Places: Evelina

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1778

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Sentimental

Time of work: Eighteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedBerry Hill

Berry EvelinaHill. Country home of Mr. Villars, Evelina’s guardian, located seven miles from Dorchester in southern England. Berry Hill’s rural location signifies Evelina’s innocent and unsophisticated upbringing. However, her natural grace and understanding hint at her having a noble lineage that transcends the limitations of her rustic education.

*London

*London. Great Britain’s capital city is the site of Evelina’s entrance into the world and of her education in the world’s ways. Her initial immersion in London’s customs allows author Fanny Burney to satirize the fashions of the times, as seen through the eyes of an ingenue. As Evelina writes home, first from respectable Queen Ann Street and later from a hosier’s in working-class Holborn, she records her own and others’ impressions of city life.

Evelina’s party visits a number of theatrical and musical performances during her first sojourn in London, and these episodes contribute to a debate over the value of art and its relationship to good taste. At a performance of William Congreve’s Love for Love (1695) at Drury Lane Theatre, discussion of the play turns into an argument over how men should respond to beauty, either with passionate enthusiasm or with philosophic detachment. A later concert at the Pantheon returns to this idea, as a nobleman ogles Evelina and betrays an indelicacy unsuitable to his social position. The ultimate test of the characters’ taste comes at the Haymarket Opera House. As Evelina strives to listen to the performance, her crude cousins, the Branghtons, talk incessantly, complaining about the very features of opera that distinguish the musical form as high art.

The reactions of Evelina’s characters to London’s other tourist attractions help polarize English and French national tastes as well as the upper-and tradesman classes. Captain Mirvan refuses to be pleased by a performance of the Fantoccini puppet show merely because the comedy is performed in French and Italian. His stubbornness is contrasted with the superficiality of Madame Duval, who exclaims over the bejeweled mechanical objects at Cox’s Museum. A similar tension occurs among the distinguished sites where the impeccable Lord Orville appears, such as the auction house in Pall Mall, Ranelagh, and Kensington Gardens, and the plebeian haunts of the Snow Hill set–the Branghtons.

In the company of her cousins, Evelina visits the Vauxhall and Marylebone Gardens, with each episode expressing the dangerous condition of Evelina’s ambiguous place in society. At Vauxhall, the Branghton girls lead Evelina down the dark alleys, in which men ensnare and insult Evelina in a nightmarish scenario. Similarly, at Marylebone, Evelina loses her company and desperately calls out for help, only to find herself arm-in-arm with two prostitutes who refuse to part company with her.

*Paris

*Paris. France’s capital city is a place where the English are inevitably debauched or ruined. Evelina’s grandfather once sought exile there in disgrace; her mother made an ill-advised marriage there; and Mr. Macartney fought his own father in a duel while there.

*Scotland

*Scotland. Homeland of the impoverished poet Macartney, whose differences from other characters are thus given geographical emphasis. Macartney contrasts the crass middle-class materialism of his landlords, the Branghtons, with a delicate sensibility that cannot bear the series of disappointments he experiences. His financial distress subjects him to stereotyping as a threadbare, impoverished Scot, but that is an unaccustomed state for him, and sympathetic observers know it.

Howard Grove

Howard Grove. English home of Lady Howard, a friend of Mr. Villars who counteracts the clergyman’s over-protectiveness of Evelina with gentle remonstrances. Her influence in her own home is overrun by that of her son-in-law, Captain Mirvan, when he returns from sea and begins a new campaign of tormenting Madame Duval.

*Bristol Hotwells

*Bristol Hotwells. Spa in southwestern England that is a destination for wealthy travelers. Evelina goes there by chance after being ill, and a neighbor, Mrs. Selwyn, is headed there. Ironically, the cure offered by the Hotwells waters cannot heal the larger, national illness of the members of the corrupt aristocratic class who frequent such places.

*Bath

*Bath. Resort town in southwestern England famous for its hot mineral springs and its Georgian buildings. Once Evelina’s identity is known, the nobility who scorned her seek out her favor by accompanying her on a sightseeing trip to this famous destination.

BibliographyBloom, Harold, ed. Fanny Burney’s “Evelina.” New York: Chelsea House, 1988. Includes previously published material, plus Julia L. Epstein’s “Evelina’s Deceptions: The Letter and the Spirit” and Jennifer A. Wagner’s “Privacy and Anonymity in Evelina.”Brown, Martha G. “Fanny Burney’s Feminism: Gender or Genre?” In Fetter’d or Free? British Women Novelists, 1670-1815, edited by Mary Anne Schofield and Cecilia Macheski. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1986. Argues that Burney, as novelist, belongs to the romance tradition rather than the feminist one, except when she undertakes feminism in her last novel.Cutting, Rose Marie. “Defiant Women: The Growth of Feminism in Fanny Burney’s Novels.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 17, no. 3 (Summer, 1977): 519-530. An early feminist treatment of Burney. Discusses the financial difficulties of her heroines.Doody, Margaret Anne. Frances Burney: The Life in the Works. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1988. Examines all the novels not only as a reflection of but also an indictment of Burney’s society’s perversities of structure, function, and belief. Discusses Burney’s insight into her society’s comical and obsessive traits. Judiciously feminist.Eighteenth Century Fiction 3, no. 4 (July, 1991). Entire issue devoted to Evelina. Includes Gina Campbell and David Oakleaf on the heroine’s relationship to her father; Margaret Doody on the novel’s place in the literature of its time; Julia Epstein on critical contexts; and Susan Greenfield and Amy Pawl on matrilineal and nominal aspects of authorship.Newton, Judith Lowder. Women, Power, and Subversion: Social Strategies in British Fiction, 1778-1860. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1981. Newton devotes an entire chapter to Evelina, finding in Burney’s novel an unresolved conflict between Burney’s desire for artistic freedom and the demands of patriarchal authority.Simons, Judy. “Fanny Burney: The Tactics of Subversion.” In Living by the Pen: Early British Women Writers, edited by Dale Spender. New York: Teachers College Press, 1992. A useful, brief introduction to Burney and her work. The anthology as a whole provides an excellent survey of women writers in the eighteenth century.Spencer, Jane. The Rise of the Woman Novelist: From Aphra Behn to Jane Austen. New York: Basil Blackwell, 1986. A compelling study of the emergence of the woman writer in England in the period from the late seventeenth to the early nineteenth centuries.Spender, Dale. Mothers of the Novel: One Hundred Good Women Writers Before Jane Austen. London: Pandora, 1986. Spender’s purpose in this important treatment of women writers from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is to challenge and ultimately to overthrow the traditional view that the novel was “fathered” by a handful of male writers. She devotes a chapter to Burney and her contemporary Maria Edgeworth.Straub, Kristina. Divided Fictions: Fanny Burney and Feminine Strategy. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1987. Straub’s is probably the best sustained critical examination of Burney’s work. The chapters on Evelina are excellent.Todd, Janet. The Sign of Angellica: Women, Writing, and Fiction, 1660-1800. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989. Another important study chronicling the emergence of the woman writer in England. The final chapter is on Burney.
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