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Review: Evelina by Frances Burney

Hey everyone,

In a post a did a couple of days ago I said I would slowly start posting my reviews of books that I studied over my fall semester. If you want to check out the LONG list of what I studied click here.

The first one I’ve decided to so is Evelina by Frances Burney. I truly enjoyed reading this book in my 18th century literature class. This is a book from the epistolary genre, which is when a story is told in the form of letters. I find this kind of book to be very interesting because it offers a perspective that a regular narrator wouldn’t be able to. This genre could be a series of letters back and forth between characters or something of a diary. Evelina is a series of letters back and forth between numerous characters with the main protagonist being a young girl named Evelina. We follow her as she goes from her small town to visiting the big city with some friends. She is known as a bastard child since her birth father lied and stated he was never married to her mother and therefore she was born a bastard. As she is in the city with family friends she meets a lot of new people and starts to learn what is considered to be proper female behaviour. She falls in love with an older man named Mr. Orville who is extremely wealthy and therefore should not fall in love with her since she is a bastard child. It is a wonderful story of self discovery and of finding love.


Evelina keeps her sense of innocence throughout the story, which I found to be really nice. She if often teased and made fun of for not knowing about certain customs because she has not spent any time in a larger city setting such as London. There is quite a bit of teasing and poking fun through out the novel in general:

“When the signal was given for them to set off, the poor creatures, feeble and frightened, ran against each other, and, neither of them able to support the shock, they both fell on the ground.

Not long after, a foot of one of the poor women slipt, and, with great force, she came again to the ground. Involuntarily, I sprung forward to assist her, but Lord Merton, to whom she did not belong, stopped me, calling out “No foul play! no foul play!”‘

Here we see one of the situations where Evelina is not used to the customs and someone points it out. While most of us would think that making two older ladies race for dinner entertainment is just mean and unethical, characters like Lord Merton enjoyed it. He prevents Evelina from going to help the woman who has fallen and injured herself because he does not want the entertainment to stop. Evelina keeps her innocence here in the sense that she continues to believe that things like this are not right.

There is a very interesting point in the novel where Evelina and her friends visit a museum where they could see animatronic items, such as a swan. In the 18th century this was a tremendous leap forward and people came from all over the world to see these robotic inventions. What is even cooler is this museum was in fact real and the robotic swan in the story is still around today. There are videos of it online!!! So cool that something from the 18th century has survived the test of time like that.

Here is a quick video of what they call The Silver Swan and how it works.

Like I said, this swan is written about in the novel when Evelina visits the museum. It’s always cool when you know you’re reading about something that you could potentially go and see with your own two eyes.

I really enjoyed this novel. It had a good story line, it read quite easily and quickly, and it does have a sweet ending. If you are looking to try and get into more classic novels I would definitely suggest this one.

If you do end up reading it or you have read it already then let me know what you think!!!!




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