Fanny Burney Texts
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Fanny Burney was born in Kings Lynn in 1752, the third of six children. Her father, Charles Burney, was a musician and historian of music. Her father moved back to London in 1760 when Fanny was eight years old. Her mother died two years later in 1862.
Fanny Burney was an observant, shy child; only learning to read after her younger sister, Susan, to whom she was particularly close. Having learned to read, she became an incessant writer. When she was fifteen, she had a big bonfire of her early stories, poems, songs and plays (including an early draft of Evelina) much to Susan's distress. She had served her apprenticeship as a writer, one might say.
Evelina was published anonymously in 1778. It is a novel written in letters. And when her authorship became known, it brought her fame. Evelina had at least eighteen editions during Fanny Burney's lifetime and was a great success and talking point; admired by famous figures such as Sir Joshua Reynolds, Edmund Burke and Dr. Johnson. Later, Fanny Burney was also to be an important influence on Jane Austen. Fanny Burney's second novel, Cecilia, was published in 1782.
The publication of her novels brought Fanny Burney into a wider and more influential social circle. It led eventually to her being offered the post of Keeper of the Robes to Queen Charlotte in 1786. This was a mixed blessing. It gave her financial security and eventually a pension but it was hardly a suitable employment for a writer.
However, part of Fanny Burney's charm is that she makes the most of all situations even when she would not ideally have chosen these for herself. And many of the insights that we now have of George III's court life, including his period of madness, were provided by Fanny Burney's sympathetic and balanced accounts contained in her diaries of the period. She manages to understate her own unhappiness in her court role and seems to have had a genuine fondness for the King and Queen, if not for some of the other Royal Servants!
Increasingly, at court, Fanny Burney missed her friends and family and she eventually became ill and resigned in 1791 after five years. She left on good terms with the royal family and Queen Charlotte awarded her a pension of half her salary. This enabled her to continue writing and also to support the husband she married in 1793 in both a Protestant and Catholic ceremony. Alexandre d'Arblay was an émigré from the French revolution and required Fanny Burney's financial and emotional support. Their only son, Alexander, was born in 1794.
Fanny Burney continued to write plays, diaries, a memoir of her father and two more novels; publishing Camilla in 1796 and The Wanderer in 1814. She lived both in France and England until her husband died in 1818 when she returned to England permanently.
She died in 1840 and an edited version of her journals was published that year to great public interest. Her reputation today, both as a novelist and diarist, has probably never been greater. Her natural prose style, her self-effacing technique and her warmth of spirit is an enduring legacy.