Acquisitions (97): Fanny Burney

Fanny Burney. The Diary and Letters of Madame D'Arblay (Frances Burney). 1842-46. 3 vols. Ed. W. C. Ward. Prefaced by Lord Macaulay's Essay. The Cream of the Diarists and Memoir Writers. London: Vizetelly & Co., 1890-91.
  1. 1778-1787 (1890)
  2. 1787-1792 (1891)
  3. 1792-1840 (1891)

Fanny Burney: Evelina (1778)


No, not Fanny Hill - Fanny Burney. One's the heroine of a bawdy eighteenth-century novel - John Cleland's notorious Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (1749) - the other an ultra-respectable novelist and diarist whose meteoric career did a good deal to inspire the young Jane Austen, some twenty years her junior.

Jane Austen (1775-1817)

In fact, the title of Austen's masterpiece Pride and Prejudice was very likely inspired by a passage towards the end of Burney's second novel Cecilia:
remember: if to pride and prejudice you owe your miseries, so wonderfully is good and evil balanced, that to pride and prejudice you will also owe their termination ...
So who exactly was Fanny Burney, and why has she receded so far from sight, as Jane Austen's star waxes ever brighter?

Fanny Burney: Cecilia (1782)

I recently came across a copy of an old edition of The Diary and Letters of Madame D'Arblay going cheap at a Hospice shop. I did vaguely remember that "Madame D'Arblay" was Fanny Burney's married name, so I decided to take a chance on it.

It's not the whole of her journal, by any means. As you can see from the bibliography below, the original (heavily censored) version of her Diary and Letters, edited by her niece, came out in seven volumes between 1842 and 1846. The most complete modern edition, in the Oxford English Texts series, occupies a staggering 26 volumes, and took over forty years to complete.

The three-volume edition I bought, in a series called, engagingly, "The Cream of the Diarists and Memoir Writers, was a selection of highlights from the 7-volume version by a Victorian editor named W. C. Ward. I have to say that I've got far more pleasure from it than I ever expected.

Nicholas Hytner, dir.: The Madness of King George (1994)

For a start, while I did know vaguely that she'd served as a lady-in-waiting at George III's court for a few years, I had no idea that she was there during the period of his first significant bout of madness, which she discusses at length in her journal.

Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

Nor did I have any idea how close a friend she'd been of Dr. Johnson and the other members of his circle: Sir Joshua Reynolds, David Garrick, Edmund Burke, Mrs. Thrale and all the rest.

Not that this was all due to her own celebrity as an author, mind you - her first novel, Evelina, appeared anonymously when she was in her mid-twenties, and was an immediate sensation - but it was her father, Dr Charles Burney, whose status as a well-known musician and musical historian meant that the family were accepted in the highest artistic and dramatic circles in London.

Sir Joshua Reynolds: Charles Burney (1726-1814)

Richard Brinsley Sheridan and the Austrian composer Joseph Haydn were both friends of Dr. Burney's, and Fanny's upbringing was therefore far more cosmopolitan and sophisticated than was usual for well-bred ladies at the time. Her genius as a writer was all her own, however.

So what exactly is the diary like? Here's a sample section, entitled "A Young and Agreeable Infidel", dated from Bath in 1780 or so, when the author was still in her twenties:
Miss W— is young and pleasing in her appearance, not pretty, but agreeable in her face, and soft, gentle, and well bred in her manners. Our conversation, for some time, was upon the common Bath topics; but when Mrs. Lambart left us — called to receive more company — we went insensibly into graver matters.

As I soon found, by the looks and expressions of this young lady that she was of a peculiar cast, I left all choice of subjects to herself, determined quietly to follow as she led; and very soon, and I am sure I know not how, we had for topics the follies and vices of mankind, and, indeed, she spared not for lashing them. The women she rather excused than defended, laying to the door of the men their faults and imperfections; but the men, she said, were all bad — all, in one word, and without exception, sensualists.

I stared much at a severity of speech for which her softness of manner had so ill prepared me; and she, perceiving my surprise, said,

“I am sure I ought to apologise for speaking my opinion to you — you, who have so just and so uncommon a knowledge of human nature. I have long wished ardently to have the honour of conversing with you; but your party has, altogether, been regarded as so formidable, that I have not had courage to approach it.”

I made — as what could I do else? — disqualifying speeches, and she then led to discoursing of happiness and misery: the latter she held to be the invariable lot of us all; and “one word,” she added, “we have in our language, and in all others, for which there is never any essential necessity, and that is pleasure!” And her eyes filled with tears as she spoke.

“How you amaze me!” cried I; “I have met with misanthropes before, but never with so complete a one; and I can hardly think I hear right when I see how young you are!”

She then, in rather indirect terms, gave me to understand that she was miserable at home, and in very direct terms, that she was wretched abroad; and openly said, that to affliction she was born, and in affliction she must die, for that the world was so vilely formed as to render happiness impossible for its inhabitants.

There was something in this freedom of repining that I could by no means approve, and, as I found by all her manner that she had a disposition to even respect whatever I said, I now grew very serious, and frankly told her that I could not think it consistent with either truth or religion to cherish such notions.

