Cecilia Read-Along Book I: It’s Frances (Miss Burney if you’re nasty)

Fair travelers, journey to the master post if thou art lost.

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Don’t call me Fanny

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Before we get into Book I, we must address a controversy: Is it Fanny Burney, or Frances? Does it matter? AS A FEMINIST, must I go with Frances? Rick at Read the North weighs in, backed up by Lives of the Novelists, which I must obtain:

Note: to her father, to herself, and to her colleagues, she was known as “Fanny” (and the even stranger “Fannikin” to her close friends). Much like Elizabeth Gaskell she has since been posthumously rechristened, as “Frances,” by modern feminist critics.

Rick, you say “modern feminist critics” like it’s a bad thing! That aside, the first bit is important: unless you’re her father, herself, or her colleague, what gives you the right to call her Fanny? Jonathan Franzen goes by Jon in everyday life, but I’m not going to talk about “Jon Franzen’s new book” because I’m not his friend, family, or colleague (I wish!)

This modern example isn’t quite comparable, because modern authors simply publish under the name they wish to be called. Frances Burney didn’t publish under Frances, Fanny, or even Mrs. d’Arblay; she was always, simply, anonymous. Or more specifically in this case, “The Author of Evelina.”

I’m still sticking with Frances, though. I’m on page 150 and there have been precious few references to character’s first names, let alone diminutives (other than Cecilia referring to herself.) For example, in volume one, Cecilia’s childhood friend is referred to as Mrs Harrell 155 times, and as Priscilla just four (usually in an emotive “Oh Priscilla!” sense.) When in Rome, and all that.

There’s also this note in the introduction to my edition, written by Margaret Anne Doody, who is one of those modern feminist critics. She also holds a PhD from Oxford, is a professor at the University of Notre Dame, has written several novels and scholarly works, including The True Story of the Novel, which sounds fascinating, so I’ll let her drop the mic:

Note: Burney did not publish her novels under a name, and would never have permitted her public authorial self to be called “Fanny”. Contemporaries referred to her in print as “Miss Burney” or “Burney” (and later as “Madame d’Arblay”); Victorian editors such as Annie Raine Ellis called her “Frances Burney”. “Fanny” is largely the invention of the early twentieth century; diminishing the author by suggesting the childlike and harmless, the nickname has impeded serious judgement of the novels. She is therefore referred to as Frances Burney throughout this edition.

(She’s also from my ancestral home of Saint John, New Brunswick! You go, Ms. Doody.)

Book I

On to the book itself! Book I takes us through eleven short chapters and less than one hundred pages total, but a lot goes down. After the death of her last remaining family member, Cecilia leaves her childhood home in the country for a new life in the fast-paced London. Her Uncle’s set her up with 3000 pounds a year and three guardians, each chosen for a particular purpose (none of whom are very suitable at all, it turns out.) He’s also set her up with an odd impediment on her inheritance: if she marries, her husband must take her name if he wants to access her fortune. Cecilia moves in with one of her guardians, Mr Harrel, husband of her childhood friend.

Cecilia is disillusioned with London life almost immediately, not caring for shopping, or seeing and being seen. She is disgusted by her friends’ extravagant and immoral lifestyles and the stark class divides that keep her friends rich and most of London poor. She’s also being creeped on by every eligible bachelor in her circle, and befriends a poor woman who opens her eyes to what the Harrels are really like. By the end of Book I, she’s desperate to get out of the Harrels’ house and to use her free time and cash to do good – whatever that means.

I enjoyed this outline of Cecilia and London high life in the late 18th century. I say outline because we are not in her head very much – we see her react to many characters, but Cecilia is not very introspective to this point. I see shades of Emma (a naive rustic who rises in society), The Forsyte Saga (new money insecurities and disaffected youth) and Shirley by Charlotte Bronte (the place of an unmarried middle class woman in society) and any number of British classics of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Modern life in the 18th century


…she regarded herself as an agent of Charity, and already in idea anticipated the rewards of a good and faithful delegate: so animating are the designs of disenchanted benvolence! so pure is the bliss of intellectual philanthropy!


