Burney, Frances. Evelina.
Evelina's Family History: Lady Howard from Howard Grove, Kent, announces to Reverend Arthur Villars from Berry Hill, Dorsetshire, that Madame Duval from Paris wishes Villars's ward, her seventeen-year-old grand-daughter Evelina, to be sent to her. Villars refuses on account of Madame Duval's being "by no means a proper companion or guardian for a young woman: she is at once uneducated and unprincipled; ungentle in her temper, and unamiable in her manners" (p. 13). Madame Duval's first marriage to Mr Evelyn produced the daughter Caroline, who was by her father's last will brought up as Villars's ward. When she came off age, Madame Duval sent for her to Paris and pressed her to marry a nephew of her second husband Monsieur Duval. Caroline rashly married Sir John Belmont instead, fled to England, and was abandoned by her husband. Her mother disclaimed her. Lady Belmont died after she gave birth to Evelina.
Invitation to London: Lady Howard invites Evelina to join her daughter Mrs Mirvan, her husband Captain Mirvan, and their daughter Maria for a period of two or three months which they intent to spend in London. For both Maria and Evelina it is the first time that they are introduced to society. Evelina uses the name Miss Anville, though she is acquainted with her family history. Evelina is at first enchanted by the theatres, operas, and sights of London. As a girl inexperienced with city manners, she however soon commits a series of social blunders.
The Ball and Lord Orville: At a ball Evelina unwittingly violates a social rule when she rejects a disagreeable coxcomb, Mr Lovel, but shortly afterwards she accepts another man, Lord Orville, for a dancing partner. She admires Lord Orville's gentlemanly manners, politeness, and grace. When she realizes her faux pas, she is highly disconcerted by the thought that Lord Orville may interpret her ignorance as ill-breeding or mischief.
The Ridotto and Sir Willoughby: At the ridotto, another dancing entertainment, Evelina is asked for a dance by a stranger. It is not acceptable in high society for a lady to dance with strangers, but Evelina does not know how to reject the man politely, so she professes that she is already engaged for the dance. The stranger, Sir Clement Willoughby, keeps on pressing her in a very impolite manner and seeks to learn the name of her partner. She finally points out Lord Orville who immediately understands the situation and supports her. Evelina now looks forward to quitting London: "I am too inexperienced and ignorant to conduct myself properly in this town, where every thing is new to me, and many things are unaccountable and perplexing" (p. 53).
Appearance of Madame Duval: On returning from an evening entertainment, Evelina's party accidentally comes across a stranger who lost her company and they assist the woman to their coach. The stranger turns out to be Madame Duval. She immediately falls in dispute with Captain Mirvan, who is strongly prejudiced against anything not English, while the frenchified Madame Duval makes a point of despising all English. Evelina does not like Madame Duval's manners but is obliged to pay her grandmother due respect.
Coach Accident: Madame Duval joins the party for a tea Ranelagh. She has been a widow for the last three months and is accompanied by her beau, Monsieur Du Bois. He is not a great addition to the company for he does not speak English. Evelina's party is joined by Lord Orville and Sir Willoughby. It is cold and raining when they leave, and their coach meets an accident. Seeing Evelina in distress, Sir Willoughby carries her in his arms back to the warm room. Madame Duval and Monsieur Du Bois are even worse than the rest of the company, for they both fell in mud when the gentleman attempted to carry the lady over a puddle in his arms.
The Comedy and Mr Lovel's Offence: Evelina meets Madame Duval's nephew Mr Branghton, his wife, their pretentious daughters Polly and Biddy, and their mischievous son Tom. Evelina and the Mirvans attend William Congreve's sentimental comedy Love for Love and the ladies find the play very bawdy and indecent. The company meets Mr Lovel who behaves rudely to Evelina, implying a comparison of Evelina and an unrefined country girl from the play. Lord Orville appears and defends Evelina, comparing her to the lovely principal heroine of the play.
The Opera and the Branghtons: The Mirvans are taking Evelina for a musical opera, but in midst of the preparations, the Branghtons storm into the house with the intention to take Evelina for the same opera themselves. Evelina at first refuses, explaining that she is already engaged. Madame Duval however makes a terrible raging scene, on which Evelina consents to accompany her. Neither the Mirvans nor Madame Duval have ever been to an opera and they do not know how to behave at such occasion. Evelina is ashamed at their behaviour: "I fear you will think this London journey has made me grow very proud, but indeed this family is so low-bred and vulgar, that I should be equally ashamed of such a connection in the country, or any where" (p. 104-5).
