of Burney's authority with respect to the writing and publishing of Evelina.

They have not specifically commented, however, on Evelina's strategy of using her signatures—and the deferral of them—to insert herself into events, dialogues, and social structures from which she was previously excluded. Amy Pawl does point to Evelina's first signature as a moment of intentionally conspicuous self-definition.4 Although Pawl analyzes this as a discursively conditioned act of assuming ownership and authority—and rightfully so—she does not explicitly comment on the formal discursive dynamics of this particular signature as opposed to any other signature or any other letter. I argue that Evelina only selectively signs her letters. And I believe that each of these specific occasions serves to distinguish a particular point of discursive disjunction. Evelina's signatures are not simply perfunctory acts randomly distributed throughout the series of letters, but are inflection points at which Evelina attempts to deflect deleterious opinions, positions, or conditions. Although they appear completely conventional at first glance, Evelina's selective and purposeful use of signatures reinstills them with new semantic and symbolic value. When one ignores these signatures because they seem standard structures, one also ignores the code tapped out on their walls through the manipulation of them and silences the alternative voice that must use socially and culturally determined tools to create a position within the "republic of letters."

At times it is all too easy to figure Evelina merely as a victim of social orders and her acts merely as performances of consent or resistance. But too strong a version of this reading that positions Evelina in simple opposition to social conventions would not fairly allow her to determine the conditions and implications of her own life. For instance, the conclusion of the novel certainly does not seem to convey an overt sense of rebellion against or liberation from her social order, but, at least literally, it rather strongly indicates Evelina has found, established, and successfully legitimated a place within it:

All is over, my dearest Sir, and the fate of your Evelina is decided … I have time for no more; the chaise now waits which is to conduct me to dear Berry Hill, and to the arm of the best of men.

Evelina. 5

On the other hand, to overstate Evelina's contentment in this seemingly fairy-tale-like ending would be to overlook the complicated way in which Burney treats the institution of marriage, as Kristina Straub writes: "The novel evidences not only the conventional assumptions that marriage is the shortest route to female happiness, but also the equally conventional notion that marriage is one of life's major snares, a trap in which people (especially women) are destroyed or at best given a life sentence of discomfort."6 Certainly the first sentence of the letter beginning "All is over" does lend itself to sad if not sinister undertones—a young, newly-wedded bride's life described as "over" could easily suggest the sort of marriage "trap" that Straub mentions. And the way in which Evelina yokes seemingly contradictory words to describe her feelings, "with fearful joy and trembling gratitude" (p. 406), might validate the suggestion that she (or Burney) maintains strong apprehensions (or at least some ambivalences), with regard to life in matrimony. The last phrase does seem, however, to discount the strongest version of this thesis, as Evelina willingly signs her letter to go "to the arms of the best of men." To argue too forcefully that this ending is just "an illusion, a fairy-tale drawing down of the curtain on the fair prospect of Evelina's future happiness"7 would be to displace Evelina, rather antagonistically, from a subject position within a social and authorial order exactly at the moment when she finally reaches out to claim it for herself—to negate its symbolic ramification precisely the instant she is able, finally, without being forced by threat or uncertain circumstance, to sign her name "Evelina."

To imply so much from a simple and possibly perfunctory signature at the close of a letter would seem forced were authorship and the function of signatures not issues the book seems to address. Indeed, if one were to judge the novel by its current critical reception, one might think that these are practically the only issues it addresses. I assign much weight to this signature not only because it represents, as signatures do, subjectivity and authority, but also because Evelina's signatures are, in general, relatively scarce. Of the sixty letters that Evelina writes, she only signs 13 (or arguably 14) of them.8 That she is merely careless about signing her letters seems implausible considering the very high level of self-consciousness she exhibits when signing; for instance, at the end of her penultimate letter she writes:

Now then, therefore, for the first time—and probably the last time I shall ever own the name, permit me to sign myself,

Most dear Sir,

Your gratefully affectionate,

Evelina Belmont.

(p. 404)

Such a long and deliberate closing calls a great deal of attention to her act of claiming a name. Doody asserts, "Evelina is unplaced in society, unclassified. Her name is a crucial problem … In her novel, Burney explores the universal adolescent experience of making an entrance into the world as 'nobody,' without an established personality or fixed social self."9 And to this Pawl adds, "Dangerous as names are, however, there is a greater danger in not being named—or owned … Being 'owned,' far from turning Evelina into a commodity whose personhood is denied, is actually what allows her to become a person."10 The two successive letters with signatures, at the end of a collection of letters remarkable for the relative absence of signatures, seem to support a reading that constructs (even if somewhat simplistically) a sort of teleological progression toward assuming a name. As is the case with the final letter, however, the juxtaposition of opposites in this letter, "first" and "last," indicates, at the very least, a sort of ambivalence. Certainly, the postscript of the penultimate letter (of only four postscripts in the entire collection of letters and by far the longest of them) after her signature suggests unfinished business; it suggests that her signature, which follows the anticipatory drum-roll of her final paragraph, does not necessarily conclude this story. Perhaps this chain of five abruptly starting and stopping phrases is as much a stuttering as it is a flourish, an attempt to defer the end, the final naming of herself.

