Tuesday, November 1, 2011

For Credit: "[Evelina] was much too pretty; she didn't do that sh*t at all..."

A grab bag of questions as you wend your way through Evelina's adventures in Volume II for Thursday--just specify which question you're answering.

1. The C18 British Novel: 88 lines about 44 women*?

Or as a classmate put it in a response to Tuesday's attendance question: "I would like to discuss the obsession with innocence, artlessness, and beauty." From another response: "Why are all the women in this time so bashful and hesitant?"

2. Humor! As one person wrote, "Is this novel supposed to be as funny as I am finding it?" Or to put it another way, "Considering the humor, are readers still supposed to find some sort of moral lesson?"

3. And finally, from another response: "I think it's important to question whether of not Evelina actually has any agency." Well, does she?

*The Nails did put out their own video for this song, but I find its use of ethnographic footage troubling without being illuminating, so you get the Kimpossible fanvid instead.


  1. Evelina does not have any agency. She seems to be a pawn used in other peoples' lives. The Captain uses her as an informant and as an accomplice to his plans against Madam Duval. Madam Duval uses her as she pleases, and drags her along to all of these events that Evelina does not want to go. She seems to be pushing this fake relationship with her, possibly because she is all that Madam Duval has left. Everyone else is asked if they can borrow Evelina for a while by taking her here and there, without any real regard for what she wants.

  2. In regards to #3 -

    I dont disagree with the previous response that Evelina is often treated as a pawn by the other characters of the novel and that she's frequently used, and in a sense - abused, to some degree. Nor would I argue that some treat her as nothing more than a quick means to an end in order to accomplish something of their own selfish purpose.

    All that said, to say that she has no agency whatsoever I find to be a bit harsh. I think it's difficult to pinpoint what exactly agency is within any character but if you're going to identify it as having some sort of power, then ok, maybe she doesn't have any agency, because of the aforementioned reasons. However, if agency is more correlated with something like free will, I'd argue that she does indeed have that, since a lot of these circumstances she ALLOWS to happen to her by her own decision or in some cases, indecision.

    It can be frustrating to read at times because the human element as a reader at some points compels you to say "Come on, take a damn stand for yourself." But I guess my bottom line would be that it's unfair, atleast a little bit, to say that Evelina as a character is entirely devoid of any agency altogether.

  3. I'm probably a little biased because of my Secondary Lit reading, but I think that the issue of agency in option 3 is a bit tired. We always ask this sort of question in readings that deal with female characters, but never seem to need to deal with them for the males. One could argue that Robinson Crusoe had very little credible agency when he was stranded on the island, because he deemed himself king of a place where typical civilization didn't exist. For Evelina, her agency has to be determined by her relationships with others, yet Crusoe has the power to create his own agency. By this standard alone, no, Evelina doesn't have any agency. That being said, I agree with the two posts in different ways. (Yes, I will be a hypocrite and interpret her agency based on character interaction). Nathan makes good points that she is a pawn, but I don't that alone takes her agency away. I would go with Patrick's second criteria for agency, saying that free will is a more appropriate association with agency. I feel that Crusoe is a good example of this because he exercises his free will early on in his story. The denial of his father's will is what establishes him as a character who is agency. It is not the fact that he makes himself king. In that sense, Evelina shows her free will (as Patrick says) by allowing things to happen to her - showing her own agency.

  4. I think that Burney did intend for Evelina to have some comedic aspects to it. This is evidenced by all of the mistakes he has her make in various social situations. I mean 18c readers of this book especially those in the aristocracy found amusement in someone from the lower class committing faux pas in what they considered "proper society" in fact I am willing to bet that this is the kind of humor that they lived for. I don’t think thought that the humor aspect takes away from the moral aspect of the story though. I believe that even though I find parts of the story funny I don’t think that it is without moral direction. Evelina throughout the story continues to hold on to her morals and only insults people out of ignorance not malice while it seems like some of the other characters such as: the Captain, Madame Duval and Sir Clement are more than happy to insult purely out of spite.

