A Young Lady’s Entrance into the World
Frances Burney’s Evelina, probably begun when she was seventeen, and published when she was twenty-six, has been praised as a young woman’s view of her contemporary world, and damned as sentimental, lamely comic, and generally the product of a brash and lamentable amateurism. The bare theme of Evelina is simple and romantic—a youngish man, wealthy and well-placed, in love with a charming but at first awkward girl. Many readers have felt that Evelina is a concoction, not an artistic composition; that is, that too many incongruous elements have been taken into its plot. Characterization in Evelina is sound when it is serious; crudely disappointing when Miss Burney is tempted to copy Tobias Smollett. Miss Burney’s pictures of good society are informing because she knows good society. Undeniably, in Evelina Miss Burney’s youth and her sex worked powerfully in her favor.