Rather than completely undermining the notion of Evelina's coming to a name from anonymity, these remarkable juxtapositions demonstrate Evelina's (or Burney's) grave ambivalences but also dependencies in taking refuge in (and thus participating in) a naming system. All thirteen of the letters that Evelina signs appear in the context of great turmoil in, or threat to, her particular position. Furthermore, these signatures appear in clusters. And though characterizing them entirely in such limited terms would be to ignore a host of other issues and concerns, each of these clusters of letters seems to respond to a particular kind of symbolic assault on Evelina's agency. For just as Evelina encounters numerous persons who, on one level, attempt to insinuate themselves, their lives, their names, and their bodies into hers (to the effacement of hers), so too does she meet with circumstances that threaten to displace or replace her symbolically. Her signatures serve to mark each of these occasions and to reassert herself at fundamental levels.

The opening of Evelina's first letter demonstrates a high level of self-consciousness with respect to the propriety and legitimacy of her writing:

Well but, my dear Sir, I am desired to make a request to you. I hope you will not think me an incroacher; Lady Howard insists upon my writ-ing!—yet I hardly know how to go on; a petition implies a want,—and have you left me one? No indeed.

I am half ashamed of myself for beginning this letter. But these dear ladies are so pressing—I cannot, for my life, resist wishing for the pleasures they offer me,—provided you do not disapprove them.

(p. 23)

The timidity and hesitancy with which she enters the discussion and the way she displaces the responsibility of her "incroachment" onto others indicate her uncertain place and, more importantly, her understanding of her uncertain place in their discourse. This hesitancy also signals, however, the vital importance of her letter—that despite such misgivings, Evelina feels compelled to enter this discourse. The significance of her letter is not in the textual content, for all she does is but to defer judgment to Villars, saying "Decide for me" (p. 24). Instead, the letter merely, albeit importantly, serves as a vehicle by which to assert the name of this "poor child"—Evelina's understanding of this act figured, perhaps, in the way she describes London: "They tell me that London is now in full splendour. Two playhouses are open,—the Opera-House,—Ranelagh,—the Pantheon.—You see I have learned all their names" (p. 24). Indeed the name "Evelina" never appears in the seven letters exchanged between Villars and Lady Howard that open the novel. The very first reference to Evelina appears in Lady Howard's letter as "an infant orphan" and immediately afterward as "the child" (p. 12). Villars first refers to Evelina as "her [Duval's] granddaughter" and afterward usually as "her" (p. 13) and "that child" (p. 15). The closest either of these correspondents come to writing "Evelina" is Villars's use of the name "Anville" (p. 19), which, he admits, refers to nothing more than the neighborhood of her father. Of course, some of the contents of these letters deal with events long before Evelina's birth, serving as a brief introduction to the circumstances of the book's main plot. And the comment by Villars, revealing his practice of "concealing her name" (p. 19), does explain, to some extent, its omission in their discourse. This does not change the fact that before Evelina's first letter, Villars and Lady Howard refer to Evelina no fewer than twenty-seven times as "the child," "ward," or in some other anonymous way, not including the several dozen times they use pronouns. And this does not mitigate, in any way, Evelina's strong need to sign her name—to establish her own subject position within the discourse, which supposedly operates around her—to declare "I am Evelina."

Indeed, this is the very structure of each of her three signatures in this cluster: "I am … Evelina." But asserting that Evelina's first signatures perform a sort of self-identification, convenient as such a reading may be for discussing issues of representation and naming, may seem a bit naive. After all, the practice of signing a letter "I am" is entirely conventional in the eighteenth century. This does not discount Evelina's acts of self-inscription but, rather, illustrates the strategy of resistance both Burney and Evelina employ. As mentioned, Evelina's language strongly suggests that she recognizes her insinuations into these affairs—her own affairs!—as transgressions against convention. She deftly mitigates her trespass, not only with her humble apologies, but also with her deferences to convention. In the signature, her use of the construction "I am" performs a clever and skillful manipulation of convention. Although it serves an absolutely vital function, it appears in an absolutely conventional form so that casual glances would pass over it without so much as a blink. It is, however, a wink to an inside audience. While the phrase bears the clothing of a banal and meaningless closing, its use, in her context, forces the reader to reinstill the words with real, living semantic significance. After all, there are plenty of other ways in which Evelina could have signed—and, in other places, does sign—her letters while still appearing to employ purely conventional manners. In using the same closing three times in sequence (and then using different ones later), Evelina calls attention to these usages, for as dull as conventions may seem, decisions on whether or not to employ them or on which one to employ can be significant. Indeed, the very assumption that these conventions have no value—the marginalization of these acts—creates the possibility for Evelina's self-inscription and provides discarded material for her to recycle.

One finds the next cluster of signatures in the letters dealing with the confrontation of Belmont—that is, in the attempt by parent figures to affix a certain, other, name to Evelina. Although she can only appreciate the efforts of her benefactors, their cause, particularly in its tenuous nature, only highlights to Evelina her unnamed, unstable, and misfit status. Her ambivalences and apprehensions at the thought of this enterprise are clear enough in her reaction to Duval's announcement, which she introduces: "I now write in the greatest uneasiness" (p. 120). Rather than comforting Evelina with luxury, peace, and a "high style of … future grandeur" (p. 121), Duval's efforts make Evelina feel lost and insecure. Once again the issue is Evelina's name, this time not her first name, which operates as a differential signifier to distinguish and individualize persons in a synchronic field, but her family name, which serves to link individuals together in a diachronic chain and to instill them with symbolic value and socioeconomic worth. It is perhaps fitting that Evelina's first signature in this cluster marks a letter that describes men evaluating and, literally, valuing women:

"They'd need be goddesses with a vengeance," said the Captain, "for they're mortal dear to look at. Howsomever, I should be glad to know what you can see in e'er a face among them that's worth half a guinea for a sight."

