Evelina: The lowly, country, bumpkin comes to London.

First off, I would like to say that Evelina has been the most interesting book I’ve encountered since starting at MU. Moreover, it is a genuinely good book, not simply interesting “in comparison” to other books I’ve had to read.

I am mildly at a loss of what to write in response to Evelina. This may be in part because I actually liked this book; however, the only think I can place a finger on is Evelina’s character growth through the first two volumes through her social interaction. Her growth is a direct result of being insulted by those around her, Evelina taking that in and using it to better herself and her character.

While Mr. Villars and Lady Howard make Evelina’s inexperience quite obvious, to the readers, Evelina herself makes it known the to the world by her characterization of a ballroom in which she sees “half the world” (19). Especially as she interrupts Mr. Lovel’s “ridiculous solemnity” to laugh openly in his face after rejecting his invitation to dance: “I had not once considered the impropriety of refusing one partner, and afterwards accepting another” (24). Evelina takes away a great lesson after this encounter, mostly because she is mocked for it as said by Mr. Lovel: “I hope [Evelina] you have enjoyed your health since I had the honour—I beg ten thousand pardon, but I protest I was going to say the honour of dancing with you—however, I mean the honour of seeing you dance” (69). From this point forward, Evelina is more aware of her surroundings especially in social settings.

From her perspective Evelina advances her situation by applying her initial embarrassment to avoid future embarrassments and takes note of “what not to do” in others’ behavior. Evelina is offered a ticket to a ball by Mr. Smith. In this exchange, Evelina “[thanks] him, but desired to be excused accepting it” and takes note that “he would not [. . .] be denied, nor answered, and, in a manner both vehement and free, pressed and urged his offer till [she] was wearied to death” (171). Even as Miss Polly and Miss Biddy lead her into a dangerous situation, which Evelina is able to run away from, she recognizes Miss Biddy’s terrible attitude towards her: “You ran away from me! Well, see if I don’t do as much by you” (196). Evelina is “so much surprised at this attack” (196), but does not condescend to Miss Biddy’s petulance but simply takes note of it and does not rise to the bait. By taking in the different forms of abuse, Evelina enables her growth and learns what is truly like as a woman out in society.

Evelina’s acute observational skills are what set her apart from whichever crowd she is surrounded by. Her initial embarrassing episode is enough to make her a woman keenly aware of her surroundings, thus pushing her over the threshold into becoming a woman of society (versus the lowly country girl she was referred to in the beginning and throughout volume II by her cousins).


Burney, Fanny. Evelina. Minola: Dover Thrift Editions, 2015. Print.

4 thoughts on “Evelina: The lowly, country, bumpkin comes to London.

  1. You are right, it was hard to write about Evelina because it is an interesting and joyful novel. And truly, Evelina grew up and shaped herself through the many incidents she had in public. However, this is easily said than done. While she was in the mid of these silly situations, she was struggling and embarrassed. She will only know that she shaped herself through these crises when she grows up. She was unhappy for learning attitude and behavior the hard way.
    She became aware that common costumes could have been learned better. “But, really, I think there ought to be a book, of the laws and costoms a-la-mode, presented to all young people upon their first introduction into public company” p. 92.

  2. I agree that it’s certainly a fascinating book to read, and I think it works better for bringing readers “in” the book than most of the others we had this semester. Just like most of us, Evalina learns from the not-so-joyful memories of embarrassments and improves her adaptability to the environment. And I do somehow worry about her, although she’s only a character in the novel(not a real person), will the bad memories bother her and potentially have other adverse side effects?

    • I think this is typically something we don’t need to worry about–unless reason for such concerns are given us in the novel. That is, does Burney suggest that we should be concerned about “bad memories”?

  3. I seriously love this book. I’d never heard of Frances Burney before this class, but I’m a little bit obsessed with her now. I enjoyed reading your post; Evelina’s character growth is fascinating and so much fun to read through. I think it’s especially interesting because in many ways it is what the whole novel is about: a young girl’s development and how she is shaped by the world around her. I like that while Evelina is influenced by the customs and social norms she encounters, Burney does not present her as just being passively altered by her experiences. Rather, as you point out, Evelina uses her “acute observational skills” to “advance her situation” (quotes from your post). In this way, Evelina demonstrates her intelligence as well as her personal agency.

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