Sir Willoughby's Advance: Evelina is grateful when Sir Willoughby appears at the opera and offers her his company. She immediately leaves the Branghtons, but does not realize that she is not dressed well enough to be able to join the ladies in the best seats in the pit. She must be therefore escorted by with Sir Willoughby. In the coach, Sir Willoughby frightens Evelina with his his confession that he adores her. Evelina's fear further heightens when she realizes that the coach carries her somewhere else than to the Mirvans. She is on the point of jumping out when Sir Willoughby orders the coachman to turn to the correct address and begs Evelina to forgive him, which she duly does.
The Pantheon and the Stranger's Offence: Evelina learns from Mrs Mirvan that Lord Orville ensured that Evelina would not be offended by Mr Lovel again. Lord Orville apparently asked Mr Lovel either to improve his conduct or to fight a duel with him. Mr Lovel's behaviour immediately improves. Evelina's spends her last evening in London in the Pantheon, where Sir Willoughby, unabashed, continues on courting her. Another gentleman, a stranger, intrudes into Evelina's society. Evelina thinks both men very rude and Lord Orville observes them with a frown.
Claiming Evelina's Father: Evelina is to leave London for a stay with Lady Howard at Howard Grove. Madame Duval forces herself on the company and must be taken with them. When Monsieur Du Bois intrudes into the coach to accompany Madame Duval, Captain Mirvan throws him out. Madame Duval announces her intention to claim by law Evelina's father and to make Evelina a polished lady by taking her to Paris. In a letter to Lady Howard, Reverend Villars reveals that he intends to adopt Evelina for his own daughter and heiress and that he wishes her to prefer simple country life in future rather than the dissipated city.
Captain Mirvan's Practical Joke: The company at Howard Grove is joined by Sir Willoughby to much joy of Captain Mirvan. The two men share a cruel sense of humour and together they devise a plan by which they convince Madame Duval that Monsieur Du Bois was arrested for treason. Madame Duval makes Evelina accompany her to the justice of peace to plead for Du Bois's release. They travel in vain for they are reached by a note saying that Du Bois had escaped from prison. On their way back their coach gets lost and they are robbed. The masked robbers are nobody else but Captain Mirvan and Sir Willoughby. The latter had slipped Evelina a note ensuring her that she has nothing to fear whatever happens. Madame Duval is the only who does not see through the plot, she is humiliated and derided by everyone, including the coachmen.
To London with Madame Duval: Sir John Belmont writes a letter in which he refuses to acknowledge Evelina as his daughter. Madame Duval intends to take Evelina to Paris where Sir Belmont is staying at the moment and to confront him in person. Evelina does not wish to go, neither does she wish to see the parent who rejected her. Reverend Villars does not allow Madame Duval to take Evelina to Paris, but on personal confrontation, Madame Duval makes him consent to Evelina's staying with her in London where they are to wait for Sir Belmont's return. With Madame Duval, Evelina moves in the lower-class society. They lodge together with Monsieur Du Bois and the Branghtons in disreputable poor quarters in Holborn.
Vauxhall and Sir Willoughby: Evelina's company introduces her to vulgar places that they think fashionable. During a night visit to Vauxhall, Misses Branghton leave their party for a stroll in a dark alley. Evelina accompanies them. Their original design is to frighten their company by making them believe that they got lost. They are however frightened themselves when they are surrounded by a group of jolly men who treat them with utmost insolence. The men seize the girls captive and refuse to let them go. One of the men turns out to be Sir Willoughby who singles out Evelina and delivers her safely to her company. Evelina is embarrassed at being seen by Sir Willoughby in such a vulgar party and so is Sir Willoughby. The next day Sir Willoughby pays Evelina a visit during which he is cruelly abused by Madame Duval and derided by the rest of the company.
