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She sat like a cypher”: Discursive Ventriloquism in Evelina

Jeffrey Hopes
p. 309-322


Innocente, ingénue et inexpérimentée, naturelle sans être parfaite, Evelina est consciente de ses propres émotions mais apparemment pas de l’effet qu’elle produit sur les personnages masculins. Projetée dans un monde nouveau où elle essaye de s’habituer à des codes de conduite qui lui sont étrangers, elle est souvent réduite au silence, mais ses pensées inexprimées sont déléguées à deux autres personnages féminins par un procédé de ventriloquisme dialogique. D’abord Madame Duval, dont la situation ressemble à celle d’Evelina, puis Mrs Selwyn, qui ne souffre pas des inhibitions de l’héroïne, expriment des pensées que celle-ci tait. Pendant la troisième partie du roman, lorsque Evelina vit sa crise d’identité, la voix narrative épistolaire s’épanche alors que celle, intradiégétique, du personnage, est progressivement réduite au silence.

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1Evelina is a novel of firsts: Frances Burney’s first published novel, her heroine’s first introduction to London society, her first experience of the theatre, the opera, London assemblies, and the capital’s pleasure gardens, her first encounter with male predators, her first feelings of love for anyone but her guardian Arthur Villars. Evelina’s very name suggests that she is leaving the Garden of Eden of rural Dorset to taste the fruits of an urban tree of knowledge from which Villars often wishes she would return to her prelapsarian existence in Berry Hill. Her innocence is a common theme of his letters: “I send her to you, innocent as an angel, and artless as purity itself [...] Restore her but to me all innocence as you receive her” (22), he writes to Lady Howard as his ward makes her first steps outside the nest. Once in London, the more she writes to him of the capital’s attractions and vices, the more he clings to his belief in her unchangeable innocence: “Heaven bless thee, my dear child, and grant that neither misfortune nor vice may ever rob thee of that gaiety of heart which, resulting from innocence, while it constitutes your own, contributes also to the felicity of all who know you!” (56). In his eyes, Evelina has inherited the equally angelic qualities of her mother whom “Every body believed [...] innocent, from the guiltless tenor of her unspotted youth” (17). “Could I wish to deliver to him, who had so basely betrayed the mother, the helpless and innocent offspring, who, born in so much sorrow, seemed entitled to all the compassionate tenderness of pity?” (126) he pleads in defence of his decision to bring up Evelina himself rather than seek to prove her relationship to Sir John Belmont.

2Villars wants Evelina to remain a sexually innocent child, but Lady Howard sees her as a more complex personality: “Her character seems truly ingenuous and simple; and, at the same time that nature has blessed her with an excellent understanding, and great quickness of parts, she has a certain air or inexperience and innocency that is extremely interesting” (23). Evelina’s character only seems ingenuous and simple, and her innocence is an impression that she gives to others. It is a “calculated innocence” as one critic has put it (Cutting-Gray, 44). This apparent artlessness is deceptive yet “interesting,” particularly to the men she meets. No one is more interested than Lord Orville whose references to her as an angel seem to concord with Villars’s trust in “the unsullied whiteness” of her soul” (57). The difference though is that whereas Villars thinks Evelina is an angel, Orville thinks she looks like one. Though he rightly surmises that she is a “country parson’s daughter” (35), he does not typecast her as the uncouth country girl set adrift in London’s sea of sophisticated vice. After the performance of Congreve’s Love for Love at the Drury Lane theatre, Lovel implicitly compares Evelina to Miss Prue, “a silly, awkward, Country Girl” (Congreve, Personae dramatis), whilst Lord Orville sees her as Angelica, the virtuous, wealthy and desirable heroine wooed by, and in love with, Valentine. Interestingly, in this same discussion of Congreve’s play, Mrs Mirvan criticizes Angelica’s excessive “consciousness of her power” (83). Evelina however seems totally oblivious of the effect she has on men. Her apparent failure to recognize that Orville is head over heels in love with her can perhaps be explained by the impropriety of a woman entertaining such thoughts, but it is also part of the way in which her artless incapacity to think of herself as an object of desire makes her even more desirable.


