2018 Classics Challenge, Fiction, What Shannon Read

Evelina by Fanny Burney

Note: This is the first of my books read for the 2018 Back to the Classics Challenge for the author that’s new to me categoryEvelina

Evelina…so young, so innocent…so freakin’ afraid of everything.

I live down the street from one of my college English professors. When I moved in, six years after I’d graduated from college mind you, she popped an old graded essay of mine in my mailbox. She’d had it all that time. I got an A, by the way.

Anywho, last summer Ros saw me reading on the porch and stopped by to talk books. She told me some of the story of Evelina: Or the History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World by Frances (Fanny) Burney, which she had never read. She was delighted by it and I must say, I agree, despite the somewhat irritating greenness of the protagonist.

Dog in the sun on a porch

Someone else that likes to hang out on the porch

Evelina is a sheltered young woman (as were most young women of her era and station) who, as the full title says, makes an entry, somewhat accidentally, into 18-century British society.

Here’s a great plot summary on wikipedia. I’m not going to summarize the plot because, honestly, the ins and outs of the characters and locations may lose or bore anyone without an assured interest in the novel. Also, if you’ve read widely, you know that classics of this era (the book was first published in 1778) contain many complicated details and subtleties possibly only interesting to those who’ve read them.

A few thoughts I had while reading Evelina

The letters: This is the epistolary novel at its finest. The book consists mostly of letters from Evelina to Reverend Arthur Villars, her guardian and the man who raised her, from whom she is parted for most of the book.

Evelina Anville grows up: We spend a lot of time with Evelina as she learns to navigate the society into which she is thrust. This character development is both entertaining and gratifying as she transforms from a shy, nearly speechless (to anyone outside the Mirvan women), nearly motionless (refusing dances at a ball) girl with no real will of her own to a woman who competently stands up to her harassers, like Sir Clement (eventually) and the Branghtons, Evelina’s London relations, along with Madame Duval, who are a family of absolute boors.

At least she’s self-aware:

“Unused to the situations in which I find myself, and embarrassed by the slightest difficulties, I seldom, till too late, discover how I ought to act.” 

Evelina is irritating: I must admit, though, the process was somewhat frustrating. There’s a point at which Evelina writes to Orville to thank him for use of his carriage which her awful Branghton cousin requested in her name without her consent. He writes back assuring her that it wasn’t a big deal and, not only that, he’s delighted that she’s begun a correspondence with him and eagerly awaits her reply. Evelina is telling all this to her friend, Maria Mirvan, and spends the rest of the letter castigating herself for allowing him to think her so forward. It’s obnoxious. (The letter from Orville, by the way, turns out to be a trick by Sir Clement. We find out in the end that he’d intercepted her original letter and concocted a response, putting Orville’s name to it.)

The Branghtons and Madame Duval: Ok, it was kind of fun to watch them screw around and make a mess of their own interactions in a society which they are rich enough but too boorish to navigate properly. Also, the exchanges between Madame Duval and Captain Mirvan, a complete ass, are kind of hilarious as the captain spends most of his interactions inciting offense. It’s enjoyable to watch until it becomes simply tiresome.

Mrs. Selwyn: I felt the novel was seriously lacking in wit until this lady showed up in the last third or so. (Any wit to be found is mostly in the social commentary Burney is making along the way, I suppose.) Here she is throwing shade at two noblemen who’ve made a ridiculous bet over a carriage race:

“These enterprises,” said Mrs. Selwyn, “are very proper for men of rank, since ’tis a million to one but both parties will be incapacitated for any better employment.” 

Roasted.

Sentimentality: This is a sentimental novel written by a master of the genre. It went hand-in-hand with the gothic novel of this era, both of which were considered popular fiction. Reading it now, however, the big emotions come off as melodramatic.

Here’s Sir John Belmont after reading a letter from his long-deceased wife:

“Oh that thou could’st witness the agony of my soul!- Ten thousand daggers could not have wounded me like this letter!” 

There’s a lot of this. And to a modern reader, it’s a bit grating. But that’s the genre for ya’.

I’m sure I’m missing some important things about the fates of women in the era. Indeed, the book deals entirely with the fates of its female characters. But I’m sure someone other than me has made a better study of that than I could, so I’m going to nope out on that topic.

 

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Pillow Fort blog: 2018 Back to the Classics Challenge
2018 Classics Challenge, That Reading Life

Getting back to the classics

I usually pepper classics throughout  my regular reading, but in the past few years I haven’t read very many.

