Literature Review: Evelina
Casler, Jeanine. “Rakes and Races: Art’s Imitation of Life in Frances Burney’s Evelina.”
Eighteenth-Century Novel 3 (2003): 157-69. Print.
Casler focuses on women's age in Evelina by addressing the old woman race, Madame Duval's social image, and Mrs. Selwyn’s behavior. She suggests the reason behind the race is that it emphasizes their powerlessness, isolation, and depressing living conditions. Even though the old women are healthy, they still generate compassion in Evelina. Without options, they are forced to depend on such positions. Thus, their low status results in them being criticized and mocked with indifference.
Casler provides an interesting contrast to the old women through her analysis on Madame Duval who is old but has financial standing. Yet, Casler writes how Madame Duval’s flaw is her lack of education, and her ignorance and lack of knowledge make her a risky companion due to her misuse of English and letting Evelina find herself with two prostitutes. Even Evelina, who is from the country, recognizes the importance of etiquette that Madame Duval fails to follow. Instead, Madame Duval experiences difficulty interpreting the language and is driven by emotion as opposed to the smarter characters who hide their passions. Her lack of education indicates powerlessness and an inability to defend herself against superior wit. Mrs. Selwyn brings balance to Madame Duval through her autonomy and authority by refusing to be silenced. However, her shortcoming is her tendency for satire and a desire to speak her mind. Burney creates a positive vision of an older woman’s life through Mrs. Selwyn.
The majority of Casler’s focus is on Madame Duval, but it effectively incorporates Mrs. Selwyn and the two elderly women. The article is thoroughly enjoyable and touches on amusing scenes while addressing the seriousness of the elderly women’s situation living an impoverished life, resulting in their disempowerment and isolation.
Choi, Julie. “Engendering the Modern Individual: Empire, Class, and Nation in Evelina.”
Feminist Studies in English Literature 8.2 (2001): 1-31. Print.
Choi provides an interesting, feminist perspective from South Korea and focuses on the relationship between France and England and how it affects individual identity. Choi is interested in Burney’s background and social position, since Burney was the daughter of a musician and not someone of higher class. She notes the contrast between vulgarity and politeness evident in Evelina. Yet, when Choi discusses less clear divisions, such as country life against the city and females pitted against corrupting males, it can be slightly confusing despite its organized structure. Intricate alliances, rising nationalism, imperialism, social protest, and female consciousness are also important elements Choi explores.
The article’s success occurs when she writes about the issue of nationalism between the English nationalistic sense and a French cultivated cosmopolitanism, and gender effectively becomes part of its analysis. One example involving the rivalry between France and England is that Evelina was published in 1778 when the two countries were at war with one another in North America. Choi writes how effeminacy is included as a part of national identity and its association with aristocratic fashion. Thus, Captain Mirvan represents English masculinity while Lovel is effeminate, so the monkey attacks him because he exhibits French traits. Yet, Evelina’s disgust for Mirvan's behavior prevents him from being the image of England's superiority. Instead, Choi views Lord Orville as England’s domesticated hero based on his modern manners, middle class values, and a controlled temperament. His behavior and politeness distances him from vulgar characters, and he does not indulge in the excessiveness of fashion. Redefining feminization was an indication of being a cultured individual in a changing world. While parts of the article can be slightly confusing, its historical details, and overall argument is enjoyable to read through the perspective of a South Korean writer.
Eckersley, L. Lynette. “The Role of Evelina’s ‘Worthiest Object’ in Frances Burney’s Resistance to Eighteenth-Century Gender Ideology.” The Eighteenth-Century Novel 2 (2002): 193-213. Print.
Eckersley begins her exposition of Burney’s attack on eighteenth-century gender ideology by examining the apparent paradox of Evelina’s attempt at staying within its bounds and all the while critiquing it. She argues that previous criticism has viewed Burney as passive, but that Burney’s novel was actually full of subversive ideas, hidden behind an innocuous story: she showed that Evelina needed to learn those social skills she so obviously lacked, making it apparent that those behaviors were not inherent in women, subsequently undermining the established concepts of male and female identity as discrete. Eckersley demonstrates Evelina exhibits supposedly masculine strength, while Lord Orville is feminized and is often contrasted with the ultra-masculine Captain Mirvan. Eckersley then discusses the existing scholarship concerning the footrace, arguing that it mostly focuses on class, Lord Orville’s role in the race, or dismisses the importance of it altogether; she then argues that this passage is the most subversive. She points out that Orville is weakened by his inaction and focus on the immorality of gambling, and that Evelina is prevented from interfering because of her position as a woman. Evelina’s assault from Lord Merton afterward mimics the race because the other women offer no help, and she is (like the old ladies) dependent on a man (Lord Orville) to rescue her. Eckersley finalizes her argument by stating that while Evelina cannot act during the race, her dissatisfaction comes through in her letters: “While such rhetorical action is far from assuming conventional subjectivity, it is, nonetheless, an overt condemnation of the treatment of women as objects and competitors by members of eighteenth-century society” (207). Her conclusion calls for more analyses of eighteenth-century gender constructs knowing that contemporary texts were making attempts at such subversion. Clear in its language and its argument, this article makes its point effectively.