"Half a guinea!" exclaimed that same Lord, "I would give half I am worth, for a sight of only one, provided I make my own choice."

(p. 107)

Evelina's response to Duval's attempt to "make something of" her and to impose on her "another name than that of Anville" (p. 121) is, once again, more legible in her closing and signature than in her letter:

And now, most honoured Sir, with all the follies and imperfections which I have thus faithfully recounted, can you, and with unabated kindness, suffer to sign myself

Your dutiful

and most affectionate


(p. 115)

This signature expresses her wish to align herself with Villars and, in a way, asks him to claim her. And Villars immediately responds to "Your … Evelina" with "My Evelina" (p. 115) in the opening of his next letter. Thus, Evelina, acting as a ventriloquist, performs Villars's claiming of her as his heir. Soon after this exchange, Villars, perhaps because of the seed planted by this manipulation, confides to Lady Howard his intention to claim Evelina (p. 126).

Although she certainly expresses her frustration and anger with the overbearing Duval's handling of her affairs, Evelina's letters do not speak directly to the issue of her authority. Indeed, she weakly admits, "as to me,—I know not what to say, nor even what to wish" (p. 122). It is only in her signatures that she expresses her volition:

May Heaven bless you, my dearest Sir! and long, long may it continue you on earth, to bless

Your grateful


(p. 131)

She repeats the form of "your … Evelina" that joins her to Villars. And after learning of Belmont's response to Lady Howard's entreaty on her behalf she reaffirms her tie once more:

Adieu, my dearest Sir! Heaven, I trust, will never let me live to be repulsed and derided by you, to whom I may now sign myself

Wholly your


(p. 160)

This consistent use of the same form of closing within each cluster of signatures, in my opinion, discounts the simple counterargument that Evelina is merely employing convention and no more. Clearly her signatures conform to standard closings, yet I believe close readings of the closings and the conditions around them reveal that Evelina skillfully manipulates these conventions for her own purposes. In this context, "I am Evelina" is a declaration.

From her first letter at the beginning of the book through the ordeal with Belmont, Evelina uses exclusively her first name in her signatures. In a letter to Miss Mirvan while under the guardianship of Mme. Duval she signs "Evelina Anville" (p. 173). The simple pun on en ville, as she writes from London, signifies not only Evelina's assertion of her autonomy from Mme. Duval (one may even describe this as defiance, as it specifically contradicts Duval's ambition to banish the name "Anville" [p. 121]), but also her understanding of herself as a coherent agent. As I assert for each occasion of a signature by Evelina, this one marks her response to a crisis of identity. Immediately after Belmont's refusal to recognize his daughter formally, Mme. Duval forces Villars to permit her to take Evelina to London. By signing "Evelina Anville" she asserts with no uncertainty her independence from Mme. Duval, and that her current circumstance of lodging indicates no acceptance of any other kind of relationship. Interestingly, in this letter that marks her first use of the name Anville, Evelina describes the great ville of London: "[It] now seems no longer the same place where I lately enjoyed so much happiness; every thing is new and strange to me; even the town itself has not the same aspect:—my situation so altered! my home so different!—my companions so changed" (p. 172). This description of Evelina's sense of self and place harkens back to a letter in which she writes, "the work of seventeen years remains such as it was … I am not half so happy here at present, as I was ere I went to town: but the change is in the place, not in me" (p. 117). Evelina Anville is not only not subject to Duval but heir to Vill ars, at home in and owned by herself. The name Anville as practically an anagram for Evelina suggests that transient changes in her station and companions cannot displace Evelina from her self, her place that defines her, "Anville."

The only other letter she signs "Evelina Anville" is one to Lord Orville after she discovers the Branghtons' fraudulent use of her name to request his carriage. This embarrassment is an affront to Evelina's agency and propriety. She has to respond to maintain that propriety. This occasions two more signatures. In a letter to Orville, which she closes in the form "I am … Evelina Anville" (p. 249), Evelina asserts her identity in a way similar to the manner in her first signatures. In her next letter, to Miss Mirvan, she closes, "So witness in all truth, / Your affectionate / Evelina" (p. 255), asserting her authenticity and propriety. As always, Evelina presents no argument in the body of her letter, but, instead, speaks in her signature using words "witness" and "truth," indicating that she understands this misuse of her name as a legal as well as a personal issue. That she should write to Orville is unremarkable. That she should sign her letter in such a way is also understandable. This letter and signature appear, however, not as originals, but as transcriptions. That is, the entire letter to Orville appears within a letter that she writes to Villars, and the entire letter, including the signature, appears within quotation marks. And though she carefully transcribes her signature in this letter, she does not sign the actual letter to Villars. In the context of my assertion that each signature and its specific conditions is significant, this unusual displacement makes perfect sense. For the crisis of identity and propriety takes place in London and in the context of her relationship to Orville. Therefore her signature should appear in her letter to Orville, not one to Villars. The remarkable act of transcribing this signature appears in the context of her letter to Villars, to whom she must demonstrate her ability to understand and maintain her agency. This extremely careful situating of her signature only further highlights how consciously and conscientiously Evelina considers each occasion so that she uses her name only in the most important and appropriate moments in the most precise and relevant ways.

