Saturday, March 12, 2016

he could not bear to have the pleasing reflections revolving in his mind

Going from Evelina, 1778, to Cecilia, 1782, and to Camilla, 1796, you notice that the sentences have become longer, more leisurely, and more packed: short stories closed inside them –

Charmed with the youthful nurse, and seeing in her unaffected attitudes, a thousand graces he had never before remarked, and reading in her fondness for children the genuine sweetness of her character, he could not bear to have the pleasing reflections revolving in his mind interrupted by the spleen of Miss Margland, and, slipping away, posted himself behind the baby's father, where he could look on undisturbed, certain it was a vicinity to which Miss Margland would not follow him.

-that from a page picked at random – her style getting farther away from the one that Samuel Crisp asked her to use in her letters to him when she was young, in a note to her during the winter of 1773, “Dash away, whatever comes uppermost – the sudden sallies of imagination clap’d down on paper, just as they arise, are worth Folios”—that is the character Evelina’s mode of letter-writing, though she never knew Crisp and he never wrote to her – but by Camilla the sallies are Folios: pages 291 – 293 of my 1972 Oxford edition are filled with the information that Edgar loves Camilla, which we have already heard more than once. How many more times are we going to hear it? I am up to page 367* and the story ends on 913. The author has become a scanning eye across a multitude: the secondaries can wander off and hold conversations of their own, she’ll follow them, going from one character to another and stopping and rounding them up for a head-count.

Miss Margland screamed, and hid her face with her hands. Indiana, taught by her lessons to nourish every fear as becoming, shriekt still louder, and ran swiftly away, deaf to all that Edgar, who attended her, could urge. Eugenia, to whom Bellamy instantly hastened, seeing the beast furiously make towards the gate, almost unconsciously accepted his assistance, to accelerate her flight from its vicinity; while Dr. Orkborne, intent upon his annotations, calmly wrote on, sensible there was some disturbance, but determining to evade inquiring whence it arose, till he had secured what he meant to transmit to posterity from the treachery of his memory. Camilla, the least frightened, because the most enured to such sounds, from the habits and the instruction of her rural life and education, adhered firmly to Sir Hugh, who began blessing himself with some alarm; but whom Dr. Marchmont re-assured, by saying the gate was secured, and too high for the bull to leap, even supposing it a vicious animal.

Burney wants you to have your eyes on them all – why? for a reason? what reason? – to make them familiar? too familiar? -- “the latent springs,” she says, “the multifarious and contradictory sources of human actions and propensities” (what is the ending of Cecilia if it isn’t a Middlemarch that doesn’t know what it is?)-- what are they doing? how are they positioned in space? how are they acting? what do they think about other people’s friends?

Mr. Tyrold, according to the system of recreation which he had settled with his wife, saw with satisfaction the pleasure with which Camilla began this new acquaintance, in the hope it would help to support her spirits during the interval of suspense with regard to the purposes of Mandlebert. Mrs. Arlbery [the new acquaintance] was unknown to him, except by general fame; which told him she was a woman of reputation as well as fashion, and that though her manners were lively, her heart was friendly, and her hand ever open to charity.

The reader has heard similar news about Mrs Arlbery before. I am reading a reprint of the first edition, which was written under pressure: words were left out of sentences when the book went to the printers, and serious revisions waited for the second and third editions. “Fanny finished the book – which is about 350, 000 words long – in a period of two years that also included the birth of her child and her subsequent illness.” Fanny Burney: a Biography, 2000, Claire Harmon. The repetition, then, those long expositions, they were physically written to Crisp’s instructions, “clap’d down on paper,” “whatever comes uppermost” – not spiritually written like that though, and when I say spirit of course I mean style.

* It changes.


  1. you're going to think i'm nuts, but... now i know where p.g. wodehouse got his inspiration! she really (fanny)seems like a bubbly sort of person who takes a lot of joy out of life...

    1. The bubbliness seems to come through most in her private writing, and parts of it are on Project Gutenberg as "The Diary and Letters of Madame D'Arblay", if you ever want to try her.

      "Oct. 30.—Lady Warren is immensely tall, and extremely beautiful; she is now but just nineteen, though she has been married two or three years. She is giddy, gay, chatty, good-humoured, and a little affected; she hazards all that occurs to her, seems to think the world at her feet, and is so young and gay and handsome that she is not much mistaken ... Marriages being talked of, "I'll tell you," cried she, "a story; that is, it sha'n't be a story, but a fact. A lady of my acquaintance, who had 50,000L. fortune, ran away to Scotland with a gentleman she liked vastly; so she was a little doubtful of him, and had a mind to try him: so when they stopped to dine, and change horses, and all that, she said, 'Now, as I have a great regard for you, I dare say you have for me—so I will tell you a secret: I have got no fortune at all, in reality, but only 5,000 pounds; for all the rest is a mere pretence: but if you like me for myself, and not for my fortune, you won't mind that.' So the gentleman said, 'Oh, I don't regard it at all, and you are the same charming angel that ever you was,' and all those sort of things that people say to one, and then went out to see about the chaise. So he did not come back; but when dinner was ready, the lady said 'Pray, where is he?' 'Lor, ma'am,' said they, 'why, that gentleman has been gone ever so long!' So she came back by herself; and now she's married to somebody else, and has her 50,000 pounds fortune all safe.""

  2. i did read a dent publication several years back; i think it was her diaries; but it gave me a good idea of what she was like... now i'm determined to read one, or more, of her novels. which would you recommend?

    1. Evelina. It's more coherent than the others.