“One thing,” answered she, “there is, which I believe might make me happy, but for that I have no inclination: it is an amorous disposition; but that I do not possess. I can make myself no happiness by intrigue.”

“I hope not, indeed!” cried I, almost confounded by her extraordinary notions and speeches; “but, surely, there are worthier objects of happiness attainable!”

“No, I believe there are not, and the reason the men are happier than us, is because they are more sensual!”

“I would not think such thoughts,” cried I, clasping my hands with an involuntary vehemence, “for worlds!”

The Misses C— then interrupted us, and seated themselves next to us; but Miss W— paid them little attention at first, and soon after none at all; but, in a low voice, continued her discourse with me, recurring to the same subject of happiness and misery, upon which, after again asserting the folly of ever hoping for the former, she made this speech,

“There may be, indeed, one moment of happiness, which must be the finding one worthy of exciting a passion which one should dare own to himself. That would, indeed, be a moment worth living for! but that can never happen — I am sure not to me — the men are so low, so vicious, so worthless! No, there is not one such to be found!”

What a strange girl! I could do little more than listen to her, from surprise at all she said.

“If, however,” she continued, “I had your talents I could, bad as this world is, be happy in it. There is nothing, there is nobody I envy like you. With such resources as yours there can never be ennui; the mind may always be employed, and always be gay! Oh, if I could write as you write!”

“Try,” cried I, “that is all that is wanting! try, and you will soon do much better things!”

“O no! I have tried, but I cannot succeed.”

“Perhaps you are too diffident. But is it possible you can be serious in so dreadful an assertion as that you are never happy? Are you sure that some real misfortune would not show you that your present misery is imaginary?”

“I don't know,” answered she, looking down, “perhaps it is so, — but in that case 'tis a misery so much the harder to be cured.”

“You surprise me more and more,” cried I; “is it possible you can so rationally see the disease of a disordered imagination, and yet allow it such power over your mind?”

“Yes, for it is the only source from which I draw any shadow of felicity. Sometimes when in the country, I give way to my imagination for whole days, and then I forget the world and its cares, and feel some enjoyment of existence.”

“Tell me what is then your notion of felicity? Whither does your castle-building carry you?”

“O, quite out of the world — I know not where, but I am surrounded with sylphs, and I forget everything besides.”

“Well, you are a most extraordinary character, indeed; I must confess I have seen nothing like you!”

“I hope, however, I shall find something like myself, and, like the magnet rolling in the dust, attract some metal as I go.”

“That you may attract what you please, is of all things the most likely; but if you wait to be happy for a friend resembling yourself, I shall no longer wonder at your despondency.”

“Oh!” cried she, raising her eyes in ecstasy, “could I find such a one! — male or female — for sex would be indifferent to me. With such a one I would go to live directly.”

I half laughed, but was perplexed in my own mind whether to be sad or merry at such a speech.

“But then,” she continued, “after making, should I lose such a friend, I would not survive.”

“Not survive?” repeated I, “what can you mean?”

She looked down, but said nothing.

“Surely you cannot mean,” said I, very gravely indeed, “to put a violent end to your life.”

“I should not,” said she, again looking up, “hesitate a moment.”

I was quite thunderstruck, and for some time could not say a word; but when I did speak, it was in a style of exhortation so serious and earnest, I am ashamed to write it to you, lest you should think it too much.

She gave me an attention that was even respectful, but when I urged her to tell me by what right she thought herself entitled to rush unlicensed on eternity, she said, “By the right of believing I shall be extinct.” I really felt horror-struck.

“Where, for heaven's sake,” I cried, “where have you picked up such dreadful reasoning?”

“In Hume,” said she; “I have read his Essays repeatedly.”

“I am sorry to find they have power to do so much mischief; you should not have read them, at least till a man equal to Hume in abilities had answered him. Have you read any more infidel writers?”

“Yes, Bolingbroke, the divinest of all writers.”

“And do you read nothing upon the right side?”

“Yes, the bible, till I was sick to death of it, every Sunday evening to my mother.”

Have you read Beattie on the Immutability of Truth?"


“Give me leave then to recommend it to you. After Hume's Essays you ought to read it. And even for lighter reading, if you were to look at Mason's 'Elegy on Lady Coventry,' it might be of no disservice to you.”

This was the chief of our conversation, which indeed made an impression upon me I shall not easily get rid of. A young and agreeable infidel is even a shocking sight, and with her romantic, flighty, and unguarded turn of mind, what could happen to her that could give surprise?

Allan Ramsay: David Hume (1711-1776)

If it seems extraordinary that anyone could keep a diary in such an elaborate, novelistic way, all one can say it that it seems that she did. And it does get hold of you after a while. The scenes are really scenes, the conversations (whether accurately reported or not) as fully formed as any of those in her fiction.

She does come across as a bit prim and proper, one must admit, but she reports on such an extraordinary parade of grotesques that one senses, at times, a bit of a side-long gleam in her eye.

