Staves goes on to point out that the majority of the difficulties Evelina encounters, while behaviorally feminine, are ultimately caused by men. Evelina's naiveté and beauty open her up to a host of improprieties from the rabid men around her. As Staves puts it, "Evelina's progress through the public places of London is about as tranquil as the progress of a fair-haired girl through modern Naples." (Staves, 15). She is constantly badgered by all kinds of men, those of rank and random drunks in the street. Her social snafus, like her appearance with the prostitutes in Marybone gardens, are usually caused by an attempt to evade these promiscuous attempts.
After discussing the legitimacy of Evelina's "feminine difficulties," Staves switches gears and discusses the use of satire and humor in the novel. She seems to feel that Burney's witty and satirical observations fall flat, primarily because she avoids responsibility for them. "Fanny Burney sometimes uses Mrs. Selwyn as a satiric spokeswoman, but preserves Evelina's respectability and her own by criticizing her freedom." (Staves, 27). It seems that Staves finds Burney actually less respectable for this, and ends an otherwise defensive and positive essay on the following note: "As good as the descriptions of manners are, as precisely as she catches the obnoxious Branghtons and the enervated Lady Louisa, Fanny Burney's exploration of Evelina's own embarrassments and anxieries is still more vivid and more valuable. Yet she could not finally deny the self-abnegation society required of ladies, and so, in rejecting the laughter, the irony, the satire, and the spirit of criticism, which seem to have been her natural gifts, she ultimately weakened her art." (Staves, 30).
For the most part, I found Staves analysis very insightful. Her rebuttal to the claims that Evelina's were only "female difficulties" was especially shrewd. Her analysis helped me notice that Evelina was not simply a frightened squealing girl, but a young woman whose problems were brought on primarily by predatory men. She also points out that the novel's focus on delicacy is not exclusively feminine either; Evelina admires Lord Orville's delicate handling of her embarrassing situations as well (his encounter with her and the prostitutes in Marybone, his offering her his carriage and servants when she gets separated from her group, as opposed to Sir Clement's insistence on riding with her in his own carriage). Staves does a great job of pointing out that just because the novel's difficulties are directed at a female protagonist does not make them exclusively female difficulties.
What I want to know from the class is this: Do you all think that Staves is making a valid point, or do you find Evelina's to be a story made by women, for women, about women only? Does the focus on delicacy and decorum make male readers feel out of the loop? In short, how do you, as readers, understand Burney's intended audience, and do you find her focus on seemingly trivial social mannerisms superficial or insightful and relevant to readers of the 18th century?
Staves, Susan. "Evelina; or, Female Difficulties." Modern Critical Interpretations: Evelina. Ed. Harold Boom.
New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988. Pages 13-30. Print.