Evelina Summary and Analysis of Volume III, Letter I – Volume III, Letter V


Evelina writes to Mr. Villars.

Mrs. Selwyn and Evelina walked together once at Bristol, but were bothered by bold young men addressing Evelina. She tried to reject them, but they were persistent. Mrs. Selwyn, in her bold and commanding manner, offered retorts to their behavior. They later encountered Lord Merton - the forward and rude aristocrat Evelina met earlier. This is when she learns his name. He was excessively frank and rude to them, though he vaguely recognized her. Later, they learned that he had only recently been given a title, and that he had spent almost all of his fortune already. He was a known libertine, but he was soon to be married. It was surprising to Evelina to learn that his bride-to-be was Lady Louisa Larpent, the sister of Lord Orville.

She continues her letters to Mr. Villars, opening a new one with the excited words that Lord Orville had shown himself to be still possessed of noble behavior; clearly, his letter reflected a moment of intemperance.

She then tells how she again met Lord Orville. Mrs. Selwyn and Evelina were invited to the home of Mrs. Beaumont, a friend of Mrs. Selwyn's and the relative of Lord Orville and Lady Louisa. Evelina suddenly saw them enter the room together. Lady Louisa was bored,restless and affected. She barely noticed Evelina. Evelina remembered seeing Lady Louisa at the Pantheon party, and suddenly understood why Lord Orville was so irritate when Lord Merton hit on her.

She was especially nervous to encounter Lord Orville, but he was polite, pleasing, friendly, and quick to devote his attention to her. She was instinctively friendly with him, but then forced an emotional distance when she remembered his letter. Her abruptness surprised him, but she could hardly keep it up for very long. Her coldness wore away when she went out driving with him and Mrs. Selwyn. Though she did not participate in the conversation, she was pleased to listen to them. She ultimately concluded it was impractical to be indignant any further.

The next day, the two women were invited to Mrs. Beaumont's house for dinner. Mrs. Beaumont was concerned almost solely with nobility of birth; she considered high birth and virtue the same thing. Her "civility was too formal to be comfortable," Evelina writes. She also clearly disapproved of Lady Louisa's choice in Lord Merton due to his personality.

Mr. Lovel later joined the company and Evelina was a perturbed by how conspicuously he ignored her, even though she was glad he no longer annoyed her outright. Lord Orville also joined the group, his presence acting as a counterpoint to the apathy and languor of the other young people. Lord Orville was far more polite than the others, and he addressed himself quite pleasantly to Evelina.

Lord Merton's friend Mr. Coverley also arrived, and he and Lord Merton began arguing about who was a better phaeton driver. They decided to race each other, but Lady Louisa loudly expressed her displeasure. After this, the conversation turned solely to eating; Evelina was surprised at how knowledgeable Lord Merton, Mr. Lovel, and Mr. Coverley were. It was difficult to determine "whether they were most to be distinguished as gluttons, or epicures," and Evelina became quite disgusted. Later, during tea, Evelina sat alone, a bit sad about how no one seemed to regard her at all. Thankfully, Lord Orville arrived and made her feel quite welcome.

The group conversation turned to other ways the men could settle their dispute if they were not to race. Each person in the group was asked to provide an idea. Mrs. Selwyn embarrassed them by calling attention to their ignorace of the classics. Evelina suggested they compose an extempore couplet on a subject, and Mrs. Beaumont suggested the bet should decide who had the best bow. Lord Orville shamed them all, however, by suggesting the money should go to whoever brought the worthiest object to share it with. This subtle remonstrance left everyone chagrined for a short while. Later, Evelina apologized to him for "[incurring] your censure," since she thought she had been petty by proposing an idea. He insisted that his mockery did not apply to her.

Evelina was even more pleased the next day when she learned that she and Mrs. Selwyn were invited to be houseguests of Mrs. Beaumont. She was happy to be in the constant company of Lord Orville, especially because Mrs. Selwyn was kind to her but generally more focused on herself and clever conversation than she was on Evelina's comfort.

Indeed, it was very pleasant being around him all the time. Evelina was annoyed, however, to learn from Mrs. Selwyn that Mr. Lovel had mocked her social standing in front of Lady Louisa. She refused to be friendly towards him, even though he was "important." She writes to Mr. Villars about how much she enjoys her time with Lord Orville, commenting, "the attention with which Lord Orville honours me is as uniform as it is flattering, and seems to result from a benevolence of heart that proves him as much as stranger to caprice as to pride."