This act of copying her letter and her signature highlights the fact that Evelina is neither the first child whom Villars rears, nor the first Lady Belmont in this story. She is, rather, the second—in a way, a copy. In her, in her life, and in her story there is also the first. For just as her face recalls the "image" (p. 372) of her mother, so too does her life recall her mother's story, as Villars says, "The public appearance of the daughter of Sir John Belmont will revive the remembrance of Miss Evelyn's story to all who have heard it" (p. 337). This clearly carries meta-novelistic import. For just as Evelina's face seems to reflect, indeed, to represent to Belmont, Caroline's, so too does the text of Evelina represent the destroyed manuscript of "The History of Caroline Evelyn." 11Evelina performs both the possibility and pitfalls of creating a matrilineal history within the confines of a patriarchal culture.

The two remaining signatures of Evelina, both in letters to Macartney, deal with, once again, a fundamental assault on Evelina's identity, yet in the much larger scope of cultural and historical, rather than individual, representation. For they respond to a letter from Macartney. Once again, the signature reveals the nature of the intrigue:

I am, Madam, with the most profound respect, and heart-felt gratitude,

Your obedient, and devoted humble servant,

J. Macartney.

(p. 231)

This would seem, in other contexts, an innocent enough closing to a letter except that it uses a form, as discussed earlier, that Evelina uses when asserting her identity, her existence, and her right to self-representation. Furthermore, this signature closes Evelina's letter to Villars. The logical explanation for this is simple enough, for Evelina merely encloses the letter from Macartney for Villars's perusal. Thematically and symbolically, in the context of an epistolary novel in which signatures are so rare and seem to suggest such portentous moments, the fact that a letter from Evelina bears the signature of Macartney, so that he is represented in the nominal position of the author of the letter to Villars, is unusual and quite problematic. Indeed, virtually the entire text sent to Villars consists of Macartney's words, with only a single introductory paragraph from Evelina. In this letter the text and story of Macartney, as well as the signature, threaten to (and temporarily do) displace, replace, and efface Evelina's. The "I am … J. Macartney" at the end suggests the possibility of the same sort of claim and ascension to agency and centrality that Evelina enacted at the very beginning of the novel. For just as her letter and signature mark her assertion of self-identity and demonstrate, quite literally, her act of assuming the role of subject and author of her life, implicitly casting the Villars-Howard letters as a mere introduction, so too do Macartney's signature, letter, and narrative seem poised to replace Evelina's, as if the entire first half of the book were merely an extended preamble to his story.

Certainly, in terms of gripping the reader with awe at the fantastic, the incredible events of Macartney's story, related in just a few pages, seem to outstrip by far all those preceding that Evelina narrates. Briefly, Macartney's story mentions an entire gauntlet of intrigues including fatherlessness, melancholy, travel, forbidden romance, sword play, murder, parricide, fugitive flight, orphanage, and roguery. As the reader imagines these amazing adventures of Macartney, and forgets those of Evelina, his story threatens to overshadow and to replace her story. During the several pages of this elaborate plot, the story of Evelina's life, and presumably all that "History" will ever retain of her life, rests precariously on hold, in danger of being pushed aside to the margins by a more adventurous, titillating, and masculine counterpart. Macartney's narrative threat represents at least as dangerous an intrusion in Evelina's story as the insinuations of the sometimes mischievous and often ungentlemanly bachelors such as Willoughby, Lovel, and Smith. Just as they manipulate her into compromising positions through their intimate knowledge of the rigid codes of social convention, which under the auspices of protecting a young woman from less than honorable suits actually expose her to them,12 Macartney's story weaves itself into Evelina's, under the pretense of securing protection from her, culminating in this letter, which creates a meta-narrative crisis, threatening to usurp the central plot and to leave Evelina a nameless nobody by the wayside.

The response to this crisis operates on several different levels and is marked, predictably, by her signature:

Oh Sir, could I, upon this subject, could I write as I feel,—how animated would be the language of

Your devoted


(p. 238)

Not only does this signature mark the locus of her response; it draws attention to her "language"—a language unique in kind, betraying an unusual anxiety of inadequacy as a writer and storyteller, but one that also displays a strong sense of urgency and self-consciousness with respect to the telling of her story. Furthermore, it points to the "animated" language found in the entire letter, beginning from the very opening:

Holborn, July 1, 5 o'clock in the morn.

O Sir, what an adventure have I to write!—all night it has occupied my thoughts, and I am now risen thus early, to write it to you.

(p. 231)

Including the time, "5 o'clock," in the heading is unique to this letter. Evelina then adds "in the morn," once again unique, to obviate any possible ambiguity. And finally, she points back to the header in her first sentence, declaring "I am now risen thus early."

