Friday, November 4, 2011

Literary Post: Chinino

I read “Money Business: Lord Orville and the Limits of Politeness in Frances Burney’s Evelina” written by Patricia Hamilton, for my secondary literary post. Hamilton gave some insight to what Frances Burney’s motivation was in writing Evelina. It said that Burney read Letters to His Son, a collection of text written by the fourth Earl of Chesterfield to his illegitimate son. Hamilton said that after reading this text, Burney wrote a response because she was curious as to what constitutes male virtue once debating the advice that the Earl wrote in Letters to His Son. I found this interesting because female virtue has been a constant topic of conversation with the majority of our novels we have read in class. This journal entry is one of the first accounts that have dealt with male virtue.

Frances Burney’s real life concern and question regarding male virtue is shown in her text by the representation of the character ‘Lord Orville’ in Evelina. “Seemingly, her response to mankind’s disgrace was to fashion her own paragon of masculine behavior” (416).  She gave the fictional character extraordinary politeness in order to create an ‘ideal man’.

Then, Hamilton mentions that 20th century critics disagree with the 18th century critics. Saying that Lord Orville is not as exciting and perfect as they made him out to be. “He is sexually uninteresting”.

Regardless of the contrast in criticisms; there was a rise in politeness during the 18th century and Hamilton says Lord Orville was proof of this. Does his ‘politeness’ (or lack their of, after reading his letter to Evelina) enrich our understanding of issues of gender and power in the 18th century?

In class we discussed how we think Lord Orville is the suitor that Evelina will end up with at the end of this novel. Do you think this is an accurate statement? (Don’t answer if you KNOW the answer) If not, who else do you think Evelina will end up with? Also, do you feel that Lord Orville is the ‘perfect man’ or did the letter he write to Evelina scorch that opinion? Do you agree with the 18th century critics or the 20th century critics?

Hamilton, Patricia. "Monkey Business: Lord Orville and the Limits of Politeness in Frances Burney’s Evelina." Eighteenth-Century Fiction (ECF) 19.4 (2007):415+. Print.


  1. It is interesting to look into the eighteenth century mold of the "ideal man"; in eighteenth and nineteenth century literature especially, we tend to focus on the idea of female characters. I think that the "politeness" of the eighteenth century that Hamilton refers to definitely lends to the power struggles between men and women in this time. In novels of this genre, the women are constantly dubbed naive, of lower class, somewhat ignorant, and often ill mannered. In contrast to this common female character, there is often a male character her opposite who has very few flaws. The male character that we are led to side with is always flawless in his manners and of high class and society. Why do authors tend to set up their characters in this way? It automatically sets the female character up for the lower hand, where she must seek to impress the man of higher standing. I don't know that this is necessarily reflective of the real eighteenth century society. I am sure that there were many women of equal if not greater class than men, but these character relationships are always set up to show women in a struggle to fulfill the identity of the "ideal woman".

  2. I think it's interesting to address the question about Evelina's suitors by putting Evelina into dialogue with Pamela. We are kind of conditioned to anticipate that Evelina will end up with Lord Orville because (letter aside), he has been depicted as pretty much perfect. He is dignified, educated, and eloquent. It seems natural that Evelina would end up with the virtuous man as opposed to any of the other suitors with perhaps more colorful personalities. However, think about Pamela. She obviously didn't follow this formula. I like tying male virtue into this topic as well: we really don't see male characters being reprimanded or punished for their lack of virtue. They may be cast off as potential suitors by the female protagonist, but they are not cast off from society for the smallest missteps like unvirtuous female characters would be. Double standard? Think of all the awful things Master B did to Pamela; in the end, it didn't matter and they were both rewarded with a legitimate marriage. If we think of Evelina as having a similar mindset, maybe Sir Clement is a more viable option? However, now that we have seen a different side of Lord Orville, he too would fit into this Pamela-esque prediction. (And honestly, I think it'll be him)

  3. I agree that Orville is definitely painted as the "ideal" man and I think he is who Evelina will end up with. The politeness, station, and the authority which he carries himself all add up to him being what any young 18c girl would look for in a proper gentleman, or so I would assume. I disagree that the letter to evelina destroys that opinion of him. He is still the same character we've seen all along. Instead I felt like the letter took him down of the pedestal and gave him a more human and realistic aspect. No one is perfect, everyone can make mistakes and act out of character or be rash. I feel like having him "scorch" his pictured perfection adds depth to his character. It can allow for him to be seen as more of a person and less of this mirage of "ideal". Having made the mistake he did now opens him up to repair it. This would make for a more emotionally fulfilling coupling between he and Evelina if it occurs.