  • 1  The full passage from Buckingham’s Essay on Poetry from which Burney quotes reads : “Reject that v (...)

3Descriptions of Evelina as “artless” or “guileless” stress not so much her innocence, as her inexperience. The Preface terms her “young, artless, and inexperienced”, not the “faultless Monster” of pure innocence, one of those “perfect Characters” in plays which the Duke of Buckingham’s Essay on Poetry warns playwrights against attempting to depict, but “the offspring of Nature, and of Nature in her simplest attire” (10).1 The eroticism of this description is confirmed by the way in which it is precisely Evelina’s artlessness which both attracts her male predators and prevents her from anticipating their assaults. As Villars puts it, “guileless yourself, how could you prepare against the duplicity of another?” (268). The more frequent use of ‘artless’ rather than ‘guileless’ reflects the theme of art and nature which runs throughout the novel and is notably discussed at the theatre when Orville, commenting on Evelina’s blushes, to which Lovel has attributed less than innocent causes, declares that

the difference of natural and of artificial colour, seems to me very easily discerned; that of Nature is mottled, and varying; that of art set, and too smooth; it wants that animation, that glow, that indescribable something, which, even now, that I see it, wholly surpasses all my powers of expression. (81)

As a child of nature, Evelina is not then “unspotted,” but natural, unguarded and unable to dissimulate her emotions.

4Yet to men unused to such candour, her artlessness can seem a subtle pretence. The verses which Willoughby foists upon her express the erotic power of Evelina’s artlessness:

SEE last advance, with bashful grace,
      Downcast eye, and blushing cheek,
Timid air, and beauteous face,
      Anville,—whom the Graces seek.

Though ev'ry beauty is her own,
      And though her mind each virtue fills,
Anville,—to her power unknown,
      Artless, strikes,—unconscious, kills! (333)

  • 2  Evelina tells Villars (but not Willoughby) that she thinks Macartney is the author of the verses, (...)

Although the second stanza stresses Evelina’s lack of awareness of her charms, it is undercut by the first which portrays her as only too conscious of her beauty, a consciousness most clearly expressed by her “blushing cheek”. Not surprisingly, when Evelina reads Willoughby’s poetic effort, she blushes.2

5The sheer improbability of Evelina’s unawareness of the effect she has on men was likely to prompt at least some of the novel’s readers to conclude that, like Richardson’s Pamela, she had hit on the best tactic to get herself advantageously married. No doubt aware of such a danger, Burney is at pains to stress not simply Evelina’s ambiguous artlessness, but her ignorance. The Preface claims that “with a virtuous mind, a cultivated understanding, and a feeling heart, her ignorance of the forms, and inexperience in the manners, of the world, occasion all the little incidents which these volumes record” (9). “Ignorance” is indeed a word that Evelina frequently applies to herself: “how will he be provoked, thought I, when he finds what a simple rustic he has honoured with his choice! one whose ignorance of the world makes her perpetually fear doing something wrong!” (32) she writes after Orville has invited her to dance. When he tries to engage her in conversation about the theatrical life of the capital, she cannot conceal how little she knows of the subject. It is to this ignorance that she attributes her failure to behave in accordance with social etiquette, as she is “too inexperienced and ignorant to conduct myself with propriety in this town” (50). She even wishes there were a guide to fashionable behaviour which she could consult (84). Yet Evelina’s ignorance, like her artlessness, does not escape the suspicion that it is feigned. At her first ball, when she dances with Orville having already refused the prior request of Lovel, a signal breach of female decorum, Orville’s explanation of the situation is met with rank disbelief by Willoughby: “ ‘O, Orville,’ returned he, ‘you are a happy man!—But, ill-bred?—I can never believe it! And she looks too sensible to be ignorant’ ” (37). Even Orville is unsure if she is ignorant or mischievous, given her uninhibited laughter at the behaviour of Lovel.

