Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Frances Burney's first three novels, Evelina, Cecilia, and Camilla, are the works of an author at war with herself and those around her. While Evelina speaks and acts mainly according to the advice of her male guardians, Burney's later heroines begin to develop a sense of independence. The pitfalls of relying too much on male advice (only hinted at in Evelina) are developed in Cecilia, where the heroine is threatened by virtually every man around her. The idea that men can be dangerous to women, both physically and psychologically, is further expanded upon in Camilla where the members of the novel's oppressive society (including the "hero") watch obsessively over the heroine until she is driven to the brink of death.
When examining the novels of Frances Burney it is difficult to ignore the life of the author herself. As Julia Epstein writes, "Women novelists of the last decades of the eighteenth century and the first decades of the nineteenth produced an imaginative literature of resistance and refusal along both class and gender lines" (Iron Pen 218). Burney's novels certainly qualify as "imaginative literature of resistance and refusal." In her personal and literary life,Frances often felt troubled. She desired to abide by the wishes of the men in her life (especially her father) and yet as she matured, becoming more familiar with fashionable society, she began to question her role within that society. She found, to her dismay, that the woman and author she wished to become did not necessarily coincide with her father's ideal of who and what his "Fanny" would be.
Frances thus began to concern herself increasingly with the issue of female independence--and to admire women who had achieved this seemingly elusive goal. This process of change in Burney's personal views comes across in her novels, where her heroines progressively strain for a sense of purpose, of autonomy. Though all her heroines are somewhat reconciled to the patriarchal world in the end, their trips there are exhausting and painful. This exhaustion and pain linger within the heroines until the very end, serving to undermine and question the "traditional" ending in which the heroine gets her hero and lives happily ever after.
MacQueen, Jessica, "From Dependence to Autonomy: The Concurrent progression of Frances Burney and her Heroines" (1997). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 7084.
McMaster University Library