Before Jane Austen, it was Fanny Burney’s (1752–1840) comedies of manners that satirically exposed the hypocrisy of society and examined a woman’s position in it. Though she was a commercial and critical success in her own lifetime, she has since been eclipsed by the achievements of her successors, such as Austen and William Makepeace Thackeray. Burney’s influence on Austen was so great the title for Pride and Prejudice was taken from her novel Cecilia.
Evelina (published 1778), Burney’s first novel, was written in secret and published anonymously with the help of her brother. The story is about a young woman who has grown up believing she has been disowned and disinherited by her aristocratic father and traces her awkward entrance into society, told through a series of letters. Like Burney, who was educated at home - because she was deemed by her father to be less attractive and intelligent than her sisters who were sent to Paris to study - Evelina has also had a sheltered upbringing and is unprepared for the world in which she finds herself.
The book in the photograph was published by Macmillian in 1903 with illustrations by Hugh Thompson who was one of the most celebrated and prolific Victorian illustrators.
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