The Lot Motif and the Redaction of Double Desire
Frances Burney deploys a metaphorical arsenal in the dedicatory poem to her first, anonymously published, novel Evelina that maps out and secures, as it were, the emotional territory of late-century fiction by women. The poem is brief, so I quote it in full:
In this poem, Burney invokes some familiar images and themes. Most interesting for the present discussion is her self-construction in terms of garden, political subject, and hieroglyph, for these images recall the central motifs of the early fiction of female desire, motifs that we examined in Chapters 2, 3, and 4 of this book. The speaker’s heart “glows” with “Virtue” “planted” by her father. She is a kind of garden, her body’s blood and heart comprise the soil tilled by her father’s example,
life, and works. Her own works are paid in “tribute” to him, in exchange for the “boon” of concealment; she is a vassal in a sense, attending on her lord, her masterfather, her king. Her identity is hidden, however; his identity is secret as well. The poem is addressed to ------ ------; after all, to reveal his name is to reveal her own, so if she is the “recorder of [his] worth,” she is so in a cryptic, private language, in hieroglyph, as it were. He is the “author of [her] being,” and in the poem she would also be the author of his; but the mutuality of their love and their mutual obligation is unspoken and, significantly, unacknowledged between the two of them. The secrecy of ethical love, and a sense of its complicated relationship to cultural power and natural fecundity are as old as the Song of Songs. But here we see a difference in that the female lover speaks, but her male father-lover is not allowed to hear and to respond. Her longing is voiced but unacknowledged and unrequited.