Greenfield, Susan C. “Monkeying Around in Evelina: Identity and Resemblance Again.”
Eighteenth-Century Novel 6-7 (2009): 409-428. Print.
Greenfield’s focus relates to the use of animals, characterizing people as animals, racial identities, and the overall meaning of identity and boundaries. Unfortunately, despite its interesting topic and analysis of scenes, it is not written effectively. There is a long and unnecessary introduction that discusses her education history and a tribute made to a former professor who introduced Greenfield to Evelina. Her points provide a good analysis, such as her commentary on the epithets and the variation of the words like “bred.” Unfortunately, her organization damages the article’s quality.
Several characters are described or insulted by being associated with an animal-like appearance or behavior. For example, when Evelina rescues Madame Duval after the mock kidnapping, she discovers her covered in filth and not looking human. Captain Mirvan repeatedly associates fashionable men with monkeys, but he is not a model of human superiority, since he is characterized in animalistic terms. During Burney’s time, people were fascinated with monkeys because they were the only animals that could stand upright. Greenfield writes about how animals play a role in cultural constructions of race. She then references Oroonoko when Oroonoko comments on people being purchased and sold like apes, so the monkey scene complements these references to identity boundaries. The monkey’s purpose is to describe what is not human, humane, and civilized while being linked to problems of nation, race, gender, and class.
Greenfield’s argument about the monkey’s inclusion mocking identity instability is surprisingly convincing. Subverting identity boundaries will result in poor treatment. In Evelina’s case, she is hounded by sexual predators and prone to degrading associations, which becomes a kind of test for defining boundaries of humanity. Ultimately, Greenfield makes some great points, but the article disappoints because it becomes tedious and is not as written as well as the other articles.
Hamilton, Patricia L. “Monkey Business: Lord Orville and the Limits of Politeness in Frances Burney's Evelina.” Eighteenth-Century Fiction 19.4 (2007): 415-40. Print.
Hamilton’s focus is on the meaning of politeness, and she provides a strong defense for Lord Orville. She comments on the significance of the release of an Earl’s letters to his illegitimate son. The published letters preceded Evelina’s release and brought into question what constituted male virtue. The historic perspective is informative and brings understanding to the concept of politeness. Experiences in the theater, ballrooms, and so forth, act as a way to showcase a person’s refinement. Politeness contains three important components: decorum, displaying agreeable manners, and willingness to oblige. Aristocratic privilege and practice reveal a double standard on a man’s behavior, which is a symbol of hypocrisy.
Essentially, Lord Orville represents the standard of politeness and masculine behavior even though most contemporary critics view him as wooden, sexually boring, and implausible. Hamilton writes that his positive traits are ignored. For example, he can laugh at himself over Mrs. Selwyn’s satiric joke, disregard Madame Duval’s vulgarity, and act unconcerned with Evelina’s behavior. His respectful behavior is evident when he maintains a conversation with the lower class, which distinguishes him from Lady Louisa, Lord Merton, and Lovel. He can control his emotions but is criticized for his effeminacy. Hamilton defends him by suggesting he exhibits several masculine traits, such as jealousy over Evelina and his reaction to remove the monkey. Comparatively, social constraints prevent him from stopping the race, and he is left with the choice of obliging his sister or two elderly women he does not know.
Hamilton’s article is fantastic, easy to read, effectively organized, and provides a lot of historical details. She notes how Lord Orville brings focus onto gender issues and power, which adds to the article’s quality. Her analysis touches on ideas found in the other articles, such as effeminacy, behavior, the footrace, and the monkey.
Koehler, Martha J. “‘Faultless Monsters’ and Monstrous Egos: The Disruption of Model Selves in Frances Burney’s Evelina.” The Eighteenth Century 43.1 (2002): 19-41. Print.
