Frances Burney’s novel, Evelina, forces readers to penetrate Evelina’s private thoughts and become entitled critics the same way Mr. Villars was. Evelina shows a need for male guidance in her letters as a societal expectation. Mr. Villars says he wants to protect her “innocence” (254), but his actual intention is for her to stay with him forever. Villars finds power in being the only man fit to conduct her. However, later, she develops an awareness of the patriarchy and manipulates expectations in writing to alert men reading her letters and get what she wants.
Evelina begins narrating letter VII by being honest that it had been “two days” (256) since she wrote in her “journal” (256). The tone tries to appeal to Mr. Villars’ attention with her use of innocent words like “Sweetly, most sweetly” (256) in the beginning. However, she still feels the need to prove herself an innocent young woman by claiming she could not be “exact” (256) in her journal. Eighteenth century women confess everything to men through letters, so Evelina is showing even more innocence by saying that. She says she was “too much engaged” (256) in other matters. This is her way of assuring Mr. Villars that he is still in charge of her. Evelina uses this innocence to narrate to Mr. Villars how men treat her. She describes to him Lord Orville who protects her from these predators to make him agreeable in every way, since Villars is in charge of her fate. However, Letter VI from Mr. Villars asks her to “quit” (255) Lord Orville on September 28, the same day she writes letter VII to him, so she has no idea he wants her to avoid him until letter IX on October 1st. She is in doubt about whether Lord Orville is “still himself” (229) or not until Letter II where she shows her happiness to Villars. Therefore, letter VII is only a continuation to show how civil Lord Orville is compared to how “brutal” (257) and “unmanly” (257) men like Mr. Coverley and Mr. Merton are.
Kinship in Evelina is her ultimate savior, while Mr.Villars, who does not truly care for Evelina’s future, is the antagonist. His greed guides him not his mind, and that is evident after he tells her to avoid Lord Orville (254) in letter VI. He doesn’t want to lose her. However, in letter VII, we see that Evelina becomes aware of that and uses her reason when communicating with the men around her— coming up with consistent explanations to show Mr. Villars the danger of being alone. For example, when the drunken Lord Merton “caught” (258) her hand as she tried to avoid him, no one made him let go of her until she wished for “a brother” (259). Evelina understands that the moment Luisa asks her brother to “walk in with” (259) her that respectful treatment comes from her kinship to men, nothing else. That is why she claims that if she “had a brother” (259) she would be treated better. Lord Orville hurriedly asks her to “allow him the honour of taking that title,” as if to gain control (259). Evelina includes the moment in the letter, so that Villars could approve him. But here, Burney is also foreshadowing Maccartney being her real brother in the end to stop Villars from having an overall say in her life because she does have a proper kin to guide her.
Eighteenth century writers had only been used to the natural horrors of reality in the beginning stages of fiction, but Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, the first gothic novel of the eighteenth century, challenged the status quo, according to E.J. Clery’s article, “The ‘Genesis’ of Gothic fiction.” Walpole claimed that “‘the great resources of fancy have been dammed up, by a strict adherence to common life (p. 9).’” As Clery explains, through believable emotions, Walpole was able to connect readers to improbable occurrences and let terror “circulate via processes of identification and projection” to create the Gothic novel, a new form of fiction at the time.
Any reader from any century identifies with characters in a novel, especially when their emotions seem quite realistic. For example, when Manfred finds his son dead— beholding “his child dashed to pieces” — readers assuredly empathize with him, even after finding out the son was “buried under an enormous helmet, a hundred times more large than any casque ever made for human being, and shaded with a proportionable quantity of black feathers” because death is death even if it’s an unrealistic death. Also, when looking at the distressed Matilda, an 18-year-old daughter despised by her father, any reader would feel for her, admire her kindness and strength, as her character is truly found in real life. Right after her brother’s death, she worries for her father and wants to comfort him, so as she was “just going to beg admittance… Manfred suddenly opened the door; and, as it was now twilight, concurring with the disorder of his mind, he did not distinguish the person, but asked angrily, who it was?” She replied, ‘“My dearest father, it is I, your daughter.” Because of Manfred’s inability to have another heir and his natural aversion for his daughter, he told her, “Begone! I do not want a daughter.’” This scene here compared to the death itself is natural and tells the story of a damsel in distress. Therefore, it’s evident that Walpole balances out the probability and improbability of an occurrence through truthful emotions, so that readers connect to a character without thinking of the unreality taking place.
The eighteenth century novel is also known for its directorial quality that was at first seen as representative of real life, but in Walpole’s novel, turns unrepresentative— only the lesson itself is. On page 7, Walpole reveals that the moral of the story is how “the sins of the fathers are visited on their children to the third and fourth generation,”— which is a reminder that your sins can negatively affect your children’s lives. Like Clery said, Walpole brings “divine punishment to bear on the heir of a usurper through the intervention of a vengeful ghost and assorted gargantuan pieces of armour”— resulting in the death of both his son and daughter. After reading the novel, readers may feel bad about their wrongdoings and want to repent. In fact, Manfred’s regret is almost a guiding force to do so. He says, “My story has drawn down these judgments: let my confession atone—but ah! what can atone for usurpation, and a murdered child! a child murdered in a consecrated place!—List, sirs, and may this bloody record be a warning to future tyrants!”