…those who lived always the life into which she had only lately been initiated, were as much harassed with it as herself, though less spirited to relinquish, and more helpless to better it; and that they coveted nothing but what was new, because they had experienced the insufficiency of whatever was familiar.

He’s Just Not That Into You:

“But how do you like Harrel’s ward? You have taken a pretty good survey of her.”

“Why, faith, I don’t know; but not much, I think; she’s a devilish fine woman, too; but she has no spirit, no life.”

“Did you try her? Have you talked to her?”

“Not I, truly!”

“Nay, then how do you mean to judge of her?”

“O, faith, that’s all over, now; one never thinks of talking to the women by way of trying them.”

“What other method, then, have you adopted?”


“None? Why, then, how do you go on?”

“Why, they talk to us. The women take all that trouble upon themselves now.”

“And pray how long may you have commenced fade macaroni? For this is a part of your character with which I was not acquainted.”

“Oh, hang it, ’tis not from ton; no, it’s merely from laziness. Who the d—-l will fatigue himself with dancing attendance upon the women, when keeping them at a distance makes them dance attendance upon us?”

Outstanding questions

Even after re-reading a few chapters, I have some questions. If you caught on to any of these, comment below.

  • Why did someone (the uncle?) add the name clause to the will? Why must Cecilia keep her last name, and have her husband take it as well? Is it because she’s the last of the line? Is it a way to discourage eager bachelors?
  • Who is Mr. Gosport? I can’t find where he is introduced. He seems like a bit of a contrivance, a man who will whisper things in Cecilia’s (and the reader’s) ear that she needs to know.
  • How old is Mr. Monckton? I discussed this a bit on Facebook, and our clues are that: he married a 67-year-old widow ten years ago, and he is currently *almost* (but not quite) too old to hope for Cecilia’s hand. I think he’s 45, some thing mid-to-late thirties.

Cecilia’s Squad: updated

This will be a regular feature, unless/until the dramatis personae stabilizes. Here’s who we met in Book I:

  • Our Heroine: Cecilia Beverley: 21, orphan, heiress
  • Her guardians:
    • Mr. Harrell, husband of childhood friend, chosen simply so Cecilia can live with said friend.
    • We hear of Mr. Briggs, a business man who will provide “vigilant observance” of Cecilia’s fortune and Mr. Delvile, ” a man of high birth and character” who will make sure Cecilia “should in nothing be injured” but won’t meet them till Book II.
  • Her suitors:
    • Mr. Monckton: married to a 76-year-old crabby pants, he’s real annoyed when, just a few years after marrying this old lady for money, a 17-year-old heiress moved in next door. Timing is everything!
    • Mr. Arnott: brother of childhood friend Mrs. Harrell, lays it on pretty thick, likes that Cecilia “isn’t like the other girls,” gag me…
    • Sir Robert Floyer: Fashionable, friend of Mr. Harrell, super creep (WHAT is with the staring??)
    • Mr. Belfield, 18th century slacker: “too volatile for serious study, and too gay for laborious application”
    • Captain Aresby, likes to throw French phrases around, not annoying at all
  • Her friends
    • Mrs. Harrell: A childhood friend who moved to the big city some years ago. A very “city and country mouse” reunion so far.
    • Mr. Morrice: Her friend whether she wants him or not. This guy cracks me up.
    • Mrs. Hill, a poor woman who I thought would con Cecilia, but ends up exposing the truth about the Harrels.
  • Her frenemies
    • Miss Larolle: “flirting, communicative, restless, and familiar” she is the 18th century equivalent of a basic bitch.
    • Miss Leeson: “silent, scornful, languid, and affected,” definitely afflicted with resting bitch face.
  • Randos
    • Mr. Meadows, who has “something like a conversation” with Cecilia at a party (he’s not very bright)
    • Mrs. Mears, “whose character was of that common sort which renders delineation superfluous”
    • Mr. Albany, aka “The Man-Hater” which sounds like it should be my new favourite feminist blog – he shows up all over the place, saying the things no one else dares.

