Evelina Essay Questions

  1. 1

    How does Evelina evolve throughout the course of the novel?

    Evelina does not change a great deal as the novel progresses, unlike many characters in coming-of-age novels. She begins the novel an innocent and rustic young girl completely unaware of the rules of fashionable London society. As a result, she makes several errors at parties and social outings, and is embarrassed by the attention she receives from men. However, from the beginning, she endeavors to maintain her innocence, virtue, and reputation, and she ultimately achieves this goal. She does learn to navigate society better, talking less and observing more. Overall, however, she does not evince any great personal development or growth of character. She moves from the aegis of one man to another. She does not change a great deal, or become more insightful or intuitive. Most of the personality traits she possesses at the beginning of the novel are observable at its end, and her goal never significantly shifts.

  2. 2

    How does Burney's represent 18th century fashionable society?

    Burney seems to delight in depicting the bad manners and mores of those who populated London's upper crust in the 18th century. Lord Merton, Mr. Lovel, Lady Louisa, Mrs. Beaumont, and Sir Clement Willoughby exemplify bad behavior. It is amusing that Evelina, the "country girl," fresh and naive, is more virtuous and admirable than the people whom society most respects. Lord Merton is wasteful, cruel, licentious, misogynistic, and indomitable. He flirts with Evelina and treat his fiancee, Lady Louisa, terribly. He has no depth or virtue. Mr. Lovel garners Evelina's amusement for his fastidious dress and foppish behavior. Lady Louisa is cold and snobby, and affects a pronounced languor. Mrs. Beaumont associates noble birth with virtue, and touts it above all else. Sir Clement is a rake, pursuing Evelina until she is exhausted. He lies, plays cruel jokes on her grandmother, fakes a letter from Lord Orville, and remains unrepentant. Overall, these people are filled with vice and corruption, and it is Evelina's task to remain pure amongst them. There are, however, a few exceptions to the rule - Lord Orville is a monument to morality and kindness - but their personalities are difficult to believe considering how cynically Burney seems to view the fashionable world they inhabit.

  3. 3

    How are men depicted in the novel?

    The men in the novel vary widely in their characteristics and behavior. Lord Orville and Mr. Villars are somewhat similar in their traditional views, protectiveness, and admiration for Evelina's sweetness and wit. Both of them act as her guardian, believing that she needs one. They also do not care for the silliness and dissipation they observe in their peers. Most of the other men, however, are not so virtuous. Captain Mirvan is abominable in his crassness and misogynistic, xenophobic tendencies. He is embarrassing and mean, and is completely untameable. Other men in high society, like Lord Merton, Mr. Lovel, and Sir Clement Willoughby, are exemplars of vice, amorality, and lowness of character. They verbally and physically assault Evelina as they pursue her. Lord Merton wastes money, treats his fiancee abominably, and cares for no social rules. Mr. Lovel is all fanciness and foppery, revealing his superficiality at every turn. Sir Clement masks his predatory nature with his charm, but is actually a dangerous man. Even less accomplished men - like Mr. Smith and Monsieur Du Bois - cause problems for her through their lust and pursuits. Evelina has to learn to deal with these men, and, unlike other 18th century heroines, does so with great success.

  4. 4

    What does the character of Mrs. Selwyn suggest about gender in the 18th century?

    Mrs. Selwyn is a very unique female character in the novel. She does not have a husband and is thus free to order her life as she chooses: she can go where she pleases, say what she wants, and rely on no one but herself. She is satirical and ironic, delighting in forthrightness and biting insight. She pokes fun at the negative characteristics of those around her, thereby holding them accountable for their ridiculousness. All of this makes her somewhat unlikeable to the other characters; even Evelina is embarrassed by her at times. However, she demonstrates remarkable perspicacity and intellect, and is one of the few sensible people populating the novel. Evelina may be discomfited by her meddling, but she benefits from its example. Burney does not seem to feel one way or the other about her interesting character. Mrs. Selwyn is represented as an object of mockery and is indeed somewhat annoying, but her insights are valuable, and her life seems far more interesting than those of Evelina, Lady Louisa, and Miss Mirvan. What virtues she possesses come at the cost of her femininity - she is viewed as lacking certain expected feminine qualities, a liability even if it is a valuable one.

  5. 5

    Describe the novel's form, structure, tone, and setting.

