Evelina or The History of a Young Lady's Entrance into the World by Frances Burney

An epistolary novel published in 1778, it originally showed the name of  Burney's brother as author because at that time it was considered improper for a woman to read or write novels. Once it achieved success, the true author came forward. This novel is said to have been an influence on the writings of Jane Austen, which fact alone, I think, makes it worth reading.

It is the story of a young girl who was raised and educated in the sheltered environment of a rural clergyman's home, the man who stepped in after her natural father was tricked into believing a different child was his own daughter. She is grown now, and at the invitation of friends, and with her guardian's reluctantly given permission, Evelina sets off on a journey to visit friends. While at their home she meets her maternal grandmother who has plans to take Evelina into society where she can learn the ways of the world and enjoy some of the entertainments a city has to offer.

The grandmother and her entourage are loud, ill mannered and at times obnoxious, not at all what Evelina is accustomed to. Her trusting and innocent nature gets her into some uncomfortable situations, including a meeting with her biological father meant to convince him she is his rightful heir. She is taken to many and varied social events, at one of which she is introduced to a young Lord, a handsome gentleman with courtly manners who offers her his friendship and who is more suitable in every way than most of the young men who are being shoved into her path. Evelina is very much aware, and appreciative, of the difference.  

There are a number of, let's call them lively, characters, some a bit over the top for me, but no doubt as realistic in that age as in this. Evelina herself is a bit too good all the time. I'd have liked to see her lose her temper or do something slightly selfish to prove she was human. Not that I didn't admire her; in fact I spent most of the book wishing I could be as kind and good as she was.

You can easily imagine how the story ends, still, getting there is fun with some of the situations she relates in her letters being comical for us, if frustrating for her. There are also several tenderly written expressions of gratitude and affection for the man who raised her. Their relationship is quite beautiful, one I'm sure many of us might envy.

I read this on my e-reader, taking a chance on a free version, and it was a mess. The formatting got worse as the novel advanced, with words running together, sentences out of place and huge gaps on several pages. It was not an enjoyable reading experience. You get what you pay for. I'd like to get a hard copy just to have it in my library. I may not read it again, but I do think it's worth having on my shelves.


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