6Evelina’s ‘innocence’ is thus a complex literary construction, one which increasingly stresses not Villars’s misty-eyed attachment to his surrogate child, but the incongruity of the presence of an attractive, intelligent, sensitive, but inexperienced girl (we should remember that she is only seventeen) in a London society where every public entertainment is the occasion for flirting, seduction, or worse. Evelina is an innocent abroad, struggling to come to terms with a new and alien environment. It is a struggle that frequently reduces her to silence in scenes of social interaction. The silence of Evelina and of other Burney heroines, has not escaped critical attention. Juliet McMaster interprets it as proof of the heroine’s “covert feminism” (237) whereby she suffers lucidly but silently from a forced submission to male desire and power. For Laure Blanchemain-Faucon, it is not just the sign of an inability to express amorous sentiments, as McMaster would have it, but the result of sheer terror. She also points to the fact that it is not just Burney’s women who are taciturn, suggesting that silence also indicates a failure of language. More prosaically, it can be argued that Evelina is frequently reduced to silence because either she does not know what to say or else because she fears the consequences of expressing herself. Her silence is the sign of her social unease, her displacement into a foreign world whose linguistic codes she has not yet mastered.

7Three examples amongst many will suffice to illustrate the point. After she has danced with Lord Orville for the first time, he accompanies her back to her seat:

And then, if my capacity, or even, if my spirits had been better, in how animated a conversation might I have been engaged! it was then I saw that the rank of Lord Orville was his least recommendation, his understanding and his manners being far more distinguished. His remarks upon the company in general were so apt, so just, so lively, I am almost surprised myself that they did not reanimate me; but indeed I was too well convinced of the ridiculous part I had myself played before so nice an observer, to be able to enjoy his pleasantry: so self-compassion gave me feeling for others. Yet I had not the courage to attempt either to defend them or to rally in my turn, but listened to him in silent embarrassment. (33-34)

On the outing to Ranelagh, Evelina is embarrassed by Captain Mirvan’s habitual incivility in the presence of Lord Orville to whom she wants to apologize for her behaviour at the ridotto, but unable to find the right words, thinking that he has a very low opinion of her and afraid of being misunderstood, she remains silent, “So that, far from enjoying a conversation which might, at any other time, have delighted me, I continued silent, uncomfortable, and ashamed” (62). Later, when she finds herself alone with Willoughby in a carriage returning from the opera, she is no less constrained when faced with his advances:

He began by making many complaints of my unwillingness to trust myself with him, and begged to know what could be the reason. This question so much embarrassed me, that I could not tell what to answer, but only said, that I was sorry to have taken up so much of his time.
‘O Miss Anville,’ (cried he, taking my hand) ‘if you knew with what transport I would dedicate to you not only the present but all the future time allotted to me, you would not injure me by making such an apology.’
I could not think of a word to say to this, nor to a great many other equally fine speeches with which he ran on, though I would fain have withdrawn my hand, and made almost continual attempts; but in vain, for he actually grasped it between both his, without any regard to my resistance. (98)

While the immediate causes of these three silences are all different, Evelina’s inability to speak reveals above all her ignorance of the way one should speak. It is a silence that lends itself to all sort of interpretations and speculations, not to mention frequent exasperation, on the part of her interlocutors.


8It is however a silence that needs to be put into the context of the novel as a whole, for other characters are not so inhibited. Juliet McMaster says that, in her novels, Burney “introduces as secondary characters women who do rebel and them she will ‘always honour’” (237) and, writing about The Wanderer, Laure Blanchemain-Faucon remarks that “Les voix qui se reproduisent et se multiplient semblent toutes provenir de l’inconscient du personage et leur violence indique leur puissance et leur nécessité de s’exprimer” (171). The Wanderer is a much darker novel than Evelina, but both these remarks are relevant in pointing out how the other voices fill out the heroine’s silences. Rather than interpret this phenomenon in terms of the protagonist’s subconscious, I would prefer to think of it as a form of dialogic ventriloquism, whereby Evelina speaks through other characters, or else lets them speak in her place. Two other female characters in the novel fulfil this role, though of course we must be wary of making this their only diegetic, discursive or satirical function. Madame Duval, Evelina’s grandmother but not yet fifty, has also been displaced, this time from Paris to London. She too is ignorant of the manners and customs of the English capital, not to mention such stereotypical national characters as Captain Mirvan, the bluff, aggressive, misogynous, plain-speaking John Bull figure whose utter distaste for anything and anyone foreign Evelina instantly disapproves of, although the comedy he engenders at Madame Duval’s expense must have amused Burney’s male readers at a time when anti-French sentiment was rife. It is not just her stereotypical Frenchness which makes Madame Duval a figure of fun, but her extraordinary credulity. However much she is duped and abused by Captain Mirvan, she fails to suspect the only person likely to be responsible for her misfortunes. Certainly, Evelina is more alert to the sources of possible danger, but she also is all too easily deceived. In Marylebone Gardens, she seeks safety in the company of two prostitutes whom she, just like Madame Duval, mistakes for ladies of quality: “Indeed it is wonderful to see how easily and how frequently she is deceived” remarks Evelina, somewhat hypocritically (237). Their shared unfamiliarity with London life leads grandmother and granddaughter to mutually accuse each other of ignorance. When Evelina pays a morning visit,

