Frances Burney d’Arblay (1752-1840) was one of the most important influences on Jane Austen, and if you are an Austenite, you should know her!
“Fanny” Burney (yes, I know – but “Fanny” was a very common nickname for Frances until quite recently) was the daughter of a well-known composer, Charles Burney, and was for a short time during her life the Mistress of the Robes for the Queen of England. She married a French aristocrat in exile in 1793, with whom she had one child.
Fanny Burney’s novels are much longer than Austen’s, but if you read them you’ll discover that she has many of the same qualities that endear Austen to us: a realistic and sometimes acid treatment of the way that society forced young women into prescribed roles; an enjoyment of ridiculous characters; and witty dialogue that is sparkling despite its eighteenth-century language.
Which should you read first? Burney’s most famous work is Evelina (1778), which she wrote incognito, and which gained her a very popular readership. Cecilia came next, in 1782; its improbable story is about the way the demands of family can keep apart people who are devoted to one another. To my mind, the best of her novels is Camilla (1796), in which she lampooned the personalities of upper-class people. Camilla is my favorite because of its ridiculous supporting characters, its absolutely ruthless portrayals of social climbing, and the title character’s determination to do right and see it all through.
Interested? You can get Fanny Burney’s complete novels on Amazon for 99 cents.
To read more about her from the Burney Society at McGill University, click here.