As the opening suggests with its repeated self-referentiality and the closing points out with the reference to its own language, the words in this letter seem calculated to excite the reader. In this letter she uses the word "adventure" three times, as well as words such as "fireworks," "explosion," "danger," "terror," "fright," "horror," "distress," "violence," "cruelly," "revenged," "melancholy," "persecutions," "mortification," "escape," "release," "liberty," "cavalierly," "titter," and "monstrous," among others. Beyond merely titillating the reader, these extraordinary measures form one aspect of Evelina's crucial response to the narrative challenge of Macartney's letter. These words seem calculated to match those of Macartney's. Evelina transports the narrative "fireworks" and the "danger" of Macartney's story into hers. All the "violence" "cruelly" "revenged" on persons resulting in "melancholy" and "persecutions," thus requiring "escape" to "liberty" … all these words and events appear in Evelina's letter. The "language" that her closing signature refers to matches that of Macartney's adventure.

This imitative way in which the frightful events of Evelina's narrative match those of Macartney's story also suggests the second level of response. That is, Macartney's story, which relies so heavily on fantastic and extraordinary events and situations, seems precisely the kind of story Burney denounces in her preface—"Let me therefore, prepare for disappointment" (p. 8)—precisely the novel she announces that she does not intend to write. As the preface suggests, Burney offers, in place of a romance, Evelina as an alternative model of writing for women. Rather than avoiding every suggestion of this genre, Burney boldly dangles just such a story before her reader's eyes in the most tenuous moment of narrative and meta-narrative crisis. Assuming that this response, the recounting of Evelina's own "adventures," which mimics the emotional energy of Macartney's continental romance without even leaving the presumably drab domesticity of England, succeeds in recapturing the reader's imagination, this exchange serves to validate Evelina as a formal model and Evelina as a subject of such writing.13

That Macartney turns out to be Evelina's brother suggests a convergence in the lineal, literal, and literary threats of obscurity—that is, Macartney's story threatens not only the telling of Evelina's by dominating the narrative space and the legitimacy of the mode of telling it by challenging its genre, but also the space in which to tell it by attempting to assume a place in a patrilineal history. While reading Plutarch's Lives, Burney remarks in her journal:

I have Just finish'd Paulus Amilius, whom I love & honour, most particularly, for his fondness for his Children, which instead of blushing at, he avows & glories in: and that at an Age, when almost all the heros & great men thought that to make their Children & Family a secondary concern … At such an Age, I say, I think the paternal affection of Paulus Amilius his first & principle [sic] glory.14

In reading of the various exploits of these famous men, Burney seems to have felt that History affords only a very limited allotment of space for each name. That is, when History chooses to honor a particular individual by recording his story, the others bearing the same name, whether parent, spouse, child, or sibling, can find very little space to tell their stories. From this perspective, the letters of Macartney and Evelina suggest a confrontation not only between "Romance" and "Nature," not only between man and woman, but also between brother and sister. Macartney's life story, just like Evelina's, begins with a fatherless child and ends in marriage—a marriage occurring on the same day and signified by the same invitation—an invitation whose reference is intentionally and irresolvably ambiguous. As the subtitle implies, Evelina's letters constitute a certain history, which, in a sense, can represent one generation in the history of the Belmont family line. Thus, Macartney's story, which threatens to efface or marginalize Evelina's, also constitutes an alternative history—a story synchronic with Evelina's that, transcribed from historical time to literary space, must either subsume or be subsumed by Evelina's. (One can read the scene in which Evelina declines Branghton's offer of Macartney's stool as a comic enactment of this sibling confrontation that Evelina tries so hard to avoid.) For Burney, Evelina's response and her ability to reassert herself represent a personal victory as well as a victory for English women's stories and English women's writing.

On the level of literary production and posterity, the threat of Macartney's story may articulate Burney's response to Richardson's Pamela, or, rather, her response to Fielding's response.15 By including Macartney, exposing the story of Evelina to the threat of a sibling's competing story, and resolving this conflict in her own story, Burney preempts the possibility of another Joseph Andrews.16 Whether or not Burney actually believed that a Fielding-like response might actually appear in the wake of any popular success Evelina might enjoy, the dynamics of this usurpative literary relationship perfectly play into the field of Burney's social, political, and literary concerns. For if the project that Burney outlines in her preface resembles any one previous novel, it is certainly that found in Pamela. The issues that Burney mentions in her preface, if made into a list, would repeat, nearly word for word, those of Richardson's. And Richardson's description of Pamela might just as easily appear on the title page of Evelina : "A narrative which has its Foundation in Truth and Nature; and at the same time that it agreeably entertains, by a Variety of curious and affecting Incidents, is intirely divested of all those Images which, in too many pieces calculated for Amusement only, tend to inflame the Minds they should instruct."17

In seeming opposition to Richardson, Fielding describes in the first sentence of his preface his project as a "Romance"—also the very genre from which Burney sets Evelina apart. If one takes seriously the way that Fielding seems to construct Joseph Andrews out of Richardson's Pamela, not only usurping its name, fame, and popularity (and, hence, economic inheritance), one would have to conclude that it threatens, at least literally, to re-close the possibility of a woman's narrative. Joseph Andrews begins by mentioning Pamela only to subjugate her, suggesting that her story is merely a small part of his story. Structurally, this is identical to the potential threat of Macartney to Evelina, whose name may replace hers, whose claim to birthright and inheritance may supersede hers, and whose story may replace hers. The History of Joseph Andrews, as the archetype of a genre that Fielding defines and defends through his entire lengthy preface, presents a literary challenge to the genre of Pamela and, were they contemporaries, Evelina.