I found Madame Duval at breakfast in bed, though Monsieur Du Bois was in the chamber; which so much astonished me, that I was, involuntarily, retiring, without considering how odd an appearance my retreat would have, when Madame Duval called me back, and laughed very heartily at my ignorance of foreign customs” (68).

  • 3  “She is too ignorant for instruction, too obstinate for entreaty, and too weak for reason” (128).

Evelina’s later verdict on her grandmother, coinciding with that proffered by Lady Howard,3 underlines the same defect: “But, with all her violence of temper, I see that she is easily frightened, and in fact, more cowardly than many who have not half her spirit; and so little does she reflect upon circumstances, or probability, that she is continually the dupe of her own—I ought not to say ignorance, but yet I can think of no other word” (143). The difference between them is that Evelina is conscious of her own ignorance whereas Madame Duval is oblivious to hers.

9Madame Duval is of course credulous to a degree that Evelina could never be, yet the possibility of the young woman being imposed upon is ever-present and at times realised. When he encounters her after the incident in Marylebone Gardens, Lord Orville dismisses from his mind any thought that Evelina had knowingly put herself in the company of prostitutes by remarking that “credulity is the sister of innocence” (241). It is only when he has given her this somewhat grudging vote of confidence that Evelina can finally bring herself to actually explain what happened. Evelina’s silence in situations that cry out for her to express her feelings, to defend her honour or repulse the insistent probing of her male predators is a source of frustration both to herself and her readers. If the novel were not written in epistolary form, she would be a silent heroine indeed. The letters allow her to voice in writing those reactions that she dares not impart to the company she finds herself in, contenting herself with a Pamela-like confiding in the surrogate father figure of Villars who, for large parts of the novel, is little more than a post-box. A large number of her letters are entitled “Evelina in continuation”, signifying that she constantly delays actually sending them. In the last part of the novel, this tactic enables her to present Villars with the fait accompli of her engagement to Lord Orville, the letter begun on October 3rd only being finally sent on October 13th. The use of a passive, immobile reader makes such letters, as in Pamela, read more like a private diary, thus accentuating the contrast between the taciturnity of Evelina the character and the garrulousness of Evelina the narrator.

10For all their obvious differences, there are times when Evelina and Madame Duval find themselves in similar or parallel situations. At the ridotto, Evelina is openly mocked by Sir Clement Willoughby for her pretence that she cannot dance with him because she claims to be previously engaged. Shortly afterwards she makes her first, chance acquaintance with Madame Duval who is similarly insulted and humiliated by Captain Mirvan. Both women wish for nothing more than to be back home. Later in the novel, the elaborate trick which the Captain perpetrates to persuade Madame Duval that M. Du Bois has been imprisoned in the Tower of London is mirrored by Willoughby’s second sexual harassment of Evelina. Not surprisingly, despite all her fears and misgivings about having been thrust into the company of a grandmother who wants to whisk her off to France, Evelina cannot help but sympathise with the plight of a woman whose situation so resembles her own when she is subjected to the vicious mistreatment meted out by the Captain. It is a compassion which reflects not just the objective similarities of their social and geographical displacement, but the family interest they share in wanting Sir John Belmont to recognize his daughter. Evelina has little trouble in opposing her grandmother’s fanciful wish for her to marry young Branghton, a plan that mirrors her previous attempt to have Evelina’s mother married to one of her French cousins. Nonetheless, Evelina’s final alliance with Lord Orville is not in any way opposed by Madame Duval who makes Evelina her sole heiress.