So, are you a Fanny or a Frances? What did you think of Book I? I have it on good authority that we’ll get a suitor in Book II who isn’t a total douchebag, so read on and meet here next Monday!


  1. Elle

    You know, my copy of Cecilia is, I think, in my grandparents’ garage, but I think I really must try and find it… and then read it with your chart of Cecilia’s Squad close at hand!

  2. Caitlin Higgins

    I think Francis is the right way to refer to her and I don’t think that it is because of feminism! As someone that has a name that is easily shortened, I go by Caitlin professionally and Cait or Caity or Higgins outside of work. She isn’t here to say one way or the other, and my general rule is you use the proper name unless the person gives permission otherwise.

    I am liking the book so far, but it is tough keeping track of all the players. I feel like someone is going to fade away, but come back later and I’m going to forget all about them! Also seems like things haven’t changed much… New person in a social circle brings out all the sleeze balls!

    • lauratfrey

      Yes, two words come to mind: FRESH MEAT. Wait till you get to the masquerade. Imagine, not being able to give a fake phone number, or sneak out the back door… and dude wants to MARRY you.

  3. TJ @ MyBookStrings

    I’m already looking forward to next Monday! I’ve been meaning to read this book for ages, but have never actually picked it up. But I feel myself inspired to do so from this post alone. Once I do, I will make sure to refer to the author as Frances. I’m not one for nicknames in general….

  4. rainey

    I will also make sure to refer to the author as Frances. My parents insisted on shortening my name. When I moved from CAN to BDA I made sure to use my proper name – which is my preference. I can also tell who is hubby’s family (as they all know me be my short name) and who is not by how I am address.

    All my friends back home were like – so whats with the name change – and they still refuse to use my proper name – 21 years later – sigh…..

  5. Rick @ Read the North

    Here’s the point I was making about Fanny being the preferred term for her family, friends, and colleagues: basically everyone called her Fanny. That was her name. To my (albeit limited) knowledge, she did not go by Frances. In both personal and professional settings, she went by Fanny. So why would we call her anything else?

    Because our modern sensibility thinks “Fanny” is diminishing? Who cares, Fanny was her name. Haha. I find it quite hilarious that people have re-named her, essentially, because they would RATHER she have been called something else. (Her actual name was Frances, yes, but it doesn’t sound like she went by it.)

    Like, in the future, if the term “Rick” becomes a slang term for a man’s ass, does that mean I could be renamed Richard MacDonnell by future generations? I’ve never in my life went by that. Seems odd to be posthumously re-named.

    Anyway, it’s not a hill I’d die on. I don’t really care one way or the other. Just seems funny to me that there’s a controversy at all. Or that it’s somehow anti-feminist to call her Fanny, a name she used for 80+ years.

    (Just as a bit of context: I’m one of those people who also thinks it’s stupid that we call him “Jesus.” His name was actually Yeshua. Jesus is the Greek form of it. That name is verbal colonization, essentially. Apparently no one has a problem with that, though.)

    • lauratfrey

      Well from my (also limited) knowledge, she did not go by Fanny in professional settings. She was Fanny in personal settings, published anonymously (as did most women at that time), and was Frances Burney or Miss Burney or Madame d’Arblay in the critical press until some point after her death, in the late 19th or early 20th century, where she became Fanny and also, coincidentally or not, fell out of favour with mainstream critics… I wish I knew more about how and why that happened. But all these signs point to France Burney being most appropriate.

      Plus you know me, I love literary controversy, and since she isn’t around to say boneheaded things on social media, I’ll take what I can get!