The possible effect of this challenge, if taken seriously, is perhaps most clear in the first chapter of Joseph Andrews. At the exact moment in which it mentions Pamela, it effaces her and her story. While the chapter describes the great Histories of men, mentioning, "the History of John the Great, who by his brave and heroic Actions against Men of large and athletic Bodies, obtained the glorious Appellation of the Giant-killer; that of an Earl of Warwick, whose Christian Name was Guy,"18 it then passes Pamela by, commenting, "What the Female Readers are taught by the Memoirs of Mrs. Andrews, is so well set forth in the excellent Essays or Letters prefixed to the second and subsequent Editions of that Work, that it would be here a needless Repetition" (1:4). The agenda seems clear. While the description of each great male story "which deals in Male-Virtue" requires writers to "spread their History" (1:2), such representations of a woman's story would be merely a "needless Repetition." In the first chapter of the third book, titled "Matter prefatory in Praise of Biography," Fielding's narrator dismisses all possibility of doubt that he regards the stories of men superior to those of women, writing, "Truth is only to be found in their Works who celebrate the Lives of Great Men" (2:1), repeating "Men" numerous times in the passage, and then opposing the stories of men to stories of women, asserting,

Achievements of the renowned Don Quixote, more worthy the Name of a History than even Mariana's; for whereas the latter is confined to a particular Period of Time, and to a particular Nation; the former is the History of the World in general.


Interestingly, Burney mentions Fielding in the same breath as Richardson. In fact, Fielding precedes Richardson in her list of "predecessors." It does not seem plausible that Burney might have missed Fielding's challenge to women's stories and that any similarity between the pairings of MacCartney and Evelina with Joseph Andrews and Pamela—not to mention Polly Green (the false Evelina) and Shamela—is mere coincidence. But what were Burney's alternatives? Her strategy, a strategy she employs in practically every aspect of the book and one which practically every character in the book employs, is not open confrontation but insinuation and manipulation. Burney does not respond to Fielding in her prefatory matter but, as discussed, in her narrative. In her prefaces she represses any distinction between Fielding and Richardson. And though she states explicitly that she does not wish to write Romance, she also seems to learn much from Fielding. If Pamela is her generic model, then Joseph Andrews may serve as her strategic one. If from Richardson Burney learns how to portray her subject, then from Fielding Burney learns how to pose it. The stories of MacCartney and Polly Green merely serve as winks that both acknowledge Fielding's contribution and preempt any attempt to imitate it.

In addition, by declining to vilify Fielding in her prefatory letters, Burney insinuates herself into the company of other renown novelists, whom she calls "our predecessors." Burney's purpose is to address the critics of literature and the custodians of History. This address begins perhaps as early as the insertion of the word "history" in her subtitle, which invokes the notion of legitimacy—to announce, from the outset, the seriousness of her enterprise. In his entry for "history," Samuel Johnson employs a couplet from Pope that bases its definition on the distinction it makes from the fickle, flowery arts, "Justly Caesar scorns the poet's lays; / It is to history he trusts for praise."19 If Burney intended to renegotiate the margins of "the republic of letters" by introducing the "History of a Young Lady's Entrance into the World," along with the world of a young lady into "History," she had to confront the kind of prejudices that implicitly, yet quite perniciously and obstinately, bind the female sex with frivolity and dissimulation, clearly rendering them poor subjects for the "higher arts"—prejudices arguably best articulated by Mary Wollstonecraft half a generation later:

[A]nxious to render my sex more respectable members of society, I shall try to avoid that flowery diction which has slided from essays into novels, and from novels into familiar letters and conversation.

These pretty superlatives, dropping glibly from the tongue, vitiate the taste, and create a kind of sickly delicacy that turns away from simple unadorned truth; and a deluge of false sentiments and overstretched feelings, stifling the natural emotions of the heart, render the domestic pleasures insipid, that ought to sweeten the exercise of those severe duties, which educate a rational and immortal being for a nobler field of action.20

Burney seems to anticipate some of Wollstonecraft's charges implicitly in her own version of a somewhat aggrandized pontification on the evil effects of the novel on young women:

Perhaps were it possible to effect the total extirpation of novels, our young ladies in general, and boarding-school damsels in particular, might profit from their annihilation: but since the distemper they have spread seems incurable, since their contagion bids defiance to the medicine of advice or reprehension, and since they are found to baffle all the mental art of physic, save what is prescribed by the slow regimen of Time, and bitter diet of Experience, surely all attempts to contribute to the number of those which may be read, if not with advantage, at least without injury, ought rather to be encouraged than condemned.