11There is however more to the relation between the two women than mere circumstantial parallels. Whereas Evelina’s ignorance of social etiquette and unease at mixing with men of rank and fashion leads her into a state of awkward, embarrassed silence, Madame Duval suffers from no such inhibitions. Letter xvi from volume ii begins with the Branghtons and Mr Smith interrogating Evelina about the gentleman (Willoughby) they have seen in her company. Madame Duval shares Evelina’s desire to shake him off because he has been Captain Mirvan’s accomplice in the practical jokes of which she has been the victim. When Willoughby enters, the company is intimidated into silence: “Nobody, however, answered him; Mr. Smith seemed afraid, young Branghton ashamed, M. Du Bois amazed, Madame Duval enraged, and myself determined not to interfere” (210). Emboldened by finding herself for once on home territory, albeit in Holborn rather than Paris, Madame Duval breaks the silence to lambast Willoughby for his impudence in daring to visit her:

‘O Sir, you’re vastly polite, all of a sudden! But I know what it’s all for;—you could treat me like nobody at Howard Grove—but now you see I’ve a house of my own, you’ve a mind to wheedle yourself into it; but I sees your design, so you need n’t trouble yourself to take no more trouble about that, for you shall never get nothing at my house, —not so much as a dish of tea: —so now, Sir, you see I can play you trick for trick. (211)

  • 4  ‘Anville’ is of course a near-anagram of ‘Evelina’, just as ‘Orville’ shares five letters with ‘Vi (...)

For all its ridiculous passion (Madame Duval is always passionate), culminating in the dire revenge of depriving Willoughby of any hope of a dish of tea, Mrs Duval’s outburst expresses feelings that Evelina constantly suppresses. Its effect is to suddenly efface the social deference accorded to Willoughby. The Branghtons progressively collapse into laughter and Willoughby is reduced to a brazen denial of any participation in Captain Mirvan’s machinations. “O Sir Clement! thought I, is it thus you prize your honour!” muses Evelina but to herself (and of course Villars), not out loud. Her grandmother’s reaction knows no such restraint: “ ‘Pardie,’ cried Madame Duval, ‘this is the most provokingest part of all! Why you might as well tell me I don’t know my own name’ ” (212). Coming from Madame Duval this remark is resoundingly inconsequential, but transferred to Evelina it becomes richly ironic, as she does indeed not know her real name, caught as she is between one that has been given her as a ‘working’ appellation (Miss Anville)4 and that which she aspires to (Evelina Belmont) but which she rapidly sees supplanted by her marriage to Lord Orville. Here as elsewhere, Evelina and Madame Duval seem linked in a ventriloquist’s act, the comic French dummy articulating, in a garbled and hyperbolic rant, the thoughts that cannot pass Evelina’s sealed lips.

12Madame Duval exits the novel when Evelina returns to Berry Hill at the end of volume ii. Her place is taken by the outspoken Mrs Selwyn who accompanies the ailing Evelina to Bristol. The portrait Evelina gives of her says much about the gender issues at work within the novel:

She is extremely clever; her understanding, indeed, may be called masculine; but, unfortunately, her manners deserve the same epithet; for, in studying to acquire the knowledge of the other sex, she has lost all the softness of her own. In regard to myself, however, as I have neither courage nor inclination to argue with her, I have never been personally hurt at her want of gentleness; a virtue which, nevertheless, seems so essential a part of the female character, that I find myself more awkward, and less at ease, with a woman who wants it, than I do with a man. (269)