Hampstead Ball and Mr Smith the Landlord: Mr Smith, the landlord, courts Evelina and invites her for a ball at Hampstead. Madame Duval makes Evelina attend the ball and instead of playing cards in the separate room, which is proper for elderly women at such occasions, she usurps Mr Smith for dancing. Evelina is shocked by the vulgar manners of Madame Duval and by the ill-breeding of the men who keep on asking her for a dance. She refuses all, including Mr Smith, who thinks her a vain coquette. Evelina's cousin is jealous of her for she thinks of having Mr Smith to herself. She has set her mind on competing in love affairs with her sister who already has her beau.
Mr Macartney the Poor Lodger: Evelina saves the life of one of the fellow lodgers, the poor Scottish poet Mr Macartney. He is about to commit suicide, but Evelina notices his melancholy and catches him in the act. Observing his extreme poverty, she is moved by compassion and drops her purse to assist him without obliging him. Mr Macartney explains his history in a letter to Evelina. He was born of English parents, but his mother fled to Scotland after being abandoned by his father. When visiting his friend in Paris, he fell in love with a daughter of respectable parents and injured her disapproving father in a duel. The girl's father turned out to be his own father and the girl his own sister. After his mother's death soon afterwards, he was too proud to accept help from friends and fell in poverty.
The Fireworks and Evelina's Suitors: Evelina's company attends a performance with fireworks. Evelina and the other ladies are frightened by the explosions and hasten farther from the stage so as not to incur any harm. The company breaks up and Evelina finds herself alone in the crowd. She is pursued by a strange man and seeks protection with two ladies, who however turn out to be women of ill-fame. Accidentally, Lord Orville appears and though he is surprised to find Evelina in such a company, he seems to understand her conditions. Back in their lodgings, Madame Duval suggests that Evelina should marry her cousin Branghton, if she does not find a better match in Paris. At the same time, Evelina receives a note from Monsieur Du Bois who declares his romantic attachment to Evelina.
Lord Orville's Offensive Letter: Evelina apologizes in a letter to Lord Orville for the behaviour of the Branghtons. Lord Orville shocks her by a letter of reply in which he mentions commencing a correspondence, which implies an invitation to sexual liaison. Young ladies at time did not correspondent with men to whom they were not engaged: ""That a man who had behaved with so strict a regard to delicacy," continued Mr Villars, "and who, as far as occasion had allowed, manifested sentiments the most honourable, should thus insolently, thus wantonly insult a modest young woman, in his perfect senses, I cannot think possible. But, my dear, you should have enclosed this letter in an empty cover, and have returned it to him again: such a resentment would at once have become your character, and have given him an opportunity, in some measure, of clearing his own"" (p. 298). Evelina is so deeply disappointed in Lord Orville's character that she falls ill and must be transferred to the Bristol spa.
Bristol and Lord Orville: Evelina is accompanied to Bristol by the articulate Mrs Selwyn who fends her against the advances of insolent beaus. One of them is Lord Merton, the stranger who offended Evelina with his unwelcome attention in the Pantheon. Lord Merton is about to marry the young wealthy sister of Lord Orville, Lady Louisa Larpent. The whole family stays in the house of a relation, Mrs Beaumont, at Clifton Hill. Mrs Selwyn and Evelina are invited for a stay at Mrs Beaumont during which Evelina enjoys Lord Orville's respectful attentions. Lord Merton and his companion Mr Jack Coverley make a bet for a phaeton-race between each other. The ladies disapprove, so the men produce an alternative plan featuring two old women foot-racing on behalf of the two men. Lord Merton is intoxicated with his victory in the race and makes advances to Evelina, who is delivered from his hands by Lord Orville.
Miss Belmont and Mr Macartney: Mr Macartney appears at Clifton Hill to inform Evelina about his improved fortune and to return her the borrowed money, which Evelina refuses. She is seen in his company by Lord Orville who misinterprets the encounter, but the mistake is explained afterwards. Lord Orville arranges the meeting of Evelina and Mr Macartney so that the two could talk without suspicion of indecency. Evelina is shocked to learn that there is Miss Belmont in the city, the sole heiress of Sir John Belmont. Mr Macartney informs Evelina that Miss Belmont is the daughter of his own father and Evelina realizes that Mr Macartney is her half-brother.