(p. 8)

Like Wollstonecraft, Burney seems initially to concede a good deal to popular prejudice, while likewise locating the supposed intellectual and moral weakness of women largely in the lamentable state of their education and upbringing. What seems most striking about this passage is its construction of its audience in voicing these unflattering charges. Whereas Wollstonecraft's diatribe, authorized with her own name, against the inconstant and whimsical sex (as constructed by social presumptions) seems to address an educated and socially preceptorial, if not a bit condescending, community of men, Burney's anonymous voice clearly recognizes at least two quite distinct groups of readers. The first is the same sort of audience—socially prominent men—to whom Wollstonecraft writes and to whom Burney must justify her novel or risk censure. The second, the speaker locates, yet recognizes only in the third person, as the young ladies themselves who presumably comprise the majority of any novel's readership, whom Burney cannot alienate with the kind of unbuffered vitriolic attack Wollstonecraft occasionally voices.

This preface serves as an attempt to appease, while conjoining two distinct interests. And the move in the preface to reinsert the presence of the novel's female audience within a text clearly coded for the perusal of well-educated men reinforces the suggestion in the subtitle that attempts to insert Evelina, her story, into history. These insinuations, and the way in which Frances Burney positions her work with respect to "the republic of letters," invite comparison to the way in which the great "History" of her life positions itself in relation to the great History of her time. The preface of the latter, Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, quite self-assuredly exhibits no outward expressions of anxiety with respect to the status or merit of its subject: "It is not my intention to detain the reader by expatiating on the variety, or the importance of the subject, which I have undertaken to treat."21 With only a short gesture of modesty before demarcating the space of his "general plan," seemingly, Gibbon's sense of anxiety arises from the thought that perhaps readers might find the work too lengthy, which he alleviates by assuring, "But it is not my intention to expatiate with the same minuteness on the whole series of the Byzantine history" (p. 27). Gibbon confidently addresses his reading public directly with the full understanding that they recognize the importance, import, and legitimacy of his work's contents and ambition.

In contrast, Charles Burney, in the prefatory letter, "To the Queen," of his A General History of Music,22 which Frances Burney probably transcribed for the publisher, begins very tentatively with regard to the book's claim to legitimacy: "The condescension with which your Majesty has been pleased to permit your name to stand before the following History, may justly reconcile the author to his favorite study, and convince him, that whatever may be said by the professors of severer wisdom, the hours which he has bestowed upon Music have been neither dishonourably, nor unprofitably spent."23 This deference to and borrowed authority from the Queen, however, permits him practically to mimic Gibbon's stance, writing, "To those who know that Music is among your Majesty's recreations, it is not necessary to display its purity, or assert its dignity" (Burney, p. iv). Charles Burney further assuages his anxiety by constructing his work as his "favorite study," drawing a comparison to Gibbon's description of his project as that "of leisure"24—a description Gibbon repeats in the preface to his fourth volume in the context of announcing his retirement from public service: "Yet I consider that the annals of ancient and modern times may afford many rich and interesting subjects; that I am still possessed of health and leisure" (Gibbon, p. 31).

Furthermore, in that same way that Gibbon defines a space for his history, placing it between "the ancient and modern history of the world" (p. 26), Charles Burney excavates a space for his book by describing all the ancient treatises that have been lost. This affords him the opportunity to imitate Gibbon's catalog of ancient writers, which he exploits fully, referring to more than thirty different philosophers, historians, and writers. This allows him, once again, to imitate Gibbon's words, "performance of an indispensable duty" (pp. 27-28), writing, "It was neither with a view to rival others, nor to expose the defects of former attempts, but merely to fill up, as well as I was able, a chasm in English literature."25

Frances Burney both imitates her father's strategy of creating a historical space for her project and also positions her work for her audience and critics by manipulating his tactics. She assumes the metaphor that her father employs, writing "I yet presume not to attempt pursuing the same ground which they have tracked," but plants in it the flowers that his male view disregards: "though they may have cleared the weeds, they have also culled the flowers, and though they have rendered the path plain, they have left it barren" (p. 9). For though Burney recognizes that her father anxiously created a literary space for himself within a sometimes intractable discourse, she understands that she cannot presume to address her audience in exactly the same way. And just as Evelina's signatures and closings mark and form her response to circumstances, so too do Frances Burney's—or, in this case, the absence of her signature. Except in two aspects, Frances Burney's closing appears nearly identical to her father's, for as Charles Burney writes,

your Majesty's
most obedient
and most devoted Servant
Charles Burney,26

Frances Burney writes,

your most obedient
humble servant.

(p. 5)

The implications of these differences seem clear. First, whereas her socially prominent father owns a name, a sign that coherently signifies in a social and cultural discourse, she, hardly more than a child, does not. The absence of her name points to her social anonymity. Second, she addresses "Gentlemen" whereas her father addresses, "Madam." Beyond simply marking the difference in gender, which is obviously very significant, Burney also manipulates the relationship between the author and two distinctly different audiences with this change. Charles Burney's letter addresses the Queen on one level, but it invites a readership of literate men. This narrator exploits his relationship with a woman to force men to submit to her authority and, in that process, accept his book. Frances Burney's letter addresses directly a similar group of men, while it points out that although they nominally wield the power to critique or censor, they too must reserve their judgment and defer to another authority, the reading public. That reading public is, however, female. Thus Frances Burney deftly places her male critics into a position similar to that of Charles Burney's critics. This clever manipulation of authoritative structures points both to her anxiety about the male-dominated hegemony of the literary world and to her gendering of her readership. For in both cases, the audience that accepts the new contribution and willingly creates a space in history is a female one. And Frances Burney emphasizes that the censors who criticize and reject are all male. Her careful reinsertion of the female in her preface, as discussed earlier, serves to problematize this male authority. While appearing to conform to every accepted convention, Burney cleverly displaces (or replaces) the authority of the male critics to the female reading audience.