The next morning, Evelina was strolling outside when she saw Mr. Macartney. He had come to find her, to thank her for so positively influencing his life. He explained that he was doing much better. While they talked, Lord Orville came outside looking for her, and found them together. He was about to bring her inside when Macartney asked Evelina if he could see her again; she felt obliged to answer in the positive. This was frightfully embarrassing for both Evelina and Lord Orville, and they walked back to the house in silence. He subtly suggested his concern over this strange man, and Evelina finally offered to later tell him what it all meant. He grew more at ease.

They never seemed to find time to talk, however, and Evelina came to realize she had no authority to share Macartney's business with anyone else. She wrote to tell him she could not meet him the next day, but promised to find him before she left Bristol.

The next day, Lord Orville and Evelina were awkward around one another. She finally confided that she was not at liberty to tell another's secrets, and he countered that he was only interested in knowing how it affected her. Though she revealed little, she was happy that they parted on good terms


In these letters, Evelina's 'well-bred' companions reveal just as much affectation, coarseness, insensibility, and judgmental attitudes as the Branghtons did. Lady Louisa, Lord Orville's sister, adopts an affected attitude that is most unpleasant. It actually enforces the then-contemporary notion that women were prone to nervous disorders and complaints. She is uptight by design. Mr. Lovel, who thankfully ignores Evelina, feels free to disparage her when she is not in his presence; he calls her a "toad-eater," which, according the Vivien Jones's annotations, is a "cruelly contemptuous term for someone who depends on their living on acting as a companion or attendant to a more wealthy patron." The men, excepting Lord Orville, again reveal their penchant for luxury and excess in their attention to food and frivolous gambling. Their lives are devoted to the pursuit of pleasure and dissipation. For someone like Evelina, who was raised to appreciate simple pleasures, this world seems wasteful and thereby distasteful.

Mrs. Selwyn poses a fascinating question about feminism through her abrasive character. Unsurprisingly, the questions she raises are common for Burney's work. Rose Marie Cutting looks at all of Burney's novels to suggest that they are far more valuable than usually acknowledged, because they both depict social problems and invoke feminist ideals. Cutting first considers the heroines of the novels, commenting that they demonstrate independence of judgment, and, although "naive and inexperienced, they have no trouble in recognizing fools or in repudiating folly." They all face a similar economic plight, and suffer much abuse from the men in their environs.

There are also characters in Burney's novels that Cutting refers to as "rebels," strong women who defy the stereotypes associated with their sex to claim a high degree of independence. Mrs. Selwyn is an apposite example of a "feminist" by this definition. She is neither passive nor dependent, and is fiercely defiant, aggressive, satirical, and ironic. She does not allow the silly men she encounters to get away with their behavior without at least being mocked for it. She incurs the ire of these men and even some of the women – including Evelina – for her bold style, thus affirming the discomfort many people felt at the time with women who acted outside of their prescribed gender roles. That women also find her difficult to handle suggests that all are generally uncomfortable when the expected social order is upended - even those who suffer because of it. It is telling that Mrs. Selwyn is so often described as masculine - this self-possession is not approved of in a female, and so does society discuss it as unnatural, or as a deficiency of some sort.

Overall, Burney depicts women's suffering, and by doing so, offers an implicit condemnation of the society that subjected half of its population to cruel treatment and formidable restrictions of movement, expression, and autonomy. She devoted her final novel, The Wanderer (1814), to the theme of suffering. This novel's "call for self-sufficiency on the part of both sexes perhaps best summarizes Fanny Burney's protest against the humiliating dependency of her sex and her demand for a change in the condition of women." In this novel, the condemnation is less harsh but, even when Burney somewhat supports the status quo, her depiction reveals a perspective sensitive to those who are allowed little voice against their oppressors.

Finally, a couple of notes on places and terms used in these letters are useful. The pump room was the room where visitors to the Hotwells conversed and took the waters, as well as listened to music. It therefore served as a place for gossip and visiting. Clifton Hills adjoined the Hotwells, and was a fashionable area of Bristol. A phaeton was a four-wheeled carriage that had a covered seat for the driver and at most two seats for passengers. They were very fashionable and could move at great speeds. The Court Calendar listed the details of royal families and their courts.