  6. Netta Johnson

    I can totally see how this controversy can exist, as she was a very formal and conservative person, with respect to the public and her identity as an author. She often awkwardly referred to herself in the third person as the author of a previous work, or the memorialist when she wrote the memoirs of her father. She was incredibly fond of her friends and families, and loved informality in that setting, and was quite playful about making up words and having nicknames from her closest friends like Daddy Crisp. Nonetheless, she was a very private person, who agonized immensely over whether it was proper for her to write novels at all (and put her mind on display, as it were), and hid her authorship from her father well beyond the period of the anonymous release of Evelina, for fear it was improper in a woman. Added to this, I recently read a cringeworthy piece of scholarship describing the 4 best novelists in the 18th century as Stern, Richardson, Smollet and Fielding. FB got a brief mention as a woman who wrote ‘light character sketches’. Nothing at all of JA, though technically they could have pushed her into the next century. I have no idea if the scholar who wrote this dismissive assessment actually read any of FB’s work, but if there is even a chance that informalizing the author’s given name makes it easier for scholars to ignore or dismiss her incredible literary contributions, I am inclined towards Frances. The question is pretty timely, since we (Stonehouse Publishing) are on the verge of releasing her first novel, Feb 2017 . Fanny or Frances, indeed!

    • lauratfrey

      Were you excepting Austen because she was bornin the 18th century? Or did she technically write in the 18th (Love and Friendship? Which by the way, I tried to read but just can’t get into!) “Light character sketches” eh… pffft.

      • Netta Johnson

        I thought the writer of the article ignored Austen completely, which is pretty outrageous, but I was giving them the benefit of the doubt, in case they had decided she was too much in the 1800’s to count. However, Austen and Burney were contemporaries, since Burney lived twice as long, and since the writer had already mentioned Burney and dismissed her, it is a stretch… Insanity or sexism more likely. 🙂

  7. Melanie Kerr

    Oh, I have SO MUCH to say about this topic! Forgive my volubility. To say simply that “she was called Fanny” belies a total disregard for the world in which our author lived. Such a statement is a travesty of history. Nobody was “just called” anything in the English upper classes of the 18th Century. There are, even now, entire publications dedicated to how to address an upper class Brit depending on their title, the nature of the address and one’s relationship to that individual. How much more complicated was it two-hundred some years ago. Even those near friends and relations who did call our author “Fanny” did so only when they were alone. If there was anyone present who was not entitled to use her Christian name, then everyone called her Miss Burney, while she was so named, and Madame D’Arblay thereafter. If she had older sisters, she might have been Miss Frances, or Miss Frances Burney while still unmarried, and while any elder sisters yet remained unmarried, but I don’t know her family history well enough to draw conclusions about that. For more explanation, see my blog post here: http://www.melaniekerr.com/2013/09/jane-austens-family-probably-called-her.html. (And if THAT sounds complicated, try my posts on Mr. Darcy’s family tree! Names were a complicated business. In fact, as an aside, I was going to include an explanation of the names of each of the Ingles brothers in Mary Green, as a prelude, but trying to explain the rules to an uninitiated audience ended up being more confusing and complicated than just letting the reader muddle through and hope for the best, so I left it out. That is how complex the issue of names was at this time and among this population.)
    This was a time when some people didn’t put their names on their books, and not in an avant-garde, Banksy sort of way, but just because a name was a personal thing, especially a Lady’s name, and authoresses were a novel and rare breed, so probably they even had their own dilemmas about what to call THEMSELVES on their book covers. So, to think that we can easily transpose Burney’s name into our modern customs of self-reference is not so much a feminist issue (though I take no issue with the raising of the F-word in this, or any context) as it is historical blundering. Ann Radcliffe, for example, put her name on her novels, in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, and was still referred to as Mrs. Radcliffe by the general public when speaking verbally, because it was so foreign an idea to speak the Christian name of a woman you did not know, ESPECIALLY a married woman! The contemporaneous use of names was so different from our own, that it simply does not make sense to rely on it as a basis for what we, in our modern age, use to refer to our author.
    I also query whether anyone has examined the distinction between the usage of Fanny vs. Frances in British vs. North American editions of her works. While “Fanny” might prompt a little chortling a la Beavis and Butthead here among us colonials, to a modern Brit, “Fanny Burney” is downright obscene. I know not whether this might account for anything. It is certainly not determinative of the question. I just thought I would raise it for consideration.