These comparisons with the writings of Richardson, Fielding, Gibbon, and Charles Burney demonstrate as much Frances Burney's models as her contexts. For Evelina is an orphan attempting to find a place in society and history. Born without direct traditional ties she must struggle to discover her lineage and to establish her legitimacy within patriarchal authority structures. Evelina represents both the material and the performance of the possibility of a female story and history. The clever narrative ironically describes, in letters, the history of men using social and cultural conventions to insinuate themselves into the life of a young woman, as the very story insinuates itself into the male-dominated realm of history by manipulating the formal and literary conventions of the "republic of letters." Evelina, in this way, indeed is and is not that "Monster, that the World ne'er saw" (p. 8), for the literary world has both seen and not seen her before.


  1. Susan C. Greenfield, "'Oh Dear Resemblace of Thy Murdered Mother': Female Authorship in Evelina," Eighteenth Century Fiction 3 (1991): 303-07.
  2. Margaret Anne Doody, "Introduction," Evelina: or The History of a Young Lady's Entrance into the World, ed. and intro. Margaret Anne Doody (London: Penguin, 1994), p. xii.
  3. Julia Epstein, The Iron Pen: Frances Burney and the Politics of Women's Writing (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1989), pp. 29-37.
  4. Amy J. Pawl, "'And What Other Name May I Claim?': Names and Their Owners in Frances Burney's Evelina," Eighteenth Century Fiction 3 (1991): 284-86, 293.
  5. Frances Burney, Evelina; or The History of A Young Lady's Entrance into the World, ed. Edward A. Bloom (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1968), p. 406. Subsequent references are to this edition.
  6. Kristina Straub, Divided Fictions: Fanny Burney and Feminine Strategy (Lexington: Univ. of Kentucky Press, 1987), p. 55.
  7. Ibid. p. 54.
  8. Formally, eighty-four letters comprise this book: thirty-one in vol. 1, thirty in vol. 2, and twenty-three in vol. 3. These figures do not include, however, letters completely transcribed within letters, such as Macartney's letter to Evelina. These figures also do not account for the sometimes multiple short letters that comprise a single formal letter. Considering all of these as individual letters would raise the grand total to 104 letters, of which Evelina authors seventy-seven. Although Evelina signs only thirteen of her formal letters, she also transcribes her signature, a fourteenth, along with the letter to Orville, appearing within the formal frame of her letter to Villars.
  9. Margaret Anne Doody, Frances Burney: The Life in the Works (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1988), pp. 40-41.
  10. Pawl, p. 286.
  11. Margaret Anne Doody has already discussed the relationship between the lost manuscript of "The History of Caroline Evelyn" and Evelina in both the works cited above, and it is beyond the scope of this essay to discuss this issue in greater detail.
  12. See Katharine M. Rogers, Frances Burney: The World of 'Female Difficulties' (New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf Press, 1990), pp. 26-27.
  13. I make no claim that this structure of narrative displacement is unique to Evelina or that Burney originates the technique. Indeed, one can locate framed stories in Plato, Chaucer, Shakespeare, or any number of other writers. For instance, in Don Quixote the goatherds (1:12-14) consider Quixote's talk of squires and knights errant "gibberish," and offer to entertain him with their pastoral tale, seeming to unseat Quixote from narrative and generic primacy. Cervantes, Miguel, The Adventures of Don Quixote, trans. J. M. Cohen (London: Penguin, 1950).
  14. The Early Journals and Letters of Fanny Burney, ed. Lars E. Troide (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), p. 25.
  15. It is beyond the scope of this paper to comment on the literary "debate" between Richardson and Fielding. See Jill Campbell, Natural Masques: Gender and Identity in Fielding's Plays and Novels (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1995), pp. 2-10, for a concise discussion of some of the issues raised.
  16. The coincidence of Fielding's preface addressed, "To Fanny," in Shamela might also provide the occasion for the subplot of Polly Green, preempting the possibility of a false Evelina.
  17. Samuel Richardson, Pamela: or, Virtue Rewarded (London: C. Rivington and J. Osborn, 1741), title page.
  18. Henry Fielding, The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and His Friend, Mr. Abraham Adams, 2 vols. (London: A. Miller, 1742), 1:3.
  19. Samuel Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language (London: W. Strahan for J & Knapton, 1756).
  20. Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, ed. Carol H. Poston (New York: Norton, 1988), p. 10.
  21. Edward Gibbon, preface to The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ed. William Smith (New York: Bigelow, Brown and co., 1845), p. 25.
  22. For comparison, Charles Burney, in his introduction to The Present State of Music in France and Italy (London: T. Becket, 1771), without the word "History" in the title, exhibits no similar anxiety.
  23. Charles Burney, A General History of Music from the Earliest Ages to the Present Period (London: printed for the author, 1776-1789), p. iii.
  24. Gibbon, p. 26.
  25. Burney, preface to A General History of Music, p. v.
  26. Burney, dedication to A General History of Music, p. v.

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