    Burney chose to write her first novel in epistles, and thus the novel is referred to as an epistolary novel. Multiple characters maintain a dialogue through their letters. This multitude of perspectives allows Burney to explore the whole world, and not just one character's perspective of it. Evelina's letters, which make up the bulk of the novel, are more diary-like than those of the others. Reading her letters at length almost makes the reader feel like s/he is reading a traditional first-person novel. The work is also organized into three volumes, each of which represent a different stage in Evelina's coming out. This parallels her basic movement from one world to another - she moves from Mr. Villars to Lord Orville, innocence to (some) experience, the country to London, etc. The novel's tone is generally lighthearted and amusing, with Burney delighting in dialogue as well as descriptions. The novel's setting is compelling for modern readers, as it provides insight into the entertainments and culture of the 18th century fashionable London elite. Characters are taken to the theater, the opera, the pleasure gardens, the hot springs, and fancy houses. Through Evelina's eyes, the vivid setting is at times exciting, unsettling, enervating, and exhausting.

  6. 6

    What does Burney suggest is the nature of a woman's role in society?

    It is tempting to look at Evelina as a sort of bildungsroman, since the heroine undergoes a veritable coming of age. However, it does not truly fall within that literary genre, for Evelina's growth is limited by her gender. Burney suggests that a woman is limited to existing under the protection of a man. Her agency is meant for no more than navigating the pitfalls of social events, and maintaining her reputation. Evelina moves from one protector to another; she never truly achieves autonomy or self-definition. Lord Orville becomes her new Mr. Villars. She does not pursue greater education, and certainly could never attain a profession. She is mostly noticed because she is beautiful, although her wit and intuitiveness later become attractive to Lord Orville. She spends most of her time fending off the advances of men, and doing the best she can to maintain at least the appearance of her innocence. Her reputation is the thing she worries about the most, because it is truthfully her most valuable asset. Thus, a woman was something of a commodity, who must maintain her delicacy and reputation so as to be valuable for marriage. Burney suggests that this is not an easy life, but never truly lays out any major criticisms of this prevailing reality. She seems to accept it even as she explores the torture it can cause.

  7. 7

    Is the novel merely "entertaining," as many critics suggest, or does it also possess deeper value?

    Many critics laud Evelina for being entertaining, and claim that it is devoid of larger value. This is not entirely fair. It is true that the novel is easy to read and is highly amusing: the prose is light and lucid, the characters and situations ridiculous and hilarious. There are no major tragedies or any real political, religious, or philosophical insights. It would be easy to write this novel off as a sub-par Jane Austen novel. However, Evelina is indeed valuable for what it implicitly reveals to the reader about the nature of gender, marriage, and social behavior in the 18th century. It clearly relates the dangers that young women faced while navigating the confusing and treacherous world of rules and codes of conduct. Those challenges were not only difficult, but often dangerous. The novel also provides a look at 18th century London itself. Research confirms the historical reality of the places, events, ideas, beliefs, and behaviors related in Burney's first novel. Evelina serves as a proxy for the modern reader, who approaches 18th century London with a tourist's eyes, completely unfamiliar with the sights, sounds, and underlying structures of this world. Thus, the novel does have social and historical value even though it does not call attention to these aspects of itself.

  8. 8

    How are the pleasure gardens a metaphor?

    The pleasure gardens are a metaphor for the overall journey Evelina must travel in the novel. They are lovely, exciting, and entertaining, but they are also dark, and filled with surprises and potential pitfalls. There are people within them that seek to take advantage of Evelina and sully her reputation. She is terrified, but determined to extricate herself from them. At the end of one of the pleasure garden adventures, she finds a savior in the form of Lord Orville. He of course serves as her overall savior when he marries her despite her (seemingly) low birth, and commits to warding off the many dangers she faces.

  9. 9

    How do the Branghtons demonstrate their ill-breeding?

    Evelina shows her perceptiveness through her criticism of the Branghtons. Her very first descriptions of them focus on their snootiness, superficiality, and silliness. Later, they reveal their ill-breeding at the opera; Mr. Branghton does not know how much to pay, they have to sit in bad seats, they laugh at inappropriate places, they mock Evelina for enjoying herself, and they complain about its length. They are all loud and rude, airing their opinions without discernment, even though those opinions are on insignificant topics like who is the eldest among them. They also show little respect when they use Evelina's name to procure Lord Orville's carriage, and when they ignore Macartney's true sorrow. Overall, Evelina captures the profound lack of social graces to be found in her kinsmen.

  10. 10

    What purpose does the Macartney plot line serve?

    Some readers have wondered what purpose the Macartney plot line serves; it could easily be removed without endangering the novel's structure, and has a different tone. However, this sub-plot is extremely important. First, it gives Evelina a chance to demonstrate that her innocence, delicacy, and sensibility are more than mere convention or artifice; when she goes into his private room to stop him from committing suicide, she reveals her true nature and strength. The plot is also important in showing that Evelina is not entirely a snob, which makes her different from those she despises in high society. Especially since she at times does reveal a snobbishness, this episode keeps her likable. Finally, Macartney represents a different class of people from the others she encounters; his financial stresses add a new level of realism to the text.