    • lauratfrey

      Melanie, I would worry if you didn’t have a lot to say here. Thanks for the historical context. It’s something I’m a little lacking in… explanatory notes never go this deep into the whys… I do love the way a group is sisters is referred to as the “Misses _____” in 19th century books, haven’t seen that yet (though we haven’t seen many groups of sibling!)

      I was reading the Lives of the Novelists book I referred to above, and this dude has some strong opinions about how authors should be named. He’s a proponent of Fanny Burney and “Mrs. Gaskell”… apparently “Elizabeth” is a 20thc feminist affectation too. What do you think about that?

      • Melanie Kerr (@MelanieKerrAuth)

        Excellent point! Austen is full of the Misses ____, eg. Dashwood, Bennett, etc. Very important to pluralize properly in the olden days. I actually didn’t know Mrs. Gaskell was the preferred nomenclature of yore. I wonder now whether my comment was correct about Mrs. Radcliffe. Maybe she, too, actually put “Mrs.” on her books, rather than Anne. I feel a little research coming on. And another quick point about how people were called: younger sisters were only called Miss Fanny or Miss Eliza if their older, unmarried sisters were actually in the room. Otherwise they were Miss Burney or Miss Bennett. So you see, it is very complex indeed. Perhaps that is WHY these ladies didn’t put their names on their books. Authorship being so new and all, and women in this professional public context being so unprecedented, perhaps there simply was no rule for how to call oneself, and thus they just thought it better to leave their names off? It’s possible.

  8. Melanie Kerr

    Sorry! 2 more points. I can’t help.myself.
    1. The only people who consistently went by their first names were servants, and then only of the lower order.
    2. I doubt anyone would be arguing for Chuck Dickenson if he had left his name off his books, no matter how he was know about Town.

  9. The Paperback Princess

    Oh I loved reading all the comments re: Frances or Fanny. I’m very much with Melanie on this. I think when we studied Evelina in university, we went so far as to refer to as Miss Burney. Jane Austen is always Jane Austen but Elizabeth Gaskell I refer to as Mrs Gaskell…I’m such a name nerd that this is too delightful.
    I did not expect to enjoy Cecilia so much right off the bat. I assumed that there would be some work to become invested in the story and the characters, that I’d have to get used to 18th century language. But right away I was completely charmed. FB was SHARP. I giggled through Book I! Right away you can see how FB inspired the work of Jane Austen.
    Thank you, thank you for doing this read along. It would have taken another decade perhaps before I got into this one otherwise.

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  12. marypat45

    You asked: “Who is Mr. Gosport? I can’t find where he is introduced. He seems like a bit of a contrivance, a man who will whisper things in Cecilia’s (and the reader’s) ear that she needs to know.”

    She meets him in Volume 1, Chapter 3 “An Arrival”. He is an “elderly gentleman” who appears to be a companion of Mr. Arnott, and takes part in Cecelia’s conversation with Mr. Arnott after Mr Harrell presents him to her at the reception Mrs. Harrell has arranged on the day of her arrival in London. His first line is: “Amazing!” cried an elderly gentleman, in a tone of irony, who was standing near them (Harrell, Arnott, Cecelia), “for the face is a very common one!” He does appear to become a good friend and advisor, possibly the only one she can really trust.

    I hope we find out more about him eventually. I thought he might be included as one of her suitors, but not sure he has that in mind. Except for this line: “Madam,” cried the same gentleman, “if you liked him because he was your advocate, companion and assistant, pray like me too, for I am ready to become all three at once.”

    • lauratfrey

      Thank you! I agree, I don’t think he’s after Cecilia. I’m in Book IV and he’s giving his theory of Men of the Ton, just to be fair, and the men come of worse than the misses 😀

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