And then, the diary wasn't really meant just for her: her sister Susanna was its ostensible auditor, along with (no doubt) the rest of her family. So it was from the beginning at least a semi-public document.

The fact remains, though, she went almost everywhere, she met almost everyone, she recorded her views on them - along with samples of their conversation - almost as assiduously as Boswell himself. She is, in short, one of the most interesting commentators on late eighteenth / early nineteenth century English society one can imagine.
To have some account of my thoughts, manners, acquaintance and actions, when the hour arrives in which time is more nimble than memory, is the reason which induces me to keep a journal: a journal in which I must confess my every thought, must open my whole heart!
While I can't imagine that I'll ever have the opportunity to read through all of the unexpurgated text of the Oxford English Texts edition, this Victorian abridgement contains enough of the flavour of the original to keep me reading it day after day ...

Fanny Burney: Journals and Letters (12 vols, 1972-1984)

Edward Francis Burney: Portrait of Madame D’Arblay (Fanny Burney) (1873)

Frances [Fanny] Burney, Madame d’Arblay

Books I own are marked in bold:

  1. The History of Caroline Evelyn [ms. destroyed by author] (1767)
  2. Evelina: Or The History of A Young Lady's Entrance into the World (1778)
    • Evelina. 1778. Introduction by Ernest Rhys. 1909. Everyman’s Library, 352. London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd. / New York: E. P. Dutton & Co. Inc., 1951.
    • Evelina, or The History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World. 1778. Ed. Edward A. Bloom, with Lillian D. Bloom. 1968. The World’s Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.
  3. Cecilia: Or, Memoirs of an Heiress (1782)
  4. Camilla: Or, A Picture of Youth (1796)
    • Camilla, or A Picture of Youth. 1796. Ed. Edward A. Bloom & Lillian D. Bloom. 1972. The World’s Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983.
  5. The Wanderer: Or, Female Difficulties (1814)

  6. Plays:

  7. The Witlings [satirical comedy] (1779)
  8. Edwy and Elgiva [verse tragedy] (1790 - produced 1795)
  9. Hubert de Vere [verse tragedy] (c. 1788–91)
  10. The Siege of Pevensey [verse tragedy] (c. 1788–91)
  11. Elberta [verse tragedy] (1788–91?)
  12. Love and Fashion [satirical comedy] (1799)
  13. The Woman Hater [satirical comedy] (1800–01)
  14. A Busy Day [satirical comedy] (1800–01)

  15. Non-fiction:

  16. Brief Reflections Relative to the French Emigrant Clergy (1793)
  17. Memoirs of Doctor Burney (1832)

  18. Journals and letters:

  19. Diary and Letters of Madame d'Arblay, 1778-1840. 7 vols. Ed. Charlotte Barrett (1842–46)
  20. The Early Diary of Frances Burney, 1768–1778. 2 vols. Ed. Annie Raine Ellis (1889)
    • The Early Diary: 1768-1778. Ed. Annie Raine Ellis. 1889. 2 vols. 1907. Bohn’s Popular Library. London: G. Bell & Sons, Ltd., 1913.
  21. The Diary and Letters of Madame D'Arblay (Frances Burney). 3 vols. Ed. W. C. Ward (1890-91)
    • The Diary and Letters of Madame D'Arblay (Frances Burney). 1842-46. Ed. W. C. Ward. Prefaced by Lord Macaulay's Essay. The Cream of the Diarists and Memoir Writers. London: Vizetelly & Co., 1890-91.
      • Vol. 1: 1778-1787 (1890)
      • Vol. 2: 1787-1792 (1891)
      • Vol. 3: 1792-1840 (1891)
  22. The Diary and Letters of Madame d'Arblay. Ed. Austin Dobson (1904)
  23. Dr. Johnson & Fanny Burney. Ed. Chauncy Brewster Tinker (1912)
  24. The Diary of Fanny Burney. Ed. Lewis Gibbs (1971)
  25. The Early Journals and Letters of Fanny Burney, 1768–1786. 6 vols. Ed. Lars Troide, Stewart Cooke & Betty Rizzo (1988-2015)
  26. The Journals and Letters of Fanny Burney (Madame d'Arblay), 1791–1840. 12 vols. Ed. Joyce Hemlow, Patricia Boutilier, Althea Douglas, Edward A. & Lillian D. Bloom, Peter Hughes, Warren Derry, & Patricia Hawkins (1972–1984)
  27. Frances Burney: Journals and Letters. Ed. Peter Sabor, Lars E. Troide, & Victoria Kortes-Papp (2001)
  28. The Court Journals and Letters of Frances Burney (1786-1781). 6 vols. Ed. Peter Sabor, Stewart J. Cooke, Lorna J. Clark, Geoffrey Sill, & Nancy Johnson (2011–2019)
  29. The Additional Journals and Letters of Frances Burney. 2 vols. Ed. Stewart J. Cooke, Elaine Bander, & Peter Sabor (2015–2018)

  30. Secondary:

  31. Harman, Claire. Fanny Burney: A Biography. 2000. Flamingo. London: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001.

Patrick J. Vaz: O Internet, I love you so! (2012)

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