Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Evelina and Marriage (Keena Griffin's Secondary Lit. post)

Judith Newton’s article on “Fanny” Burney and Evelina connects Burney’s personal life with the details of the financial and social purposes of marriage for 18th century women in order to show how they affect the structure and reception/criticisms of the novel.  Early on, Newton spells out the fact that men are seen as the prizes in 18th century marriages because of the financial stability they provide.  This places men in power, which commonly taken advantage of in Evelina.  This is also the case in Burney’s example.  Newton shows that Burney fights an attempt to marry one potential suitor, “but Fanny could hardly reject the more permanent conditions of her existence, and these conditions still compelled her to marry. (Newton 48)
Newton then goes on to bring Evelina into the picture, calling it “[Fanny’s] response to the situation she could not reject.” (Newton 48)  Her arguments continue to focus on the subjective position of women in marriage – which is so deep that she argues it turns women into objects or “prey” of men.  As Newton continues, she focuses on how Burney’s novel reflects her own position in life.  Newton analyzes the relationships between male and female characters in an attempt to do what few critics have done before, she argues – which is to actually critique Evelina in terms of a feminine standpoint.

Newton states that “Most allusions to Burney’s feminine point of view take the form of compliment rather than analysis.” (Newton 49)  This brought an interesting view to my mind.  As readers and/or critics, do we fill the roles of available men this feminine novel is looking for?  In simpler terms, are we any better than the male figures that Newton goes on to display as insincere?  While they may pay some attention to Evelina and say nice things about her, they ultimately choose to see if there is anything better out there and take their time in doing so.

This article changed my views entering this book.  I will choose to accept the role of the suitor, and make the book impress me on a different level than any other – because it has called itself to a higher standard based on the issues it raises.  At the beginning of the day, I believe it is just another novel among the many that speak about a character’s challenges, but what does it say about a female character in a world that is completely different from the one we know today?  How is it related to The Female American? I believe that this question can only be answered after the class has completed the book, but I would like to keep these themes in the back of my hmind as I read further.  How does it tell a woman’s point of view?  Why should the reader or critic care about these particular struggles?  To mimic Newton’s primary question, does this book do a good job of presenting the struggles of a woman in the market for a husband to read it?  If it doesn’t, then I will have no problem moving on to find a better and more qualified “bride”.

These were my primary interpretations, but I am interested in finding out what the class has to say.  How does the idea of marriage change the way we view a female character in this novel?  Newton also argued that a female’s position in the story was less important because she was seeking agency through male characters.  Does this affect the way we read Evelina, or the view the challenges within the story?  



Newton, Judith.  Evelina: Or, the History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the Marriage Market.”  Modern Language Studies 6.1 (1976): 48-56.

1 comment:

  1. Rather than judging whether 18th Cen. or 21st Cen. men are more moral/sincere/etc. I have a question in response to that question: Are 18th or 21st Cen. men more the product of the times?

    In the 18th Cen. men held all of the cards, with property and the large incomes therefrom, while women had few if any options within their control to stand up for themselves, given the near complete absence of income potential, the lack of equitable divorce procedures and the cavalier attitude at the time of infidelity or abuse by husbands at the time. Even so, there were good men and bad, as Rev. Villars and Lord Orville show in contrast with most of the other men in the novel.

    Today, women are capable of much more agency and independence in their income and relationships with men, have legal protections far greater than in the 18th Cen. and numerous options for income independent of any husband. Just the same there are men both good and bad today as there were in Burney's time.

    Have men improved their relations with women and their moral fiber as much as we would like to believe, or do men today simply have less leeway in what they can get away with, and respond accordingly? I make no pretense at knowing the definitive answer to that, but the question remains, and could go either way. Thoughts?