Koehler’s argument examines failures in communication due to two main sources: the moral paragon (the “faultless monster” mentioned in Burney’s preface) and the psychological ego. She does this using many comparisons to Richardson’s Clarissa, and later to Fielding’s Tom Jones. After a lengthy introduction, Koehler points out that there are two main instances of misconstruction: the mistaken identity of the fake Miss Belmont, and the forged letter that Evelina receives. These instances are what Koehler calls parasites, an extra element inseminating itself into a direct line of communication that diverts information. She links these parasites to the concept of the paragon: Evelina was raised by Mr. Villars as a direct result of the first failure in communication, shaping her morals into what the reader sees as a paragon, and Sir Clement’s forged letter interferes in Evelina’s view of Lord Orville as a male paragon. Koehler spends quite a bit of time focused on what Orville represents, but points out that Evelina’s view of Orville is flawed and corrupted by others, undermining his very role as paragon, reinforcing Burney’s “rejection of the model self as a didactic construct,” as Burney herself has told us in her preface that she does not believe in the existence of the paragon, unlike Richardson. Koehler goes on to include definitions of the ego, linking it to Burney’s only use of the word (in her letter to the critics) where she describes it as a monster, recalling the “faultless monster” that is the paragon. Koehler closes with a clever metaphor: “To the extent that Burney derives this refusal of a paragon-based morality from Fielding, whose ‘wit’ she admires alongside Richardson’s ‘pathetic powers’ in Evelina’s Preface, one might see the author of Tom Jones as a parasitic third in Burney’s revision of the Richardsonian legacy’” (37).
Maunu, Leanne. “Quelling the French Threat in Frances Burney’s Evelina.” Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 31 (2002): 99-125. Print.
Maunu examines the relationship between Madame Duval and Captain Mirvan as “an important indicator of nationalist sentiment in Britain” (100). She begins by explaining the historical rivalry between France and Britain, and moves into a thorough analysis of both characters, as well as Evelina’s perceptions of them. She points out that Evelina’s judgments of others are always accurate, and that her views on France are simplistic and straightforward: France was the place where her family fell apart, and it is now the place where Madame Duval threatens to send her. Madame Duval, therefore, represents the threat of being removed from her home, but also the instability of identity in her split nationality. Maunu here points to the prostitute incident, where Evelina and Madame Duval are fooled into thinking the prostitutes are fine ladies: “Mutability thus represents a frightening prospect in this novel, one that undermines the basis of society and even the nation” (107). The fear of the French also stems from a fear of pollution of British culture, making Madam Duval a very real threat to Burney’s readers. Therefore, Maunu continues to explain, that threat must be controlled, using Captain Mirvan as a representative of British fighting power. His violence on Madam Duval is almost legitimate, perhaps even sanctioned because of his role as defender against this foreign threat, and he always prevails. Maunu concludes that this violence is tolerated and endorsed by the other characters, yet the acts of violence are unsettling: Madame Duval is humiliated, which sometimes seems deserved, yet the negative representation of the Captain and his aggressiveness cause the reader to “question the righteousness of all of his actions” (120). This article was quite clear in its language and organization, and although at times repetitive and containing several errors, it was interesting and effective.
Park, Julie. “Pains and Pleasures of the Automaton: Frances Burney’s Mechanics of Coming Out.” Eighteenth-Century Studies 40.1 (2006): 23-49. Print.
Park compares coming out into society (for Burney’s characters) and as a published writer (for Burney herself) to the motions of an automaton, as according to eighteenth-century views of women. She posits in her introduction that Burney’s women were faced with the paradox of making themselves very public in displaying themselves to society while at the same time fitting into the private sphere, and links this paradox to the characters’ abjection as a way of both obeying and resisting “the conversions into automatized femininity that social like demands” (23). She proceeds to explore the ways in which machines and automatons came to represent “women’s consistency and restraint, or her vanity and vacuity” (24), especially alongside the rising popularity of fashion dolls and philosophical ideas such as Hobbes’ Artificial Man, LaMettrie’s Homme Machine, and Kant’s discussions of free will using automatons. Park goes on to offer examples from Evelina, Cecilia, and Camilla to show that Burney portrays her heroines as eventually degraded and abject, culminating in marriages that “provide weak and ambiguous closure, as each of them demands subservience or self-sacrifice” (28). Park also discusses Burney’s own abjection in publishing Evelina anonymously and writing it in epistolary form, for which there can be no authorial responsibility, as the views and actions belong solely to the characters. She finally draws together the image of the automaton and the text in using the passage at Cox’s Museum, where Evelina appreciates the aesthetics of the objects (such as the mechanical pineapple) but feels that they are useless. The rest of the article is devoted to examining Burney’s life and her reasons for portraying her characters in this way. Due to its unnecessarily convoluted language, this article is difficult to read and very slow in making the connections that uphold its nebulous point.