In her essay, “The Rise of Fictionality,” Catherine Gallagher attempts to “retrieve novelistic fictionality for analysis” and “explain why we have difficulty keeping it at the forefront of our attention, why it incessantly slips behind other features or disappears into terms like narrative and signification.” She suggests that the novel actually founded eighteenth century fiction and I definitely agree.
Gallagher explains that there are two forms to the novel— one that tried, “for at least two centuries, to hide its fictionality behind verisimilitude or realism, insisting on certain kinds of referentiality and even making extensive truth claims” and the other, a liberator of fictionality because eighteenth-century writers stopped trying to convince readers that their stories represented real life. According to Gallagher, “writers coaxed their readers to accept the imaginative status of their characters.” She writes that there were still restrictions upon fiction because the same novelists actually restrained and hid fictionality by barring it inside the boundaries of the credible. Therefore, “the novel, in short, is said both to have discovered and to have obscured fiction.” I agree, as we can clearly see the fiction in these novels, but back then most readers could not. At the time, art had to imitate reality, so the stories, no matter how fictitious, needed to mirror eighteenth century life or even become guidebooks. Fantomina by Eliza Haywood is probably one of the best examples of evident fiction of the time. Fantomina, an aristocratic young woman, disguises herself more than once to manipulate Bleaupasir, who not even once notices that she’s the same woman. We can obviously notice the fiction, but readers were expected to play along and believe the story to be true. And what truly allows the novel to mirror reality and make them accept it as so is the ending— when Fantomina becomes pregnant and is sent away— because that’s exactly what would happen to promiscuous women like her at the time.
Moreover, as Gallagher claims, the eighteenth century novel transformed from a referential to a non-referential form. Non-referentiality may have started at the same time, as Fantomina was written in 1725 and had no reference to real people. The reason no readers truly noticed that is because they had been trained to read the novel as the truth. It offered fictional moments even when it showcases reality without referring to real people. Gallagher says that between the time Defoe vowed that Robinson Crusoe was a real individual in 1720 and the time Henry Fielding tirelessly insisted that his characters did not represent real people in 1742, conversations about fictionality in relation to the novel arose, laying down new rules to identify it and new methods of “nonreference.” She says, the novel discovered fiction because “of this overt and articulated understanding” and that “what Fielding had that Defoe lacked was not an excuse for fictionality but a use for it as a special way of shaping knowledge through the fabrication of particulars.” Therefore, I agree that Feilding’s disclaimer really trained eighteenth century readers to read novels as fiction.
In Eliza Haywood’s Anti-Pamela, I couldn’t help but notice the likeness of qualities in parents and children of the same gender— which made me realize it’s completely in tune with the idea of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela.
Pamela’s honor was her top priority and saw her poverty as a “Witness of her honesty” and any economic gains from Mr. B— the “Price of [her] shame” (Richardson 79). She respected her parents, thinking as they do, and would rather live with them in poor conditions than bring shame to her name. This idea contradicts the character of Syrena, whose mother instilled in her an inclination to find a wealthy husband and after some point—her mother did not mind her becoming a mistress. Haywood describes Haywood’s birth as one that occurred “in very mean Circumstances.” Therefore, she was born out of marriage— and was “left entirely to the Care of a Parent, who had been a Woman of Intrigue in her Youth, was far from repenting what she had done; and one of the most subtil Mistresses in the Art of Decoying that ever was; the Girl was not out of her Bib and Apron, before she instructed her in Lessons, which she had the wicked Satisfaction to find, her Pupil knew not only how to observe, but also to improve” (Haywood 2). Syrene even surpasses the lessons by deceiving her mother at her own game and ultimately falling pregnant and ill due to it.
It seems that Haywood is presenting the influence parents have on their children. Syrena took over her mother’s role of decoying men and like her, does not repent, but rather continues manipulating to gain financially. As seen in her relationship with Vardine, her mother asked her to stop contacting him, but she pursued him “for expensive gifts”— and then asked for his money after losing her virginity to him and trusting him. But, he lied to her and she fell pregnant. Even after that experience that resulted in her illness, she was unafraid to search for another husband. Her obsession did not falter just as her mother’s didn’t. However, what’s so interesting about this story is that in the second part, we can see that Sir Thomas and his son Mr. L are also one and the same. In the Lady’s chamber, even though, Mr. L witnessed his own father attempting to rape Syrena, he tried to do the same, without clearly resenting his father’s actions or thinking of his mother. Syrena even admitted that she fears he has the same intentions as his father.
Finally, I did not think that Syrena would allow her act with Vardine to happen again with Mr. L due to her continuous fear of rape and was surprised when she allowed him to “gain the utmost of his Desires” and after that accuse him of rape to marry her (35). But, it was clearly leading to such a point when her mother kept telling her to pursue mostly Mr. L without totally disregarding Sir Thomas to see who could benefit her more. Haywood then ends it in mockery because Syrena, her mother, Sir Thomas and his son were all caught guilty and for the same reason— lack of honor.