13Evelina’s clear distinction between a (desirable) male understanding and (undesirable) male manners posits a cross-gender ideal to which both she, Orville, Villars and Macartney aspire. Madame Duval, like Lovel and the Brangtons, lacks both understanding and manners (of any sort), whereas Willoughby has the right manners (Evelina finds his company “extremely entertaining and agreeable” [159]) but no understanding. Yet the apparent endorsement that Evelina gives to the essential femininity of ‘gentleness’ is undercut by the use of ‘seems’ rather than ‘is’: “a virtue which, nevertheless, seems so essential a part of the female character”. This ‘seems’ recalls that used by Lady Howard to describe Evelina’s character, quoted earlier, and clearly implies that gentleness is socially gendered and not inherently ‘feminine’. As if to confirm that Evelina’s unease in the presence of a woman like Mrs Selwyn is the result of social conditioning (note the way she says “I find myself” not ‘I am’), Lovel is later made to remark that “I have an insuperable aversion to strength, either of body or mind, in a female” (361), an opinion seconded by Mr Coverley and Lord Merton and so, of course, automatically discredited in the process.

14Mrs Selwyn then is not just a satirical character, the female equivalent of Captain Mirvan, but a feminine voice divested of the socially generated inhibitions from which Evelina suffers. As such, it is a voice that, like Madame Duval’s, speaks on behalf of and in place of Evelina, whose silence in this third volume is even more pronounced than in the previous two. Introduced into Mrs Beaumont’s household, she is subsequently ignored by all but Lord Orville. It is Mrs Selwyn who describes the character of Mrs Beaumont and comments on the behaviour of the men. Even communication with Lord Orville becomes difficult as Evelina is unable to dissipate the misunderstanding created by her conversation with Macartney. When she bumps into Orville as she prepares to meet Macartney early the next morning, such is her embarrassment (one which only arises because of what she thinks Lord Orville must be thinking), that she is reduced to a state of shock: “I seemed choaked, and was even forced to support myself by the garden-gate” (302). Her voice deserts her, described as if it were no longer part of herself: “I did not, just then, dare trust my voice to make any objection” (303). Similarly, when she learns of the existence of Miss Belmont from Mrs Selwyn, who has written to Sir John Belmont and gone to see him in her stead, Evelina cannot continue with her injunction to Lord Orville to “seek elsewhere”: “I could not proceed; my whole soul recoiled against the charge I would have given, and my voice refused to utter it” (368).

15No such constraints weigh on Mrs Selwyn. Indeed, not only does she satirize the obnoxious male company and speak out loud thoughts and feelings that Evelina suppresses or feels unable to utter, she increasingly replaces her charge in the negotiations that take place with Sir John Belmont and Lord Orville. As a result, we are made aware not so much of those thoughts and feelings that Evelina entertains but cannot express, but of her paralysing silence and her increasing absence from the events which surround and concern her: “Since I, as Mr. Lovel says, am Nobody, I seated myself quietly on a window, and not very near to any body” (288) she writes, in a perfect metonymy both of her withdrawal from society and of the crisis of identity which is one of the major themes of this last part of the novel. The explicit manifestation of this crisis is the confusion surrounding the circum­stances of her birth, the substitution of her mother’s nurse’s baby for herself as Sir John Belmont’s child, and the discovery that Macartney is her brother. Yet behind this plot of a biological identity lost and found, of the recla­mation of a birthright and the fortune that goes with it, a fortune which legitimates her marriage to Lord Orville, there lies the deeper, and indeed deepening crisis of Evelina’s social displacement, her estrangement from the ‘world’ into which she is supposed to be making her entrance. “I took my usual place,” she writes to Villars, “and Mrs. Beaumont, Lady Louisa, and Mrs. Selwyn, entered into their usual conversation. —Not so your Evelina: disregarded, silent, and melancholy, she sat like a cypher, whom to nobody belonging, by nobody was noticed” (340). The illeism employed here embodies the alienation she describes. The passage also draws on the double meaning of the word ‘cipher’: on the one hand it literally signifies nothing: “An arithmetical mark, which, standing for nothing itself, increases the value of the other figures” to give the second definition of the word in Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary. On the other hand, Evelina is also a cipher according to Johnson’s fifth definition: “A secret or occult manner of writing, or the key to it.” Her very lack of identity, her ‘nothingness’, provides the key to the novel and to her place in it, a place which is constantly defined obliquely through the words of her fellow spokeswomen and through the way she is seen and interpreted by others.