  4. If this were a romantic comedy, Evelina would probably end up with Sir Clement. He is the classic annoying yet charming suitor; just intrusive enough to get under her skin, but just clever enough to capture her affections. However, considering that this is an 18th century novel and not a modern day film, I anticipate that Evelina will end up with Lord Orville. I agree with my classmates that he has been portrayed as the perfect gentleman, letter aside, with poise, grace, and status befitting an admirable man. Even the letter, in my opinion, is excusable considering Evelina's comparatively lower station and the grace so often handed out to forward men.
    I also agree that looking at the portrayal of masculine virtue in this novel would be very interesting. I am currently reading about the definition of beauty, and its implications in intellectual circles in the 18th century, for my final project and have found a lot of interesting material regarding feminine beauty this novel. But because men play a much larger role in determining 'beauty' (meaning both appearance and inner virtue) the definition of masculine virtue, or beauty, is equally important to a holistic understanding of the term.

  5. I agree that Lord Orville will more than likely end with Evelina simply because out of all of her suitors she seems to like him the most, perhaps it is his "politeness" that is what attracts him to her. I remember in class that most of us agreed that the two most likely suitors were Lord Orville and Sir Willoughby, as I read more of Evelina I came across a passage from one of the letters from Rev. Villars to Evelina which basically stated his dislike for the actions Sir Clements, now I believe the conclusion that we came up with in class was that Rev. Villars is essentially Evelina's father and for him to express a displeasure for Sir Clements in my opinion kills his chances with Evelina.
    I am going to have to defend Lord Orville from the 20th century critics, in a time where men expected women to be virtuous I think it is reasonable to suggest that if Lord Orville would have shown any or too much his sexual interest in Evelina he would cease to be Burney's "ideal" man, if he shows that part of the male character then his intentions are already assumed to be nefarious in nature. Not to mention what constitutes as sexual interest in the 20th century is vastly different than in the 18th century, I'm pretty sure that 20th century critic’s views are much more liberal in sexual expression than their 18 century counterparts. By showing Evelina that he is interested in her and displays no outward showing of his attraction in my opinion shows how that he actually likes Evelina's character rather than just her physical features.

  6. "Chivalry is dead." After stating in passing to my friend that a boy I had gone out on a date with did not open his car door for me, this was her response. The idea that a man is not perfect because he is too polite and thus "sexually uninteresting" perplexes me. I believe that Lord Orville's perfection makes him highly improbable, but I don't necessarily believe that it should make him sexually uninteresting. I do believe that there is some truth in a relationship being too "easy" and thereby making it less passionate, but I believe that there can be other conflicts besides a man being an a$$hole in order to get a "sexually interested" individual. I believe a man can be polite and at the same time sexually interesting. I think that with the death of "chivalry" we are meant to think that all men are jerks. I believe that a lot of girls sell themselves short because they just assume that men are supposed to treat women without respect, and if they are lucky to find a man with a little bit respect, a little less a$$hole, then they need to hold onto him because that's a rare find... (Not true). Polite is no longer "in" because politeness is difficult and a challenge in our society where being a jerk is often praised. Stating that a man is too nice for him to be found sexually appealing is just an excuse to justify bad relationships. So no, I don't believe that Lord Orville is too polite to be sexually uninteresting. I just believe that polite men in the 21st century are rare and hard to come by and that's why characters like Lord Orville are bashed.

  7. Orville is appealing precisely because he isn't always a flawless example of aristocratic male virtue: instead, he is a flawed but well intentioned individual who refuses to succumb to failure, instead getting back up after stumbling and forever trying to be better for it. Orville never stoops to the pettiness or shallow behavior of his fellow noblemen despite the ease with which he could given his unusually high rank and subsequent social power. He chooses to define himself by his behavior and standards of personal conduct, instead of allowing his station and gender alone to carry him through society, such that even though he isn't perfect, he values proper social conduct for its own sake and works at being as good of a gentleman and human being as he is able.

  8. Although we already know the ending situation I think that even before knowing I would have thought that it would have happened. I think this because his kind nature is something that she is not used to and I definitely think she enjoys it. It is an unfamiliar nature to her and it gives her something new to engage in.

    I also think that Taylor beings out an interesting point about beauty and masculinity. The men in this novel play a major role in defining the term beauty as perceived to the rest of the world. Thus with such higher social hierarchy in play men create society in a way.

  9. I agree with 20th century critics, and think the idea of a character like Orville is one who is rather uninteresting. This may just be because of the time we live in, but most people consider politeness to be good - but not eternal politeness. As a man, I've asked a few women what they would want in a man, and the answer always mentions politeness briefly, but tends to focus on ambition and success. These qualities tend to outweigh politeness today, because the polite people in our society are often seen as uninteresting.