Frances Burney

Peter Sabor and Hilary Havens

in British and Irish Literature

ISBN: 9780199846719
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:
Frances Burney

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Frances Burney (b. 1752–d. 1840), the third child of the famous musicologist Dr. Charles Burney and his wife, Esther Sleepe Burney, was born in King’s Lynn, Norfolk. Before her eighth birthday the family moved to London, where she began writing journals, plays, and a novel, all voluntarily destroyed in 1767 on her fifteenth birthday. In 1768 she resumed her journal writing, and in 1778 she published her first novel, Evelina, anonymously. The revelation of its authorship brought Burney immediate fame and led to her friendships with Samuel Johnson and members of his circle, including David Garrick and Hester Thrale. When her first play, The Witlings, was suppressed at the urging of her father and a family friend, Samuel Crisp, she began work on her second novel, Cecilia, published to great acclaim in 1782. After an abortive courtship by George Cambridge, in 1786 she accepted a position at court as Keeper of the Robes to Queen Charlotte. Here, embittered by the harshness of her domineering colleague Elizabeth Schwellenberg, she endured an unhappy existence until 1791. In 1793 she married Alexandre d’Arblay, an aristocratic but penniless French refugee in England; their only child, Alexander, was born in 1795. She wrote her third novel, Camilla (1796), to provide an inheritance for their son and to build their home, Camilla Cottage, at Norbury Park, the seat of her friends the Lockes. Burney and her husband lived in France from 1802 to 1812, interned there by Napoleon. She was also in France in 1814–1815, recording in her journals the final stages of the Napoleonic wars. French and English relations are major themes in her final novel, The Wanderer (1814). Widowed in 1818, she lived in London for the remainder of her life, publishing the autobiographical Memoirs of Doctor Burney in 1832. In addition to her novels, Burney is distinguished for her dramatic writing and her journals and letters. She wrote four comic dramas and four tragedies. None of these was published, and only one, the tragedy Edwy and Elgiva, was produced during her lifetime. Burney’s journals and letters, written over a seventy-year period from 1768 to 1839, are renowned for their remarkable range and variety, and for her ability to bring the world around her to life.

Article.  10388 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (British and Irish)

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