16As the novel moves towards its conclusion, Evelina gains a husband but loses a voice. The way she is inexorably reduced to silence and anonymity in this third volume is, in its way, as sad as anything in Burney’s later novels. It would of course be a mistake to deny the status of Evelina as a great comic novel, yet it is a comedy which surfs on some unsettling undercurrents. As Evelina’s intradiegetic voice is gradually stifled, so her extradiegetic, epistolary voice, expands. Evelina the letter writer is the fictional embodiment of the woman novelist, emerging from anonymity into fame and recognition through her single- minded appropriation of the instruments of writing. Evelina the character is on one level a fairy-tale figure of triumphant innocence who rediscovers her identity and finds romantic fulfillment in a marriage that reconciles status and virtue. But on another she epitomizes the highly restricted range of social intercourse and linguistic freedom available to young women in society. Reduced to the role of observer and listener, she is an increasingly passive participant in her own story, a cipher condemned to frequent periods of silence during which other voices are deployed to express what she cannot say. The epistolary voice encloses and animates the narrative, inserting it within the moral framework which her “natural love of virtue” (346) constructs. Yet for all its self-confident virtuosity, it cannot wholly efface the eloquent void at its centre.

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Blanchemain-Faucon, Laure. L’imagination féminine chez Frances Burney. Toulouse: PU du Mirail, 2010.

Burney, Frances. Evelina. Oxford: OUP, World’s Classics, 2002.

Congreve, William. Love for Love. London: 1695.

Cutting-Gray, Joanne. “Writing Innocence: Fanny Burney’s Evelina.Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 9.1 (Spring 1990): 43-57.

Earl of Mulgrave [i.e. John Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham and Normanby]. An Essay on Poetry. London: 1691.

Johnson, Samuel. A Dictionary of the English Language. 2nd edition, London: 1756.

McMaster, Juliet. “The Silent Angel : Impediments to Female Expression in Frances Burney’s Novels.” Studies in the Novel 21.3 (1989): 235-52.

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1  The full passage from Buckingham’s Essay on Poetry from which Burney quotes reads : “Reject that vulgar Error which appears / So fair, of making perfect Characters; / There’s no such thing in Nature, and you’ll draw / A faultless Monster, which the World ne’er saw; / Some Faults must be, that his Misfortunes drew; / But such as may deserve Compassion too” (Mulgrave, 21). Buckingham’s advice in these and the following lines is particularly pertinent to Burney’s conception of comedy and humour.

2  Evelina tells Villars (but not Willoughby) that she thinks Macartney is the author of the verses, because “no one else would speak of me so partially; and, indeed, his poetical turn puts it, with me, beyond dispute” (335). This attribution is generally taken at face value despite the fact that it is inherently improbable that Macartney should be their author. Macartney’s preoccupations at this point in the novel are to repay his debt to Evelina and to come to terms with having seen Miss Belmont, his half-sister (as he then believes). There is no reason why he should be penning verses on the women of the town, even less that they should describe Evelina’s powers of artless seduction. Willoughby on the other hand has confessed to ‘copying’ the verses relating to Evelina, it is he who gives them to her and their flattery corresponds to his increasingly insistent attempts at seduction. His claim that he could not “produce the lines publicly” (333) because Lady Louisa Larpent is mentioned in them, is a transparent excuse for him handing them to Evelina alone. Evelina’s reply to Willoughby’s question concerning their authorship is that either “they are written ironically, or by some madman” (334). I would argue that what we have here is another example of the dramatic irony that is so characteristic of the novel. It is Evelina’s words reported in the narrative which reveal the truth, while the interpretation she conveys to Villars indicates her guileless innocence.

3  “She is too ignorant for instruction, too obstinate for entreaty, and too weak for reason” (128).

4  ‘Anville’ is of course a near-anagram of ‘Evelina’, just as ‘Orville’ shares five letters with ‘Villars’. The ‘French’ names of the novel are construed as antonyms, the lowness of ‘Duval’ contrasting with the summit of ‘Belmont’. M. Du Bois is as wooden as his name suggests.

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Jeffrey Hopes

Université d’Orléans

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