Lord Orville and Sir Willoughby: Reverend Villars grows aware of Evelina's attachment to Lord Orville, warns her against him, and urges her to quit him. Evelina obeys Villars's instructions and starts avoiding Lord Orville. She is sorry to lose a valuable friend and protector. Lord Orville reacts with the same coldness. Sir Willoughby makes his appearance in Bristol and joins the party. Lord Orville believes that Evelina's reasons lie in her preferring Sir Willoughby rather than himself. Evelina is delivered by Lord Orville from the advances of Sir Willoughby who refuses to acknowledge her denial. Evelina assures Lord Orville that Sir Willoughby is not the cause of her changed behaviour but refuses to tell more for the moment. Lord Orville discloses his love to Evelina. It turns out that the offensive letter was not written by Lord Orville but by Sir Willoughby who took hold of Evelina's note and responded in Lord Orville's name.
All Revealed and Explained: Mrs Selwyn acts on behalf of Evelina and introduces her to Sir John Belmont. He is stricken by Evelina's resemblance to her dead mother and acknowledges her as his daughter. It turns out that the professed Miss Belmont is a child of the nurse who was to deliver Lady Belmont's infant daughter to her father. The nurse exchanged the babies on purpose and instead of Evelina, she handed in her own daughter Polly. Sir John Belmont had the girl brought up in a secluded convent in France. On receiving the letter on behalf of his true heiress, he believed he was being tricked, therefore he refused to acknowledge Evelina before.
Becoming Countess Orville: The penitent Sir Belmont clears the name of his late wife and he also takes on responsibility to Miss Polly Green whom he declares his foster-daughter. Miss Green is to be married to Mr Macartney as the two are now discovered not to be related. Evelina and her company travel to Bath and on their way, they are joined by Captain Mirvan and his daughter Maria. Captain plays his last practical joke when he introduces a monkey as a doppelgänger of the base Mr Lovel. Mr Lovel is furious, assaults the beast, and is bitten by him in his neck. Evelina obtains permission to marriage from Reverend Villars, she is married to become Countess Orville, and sets off with her husband for Berry Hill.
Structure: The novel was published first anonymously. It is introduced by a poem in dedication to an unnamed person, presumably Burney's father. Follows a letter "To the Authors of the Monthly and Critical Reviews" in which the author asks for unbiased critique. The "Preface" explains that the aim of the novel is to present not a fashionable romance but an imitation of real life. It is an epistolary novel, written completely in letters by different persons, but the bulk of the novel consists of continuing letters by Evelina herself. Evelina's accounts of her experience are interrupted only several times by the few letters from Reverend Villars, who provides a mature moral judgement on the events. The letters span from March to October.
Themes and Motifs: The novel portrays in great detail the world of suffocating social rules and conventions inhabited by characters who either attempt to comply to them or deliberately rebel against them. The innocent Evelina violates social codes out of ignorance. The well informed Lord Orville complies to the rules with grace and so represents the ideal of a well-bred gentleman. The rakish Sir Willoughby deliberately breaks the rules in order to pursue his own licentious pleasures. Captain Mirvan and Mrs Selwyn refuse to follow the rules which they regard as pretentious and foolish and make use of the criterion of practicality and common sense instead. The novel shows the snares set for an unprotected young and beautiful woman in the larger world beyond her home: Evelina is in constant danger from seducers who do not accept denial for an answer, she is even often held by force until delivered by a protector. One of the novel's motifs is the conflict between domestic English manners and the more lax ways imported from France: the mutual hostility between the English and the French is well manifested in the fights between Madame Duval and Captain Mirvan.
Influence: Burney's novels profoundly influenced the work of Jane Austen. Austen's Sense and Sensibility also features a character named Willoughby, who is also presented as a young, attractive, but irresponsible seducer. Austen's Pride and Prejudice includes a more refined version of the rough and pragmatic Captain Mirvan in the character of Mr Bennet, who also satirizes the deficiencies of the fashionable society. In Burney's novel, Captain Mirvan is supplemented with a female counterpart in the straightforward Mrs Selwyn, who sees through the pretensions of the society and comments on them with brilliant wit.
AuthorBurney, Frances. (1752 - 1840).
Full TitleEvelina; Or, The History of a Young Lady's Entrance into the World.
Burney, Frances. Evelina. 1778. London: Penguin, 1994.