Evelina's Reception into the World
Modern Evelina: Critical Reception in the Late 20th Century
A critical revaluation: Evelina's rebirth in the latter part of the 20th century. While the extraordinary success of The Diary and Letters of Madame d'Arblay published by her niece Charlotte Barrett between 1842 and 1846 promoted Burney as one of the major nineteenth century diarist, her reputation as a novelist underwent a sudden decline due, in particular, to critics' hostile response to her fourth novel The Wanderer, which was published at the end of March 1814. In particular, her last novel was not as successful as Evelina, for, being considered intolerable because of the many French terms used by the author "which resulted in a kind of hybrid" (Hemlow 339) and because of plot's improbability mainly characterized by "the intermingling of different ranks of society" (Hemlow 341), it disappointed most readers and reviewers who critically condemned it as out of touch with the new century. As a result, nineteenth-century critics preferred Burney's private thoughts and feelings printed in her journals and letters, labeling her consequently as a minor novels-writer at least until the first half of the twentieth century. However, an important change in Burney's reception as a novelist occurred in 1958 thanks to the publication of Hemlow's first biography on her, which immediately called scholars' attention on her novels. In this context, Hemlow's work can be considered both as a landmark and as a starting point for modern critical attention not only to Burney but also to Evelina particularly in the latter part of the twentieth century. Evelina's critical rebirth, therefore, must not be detached from Burney's rehabilitation as a novelist throughout the century because one implies the other, thus establishing a relationship between the author's rehabilitation and the ‘revival' of her best known novel – in other words, Evelina's re-evaluation must pass necessarily through its author's rehabilitation. Beginning in the 1970s, Burney's novel went through a real critical rebirth mainly characterized by the publication of numerous academic essays in which scholars carefully analyzed Evelina in light of feminist theory, considering it as an important starting point for the development of the novel of manners and contributing, consequently, in restoring Burney's status as a novelist. The special issue that the quarterly journal Eighteenth-Century Fiction devoted to Evelina in 1991, for instance, offers strong evidence in this regard.
In analyzing some of the reasons for this renewed critical interest in Evelina, Margaret Anne Doody in her essay Beyond Evelina: The Individual Novel and the Community of Literature interestingly relates it firstly to the novel's accessibility, stating that "Burney's success in creating the naïve and charming seventeen-year-old narrator ensured the popularity of heroine and novel not only among contemporaries but among successive generations of readers" (Doody 359-360). She then stresses the importance of Burney's strategy in narrating the novel both through Evelina's eyes and her private letters which provided (and continue to provide of course) readers with direct access to the story's events and characters. Furthermore, Doody analyzes the relevant presence of Evelina in most current university courses' reading lists, linking it particularly to the novel's feature of being "traditionally the most canonical of novels by eighteenth-century women" (Doody 61). In this way, Burney's Evelina was conceived by late twentieth-century scholars as "happily familiar and yet freshly exciting" (Doody 61), for it offered them new issues to argue about thus becoming a young, classic novel appropriate for many generations of readers.
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