Evelina’s Education

Evelina’s knowledge of social norms is something that Evelina has learned as time progresses. This knowledge can be coined in the term as Evelina’s education. There is a difference between the ways in which Evelina responds to social norms when she is with the Mirvan’s, and when she is with the Branghton/Duvals. When she is with the Mirvans, she comes to the realization that there are certain rules governing behavior. For example, when Evelina goes on outings with the Mirvans, she discovers that it is not proper to dance with strangers. For example, she states “Now Maria’s partner was a gentleman of Mrs. Mirvan’s acquaintance; for she had told us it was improper for young women to dance with strangers, at any public assembly. Indeed it was by no means my wish so to do; yet I did not like to confine myself from dancing at all; neither did I dare refuse this gentleman” (44).
Evelina also discovers that it is not proper to laugh in regards to a person of status. Evelina makes this confession when she discusses Captain Mirvan’s first acquaintance with Madame Duval. Evelina states, “I heard no more; amazed, frightened, and…shocked…I sunk into Mrs. Mirvan’s arms (57).
Upon learning that Evelina is in the care of Madame Duval, Mr. Villars advises her of proper conduct, For example, he states “Conduct yourself towards her with all the respect and deference due to so near a relation, remembering always that the failure of duty on her part, can by no means justify any neglect on yours: indeed, the more forcibly you are struck with improprieties and misconduct in another, the greater should be your observance and diligence to avoid even the shadow of similar errors. Be careful, therefore, that no remissness of attention, no indifference of obliging, make known to her the independence I assure of…” (60). The education that Evelina had before arriving staying with the Mirvans has been to be in terms of character development. For example, she has been taught integrity, kindness, and politeness. When Evelina stays with the Mirvans, her education consists of how to conduct oneself in a genteel society. For example, she discovers that there are proper codes of conduct. Although she is not at first keen to these traditions, she soon as the story progresses learns the rules, and finds her place in society.
Evelina is able to maintain her place in elite society, as a result of her education. Her education has enabled her to weather the difficulties. For example, Lady Howard comments on her excellent education. Lady Howard states, “She is quite a little rustic, and knows nothing of the world, and though her education has been the best, I could bestow in this retired place, to which Dorchester, the nearest town, is seven miles distant…” (20). Evelina is able to survive because she is quite keen to her surroundings. For example, Lady Howard to the Rev. Mr. Villars states, Her character seems truly ingenious and simple; and of at the same time the nature has blessed her with an excellent understanding, and great qualities of parts, she has a certain air of inexperience and innocency that is extremely interesting” (22). Therefore, since Evelina may not truly understand the ways of the world, she is quick and adaptable. She can quickly adjust to her environment, as seen in the many characters she lives.
In contrast the education that Evelina learns with the Mirvans contrast with the lessons she learns from the Duvals. I would say that when Evelina first comes to stay with the Mirvan’s her education is surface, as concerning politeness and being friendly and compatible, but when she is with Madame Duval, she learns how to distinguish herself within society. With the Mirvans, Evelina learns that there is proper behavior for “balls, plays, operas, ridiottos” (61).
With Madame Duval, Evelina learns proper behavior. She learns that there are certain rules governing fashion. She is first acquainted with fashion with the Mirvan’s, but she develops a better understanding with the Duvals (65). From Madame Duval, she learns proper conversation; she learns not to discuss politics while in her conversations with others (66). Also, when Evelina comes in contact with Sir Clement Willoughby, she learns the fewer the words, the better off she will be (71). For example, Evelina states, “He stopped; but I said nothing, for I thought instantly of the conversation Miss Mirvan had overheard, and supposed he was going to tell me himself what part Lord Orville had borne in it; (71).
In my opinion, Evelina’s education consisted of learning the social norms of her community. As the novel progresses, we see that she learns how to master these norms, and she even develops as a character.

One thought on “Evelina’s Education

  1. I do agree that Evelina’s “education consists [sic] of learning the social norms of her community.” She learns what to do from the Mirvan family, what not to do from her own family (Duval and Branghton), and finally how she can finally step into her own being in the third volume. What I do find most interesting (and I wrote about this in my own response) is her acceptance of Mrs. Selwyn’s decidedly anti-lady like behavior. I think Evelina has an appreciation for those who have lived amongst an elite society, especially since she was on the outskirts of acceptability when she started her education about social norms.

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