I re-read Jane Eyre last year. In 2016, I re-read The Color Purple. In 2015, I read Sons and Lovers and The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (I think it was free on Kindle).

That’s it, folks. Kind of shabby for a former proud English major.

Anyway, when I stumbled upon Books and Chocolate and Karen’s Back to the Classics challenge, I thought this is for me. I know I said I would read whatever I wanted this year with no pressure, but the English major inside of me won’t let go of the idea of reading the classics I’ve missed.

So, here’s the plan.

I’m going to participate in Karen’s challenge and see if I complete it. If not, no biggie. If so, yay literature!

These are the categories and, next to them, the book(s) I’m thinking of reading for each one…

Dickens

I’ve barely read any Dickens.

1.  A 19th-century classic – any book published between 1800 and 1899.

Anna Karenina or some Dickens, I think.

2.  A 20th-century classic – any book published between 1900 and 1968. Just like last year, all books MUST have been published at least 50 years ago to qualify. The only exception is books written at least 50 years ago, but published later, such as posthumous publications.

Brave New World, which I somehow escaped reading in high school, Mrs. Dalloway, Animal Farm, or an outlier: Cold Comfort Farm

3.  A classic by a woman author.

The House of Mirth, Middlemarch, My Antonia, so many options…

4.  A classic in translation.  Any book originally written published in a language other than your native language. Feel free to read the book in your language or the original language. (You can also read books in translation for any of the other categories). Modern translations are acceptable as long as the original work fits the guidelines for publications as explained in the challenge rules.

This would be the perfect place to insert some more Russians: Dostoyevsky, Turgenev, Gogol; or maybe The Three Musketeers, which I’ve always meant to read.

Phantom Tollbooth5. A children’s classic. Indulge your inner child and read that classic that you somehow missed years ago. Short stories are fine, but it must be a complete volume. Young adult and picture books don’t count!

This category is dear to my heart. I once set out to read all the Newbery winners and nominations and I think I read about 30 maybe? Of course, the Newbery is a modern invention and some of my contenders pre-date it. I’m just saying, I heart children’s books.

Possibilities:
The Phantom Tollbooth
Black Beauty
Heidi
Peter Pan
Robinson Crusoe

In Cold Blood6.  A classic crime story, fiction or non-fiction. This can be a true crime story, mystery, detective novel, spy novel, etc., as long as a crime is an integral part of the story and it was published at least 50 years ago. Examples include The 39 Steps, Strangers on a Train, In Cold Blood, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, etc.  The Haycraft-Queen Cornerstones list is an excellent source for suggestions. 

In Cold Blood or The Moonstone maybe? Agatha Christie? Sherlock Holmes?

7. A classic travel or journey narrative, fiction or non-fiction. The journey itself must be the major plot point — not just the destination. Good examples include The Hobbit, Around the World in 80 Days, Unbeaten Tracks in Japan, Kon-Tiki, Travels with Charley, etc. 

I’m already re-reading the Lord of the Rings series. So, maybe I’ll count that or branch out. Top contenders would be On the Road, Grapes of Wrath, and Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Middlemarch

My literary fate?

8. A classic with a single-word title. No articles please! Proper names are fine — Emma, Germinal, Middlemarch, Kidnapped, etc.

So many good categories for Middlemarch. Is it destiny?

9. A classic with a color in the title. The Woman in White; Anne of Green Gables; The Red and the Black, and so on. (Silver, gold, etc. are acceptable. Basically, if it’s a color in a Crayola box of crayons, it’s fine!)

The Scarlet Pimpernel maybe. Or The Black Stallion. In researching titles for this category, I have to say I’ve already done a decent job of reading the important “color name” books (The Scarlet Letter, The Color Purple, The Woman in White, to name a few).

10. A classic by an author that’s new to you. Choose an author you’ve never read before.

I’m thinking of just going and standing in front of the classics section in the library for this one. I’m sure I’ll find a hundred authors I haven’t read.

War and Peace and Moby Dick

Where to begin?

11. A classic that scares you. Is there a classic you’ve been putting off forever? A really long book which intimidates you because of its sheer length? Now’s the time to read it, and hopefully you’ll be pleasantly surprised!

Is everyone reading War and Peace for this? I will have to do some digging to figure out anything else for myself.

12. Re-read a favorite classic. Like me, you probably have a lot of favorites — choose one and read it again, then tell us why you love it so much. 

As I mentioned, in the past couple of years I re-read The Color Purple and Jane Eyre. Both would make my top ten list for sure. The Secret Garden might be a contender. Or The Turn of the Screw, which I loved but haven’t read since high school.

On your mark, get set, eek!

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