  5. My answer was to question #2 by the way

  6. In response to question #2, I do not think that this novel was intended to be amusing; it is far too relatable to serious texts of the time period or of this same genre (Jane Austen novels, for example). I think that a novel like this re-emphasizes the extreme differences between our own society and that of the eighteenth century. Of course, to us, their societal norms and the way many of the characters act seems "funny", I think the reason it seems funny is because it is foreign to us; there are many things about our on societal norms that I assume past generations would criticize. I do think their are intended didactic lessons in Evelina, but like I said, I do not think they are entirely applicable to today's society; which is why it seems there is not a while lot we can take out of this book. The one thing that has been reiterated, for me, is that if this novel is at all a reflection of the eighteenth century lifestyle, times have drastically changed.

  7. I definitely think that this novel and the character of Evelina is humorous only because of her childish and innocent actions. She is so oblivious to the rest of the world that it makes it kind of hard not to get a chuckle out of her actions. And I agree with Nathan in that Madame Duval uses Evelina the whenever she wants. Thus I do not think that she has her own agency. I don't think that occasionally voicing her opinion and making herself seen as "experienced" in the world is enough to say that she has her own agency.

    For example, in Volume II when Evelina goes into the alley and ends up walking with the two prostitutes, she only makes a fool of herself. However, she felt "confident" enough over these individuals she was still too intimidated to say so.

    I do agree with Patrick in that it is frustrating to read at times though due to her characteristics and actions.

  8. In response to question two, I don't think that Burney was trying to write a comedy, I do think that the humor in the novel was intended. Regardless of the changes in the norms of society between the eighteenth and twenty-first centuries, I believe that some of the characters (such as Willoughby and Mrs. Selwyn) would have been seen as a comic relief to readers in the past. I think that the humor in the novel makes it somewhat more believable than other novels that I have read from the same time period; many of these novels have very little humor and I feel that people in a higher social position at the time Burney wrote Evelina would have a sense of humor and would have found the novel funny.

  9. In response to question 2, I think the comedy is very much intended by Burney. However, just because there are humorous aspects that does not mean the book lacks a serious message or morals. Perhaps some of the humor we take from the novel is simply because we are 21c readers delving into a 18c book. Nonetheless, I believe a lot of the same parts we enjoyed would have gotten laughs in the 18c as well. I found the captain's continued mockery of the French amusing. This leads me to think there may have been some stereotype in 18c that Burney was utilizing for the humor, much like we have stereotyped humor today. I agree that certain characters (the captain, Willoughby, Mrs. Selwyn) were there for comic relief in the novel. The morals are still present and Evelina holds onto hers throughout it.

  10. Responding to Question 2:
    I also think the humor is intentional, but some of it worries me. I am poised to think that the interaction and hostility between Madame Duval and the Captain is meant to be humorous, but some of the interaction is alarming! The Captain actually gets physically violent on several occasions and his schemes are dangerous. The pseudo-robbery could have gone terribly awry, and even pretending to involve M. Du Bois in an altercation with the law could have negative repercussions. So while the words and intentions themselves may be humorous, it is still alarming to me. I do think it is interesting, like we discussed in class, that we see a full spectrum of civility for upper class characters: there are some portrayed in a positive light, some otherwise. It is interesting too, that humor is so often tied to social stature in Evelina. The humor of the Branghtons is tied to their being base and vulgar. Evelina's humor is tied to her being unaware of upper class manners. As for a moral lesson, I'm still unsure what it is, but I don't think that humor and morality in a novel are necessarily mutually exclusive. We can probably still ascertain some lesson, just in a manner that is more enjoyable than straightforward didactic text.

  11. I would like to respond to the fact that women are so shy and bashful. It's so frustrating! Perhaps it's just the difference in how women were viewed in society and how they were expected to act, but jeez! So far, all the novels we have read, save for Female American and RC, include these women that are pretty much afraid of their own shadows.

    If these women were to say something out of "character," what would anyone say? Who would hear it? Who would CARE?