Fair travelers, journey to the master post if thou art lost.
Don’t call me Fanny
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.)
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?”
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.
- 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.