Archive for the ‘Book Beat’ Category

Fanny Burney’s “Evelina”

Literate upper class American women often occupied their time in the latter part of the eighteenth century in reading romantic novels. See previous post on this subject. One popular novel making the rounds was Evelina by the Englishwoman Frances “Fanny” Burney. An epistolary novel, it tells the story of a young lady’s entrance into the world through a series of letters. In the original preface the author describes her purpose and method.

To draw characters from nature, though not from life, and to mark the manners of the times, is the attempted plan of the following letters. For this purpose, a young female, educated in the most secluded retirement, makes, at the age of seventeen, her first appearance upon the great and busy stage of life; with a virtuous mind, a cultivated understanding, and a feeling heart, her ignorance of the forms, and inexperience in the manners of the world, occasion all the little incidents which these volumes record, and which form the natural progression of the life of a young woman of obscure birth, but conspicuous beauty, for the first six months after her Entrance into the world.

Burney goes on to defend her own and other novels that had become so popular with young women.

Perhaps, were it possible to effect the total extirpation of novels, our young ladies in general, and boarding-school damsels in particular, might profit from their annihilation; but since the distemper they have spread seems incurable, since their contagion bids defiance to the medicine of advice or reprehension, and since they are found to baffle all the mental art of physic, save what is prescribed by the slow regimen of Time, and bitter diet of Experience; surely all attempts to contribute to the number of those which may be read, if not with advantage, at least without injury, ought rather to be encouraged than contemned.

Let me, therefore, prepare for disappointment those who, in the perusal of these sheets, entertain the gentle expectation of being transported to the fantastic regions of Romance, where Fiction is coloured by all the gay tints of luxurious Imagination, where Reason is an outcast, and where the sublimity of the Marvellous rejects all aid from sober Probability. The heroine of these memoirs, young, artless, and inexperienced, is “No faultless Monster that the world ne’er saw; but the offspring of Nature, and of Nature in her simplest attire.”

In the preface to The Journals and Letters of Francis Burney Burney describes what she tried to do (pages 2-3).

Perhaps this may seem rather a bold attempt and title, for a female whose knowledge of the world is very confined, and whose inclinations, as well as situation, incline her to a private and domestic life. All I can urge is, that I have only presumed to trace the accidents and adventures to which a “young woman” is liable; I have not pretended to show the world what it actually is, but what it appears to a girl of seventeen; and so far as that, surely any girl who is past seventeen may safely do.

Why not click on this link to Evelina and sample what so interested women readers of the time. Burney’s portrait ca. 1784-84 is at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

posted November 26th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Book Beat,Burney, Frances "Fanny",Entertainments

“The Parrot is beautiful …”

I have just finished reading a new children’s book called Snowball The Dancing Cockatoo by Sy Montgomery, with illustrations by Judith Oksner, who happens to be a friend. It may be that you have seen a video that went viral: Snowball dancing to the Back Street Boys or Snowball in the commercial for Geico with the gecko. Seems that Snowball dances in sync to the beat in whatever music he hears: rock, polkas, you name it. Scientists have tested the bird and confirmed its ability to do this, an ability previously thought to be unique to humans. Snowball lives at Bird Lovers Only Rescue Service, Inc., a not-for-profit bird rescue and sanctuary in Indiana.

Snowball reminded me of a letter from Cornelia Clinton, the daughter of New York Governor George Clinton, to the man she was in love with, French diplomat Edmond Genêt. Known as Citizen Genêt, he was busy trying to stir up private support for the French in spite of the official American policy of neutrality. During their courtship, Cornelia thanked Genêt for a gift he had sent: “The Parrot is beautiful and as a gift of yours will claim a share in my affections … I shall take great pleasure in hearing it say I love you Genêt.”

New York Government House Decr 18 1793Let my Prompt answer to your letter express to you the pleasure the reciept of it gave me, tho I assure you I did not want that to recall you to my memory—you have never since your departure been absent from my thoughts. … those Democratic principles [you value] serve but to endear you to me, for notwithstanding your worth I do not think I could have been attached to you had you been any thing but a Republican—support that Character to the end as you have begun, and let what may happen you, your friends in New York will never forsake you.

My Father does not forget you for we drink to your health every Day. … I regard your happiness too much to wish to see you at the risk of your honor or that of your Country, but at the same time I will promise you a kind reception from your Cornelia when you do come … my Brother [George Washington Clinton] is your Friend and wishes success to your Country, he Declares if France should not be succesfull he will go crazy—his heart is rapt up in the cause of Liberty. Cornelia

Cornelia married Genêt on November 6, 1794 with her father’s blessing, as well as £2,000.

Cornelia’s letter appears on page 188-89 of In the Words of Women. The illustration of Cornelia Clinton can be found in The Republican Court, or, American Society in the Days of Washington, new and rev. ed. (New York, 1856), plate opposite 295. You can buy the Snowball book HERE. All of the proceeds go to the rescue service.

posted March 4th, 2013 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Book Beat,Courtship,French Revolution

Everything’s up to date in Kansas City

We three authors/editors of In the Words of Women attended a conference of the Nation Council for History Education in Kansas City, Missouri, from March 22nd to 24th. The topic was the use of primary source materials in social studies and history classes. The title of our segment was “(Say,) Can a Woman’s Voice an Audience Gain?” (The words are by poet Annis Boudinot Stockton, 1736-1801.) The PowerPoint presentation explained how we found and chose material for the book, identified some of the pleasures and problems we encountered in our research, and highlighted several primary sources by women with suggestions for how they could be used effectively in the classroom. It was well received. Teachers were pleased to learn about a compilation of letters and documents that would enable them to explore with their students the roles women played in the Revolution: what they thought and felt and endured. Naturally we attended various sessions to see what other professionals and institutions had to offer. The main speaker was Professor Eric Foner of Columbia University who discussed his recent book, The Fiery Trial, Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery.

As time allowed we explored Kansas City and were impressed by its new architecture, fountains, elevated pedestrian walkways, and a variety of museums. We admired the ceiling of Union Station, visited the National World War I Museum, and spent hours at the famed Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art with the whimsical Claes Oldenburg shuttlecock sculptures. We returned to the East Coast elated and energized.

posted April 2nd, 2012 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Book Beat

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