Evelina Summary and Analysis of Volume III, Letter VI – Volume III, Letter XV


Mr. Villars writes to Evelina and confesses his concern that she is too innocent to realize what is happening: Lord Orville is in love with her. Worse, she is attracted to him but does not realize it. As she has not been able to transcend her infatuation, he encourages her to quit him, since "his sight is baneful to your repose, his society is death to your future tranquility!" Evelina must not trust in appearances, but instead rely on her guardian's advice.

Meanwhile, Evelina writes to him before has received his letter. She relates to him the day of the bet between Lord Merton and Mr. Coverley. The men chose to decide their bet through a footrace between two very old and infirm women. On that day, Lord Merton addressed himself presumptuously and inappropriately to Evelina, ignoring Louisa.

When the time for the race came, the two men acted quite despicably in their disinterest in the old woman, and the competition was indeed sad and shameful. Lord Orville looked disapproving. Lord Merton won, and in his drunkenness that followed, he became extremely forward with Evelina. Riled up, she exclaimed a wish to have a brother to protect her, and Lord Orville quickly stepped to her aid with a promise to act as her brother. He then led her and Louisa away. Lady Louisa was both piqued with Lord Merton for his flirtations, and annoyed with her brother for so clearly favoring Evelina to her. Lord Orville proclaimed to Evelina that he would be both her sincere friend and her brother, and that she must accept his services. She was pleased to do so.

The next evening, the entire group attended an assembly that Lord Orville had procured tickets to. At one point, Lord Orville danced with a young lady and Evelina overheard who she was: her name was Miss Belmont, and she was the daughter of an heiress. Evelina started; her father must have designated a new heiress in her stead. She spoke with Mrs. Selwyn about it, since that woman was familiar with her history, and she suggested Evelina go to town to research the matter further. Evelina asks Mr. Villars's permission to undertake this endeavor.

Evelina also writes Mr. Villars of seeing Mr. Macartney at the pump room, and of that man's request to speak with her. She further details Lord Orville's curiosity on that same subject. She observed how awkward Mr. Macartney became when the young "Miss Belmont" entered the pump room, but did not know why he behaved thusly. Lord Orville promised Evelina he would help her fulfill her duty to Mr. Macartney, even though he did not know what it was. He invited the poet to the house and then kindly left them alone for a few moments. To Evelina's utter shock, the young man confessed to Evelina that that Miss Belmont was his former paramour. This meant that Macartney was Evelina's brother. Though she did not alert him to her realization, she did embrace him fervently and promise she would help however she could.

Later, Evelina writes to tell Mr. Villars that she had received his letter about Lord Orville. She is flummoxed, broken-hearted, and ashamed. She feels ignorant and beguiled, and laments ever leaving her guardian. She had hoped to set out for Berry Hill immediately, but she was convinced by Mrs. Selwyn to stay a bit longer. She announces her intention to avoid Lord Orville completely. As she details in subsequent letters, her plan was difficult to enact, because he noticed her new coldness and continually inquired as to the cause of it.

She later accompanied Mrs. Selwyn to town, and they stopped by the pump room first. To her consternation, all the young men there seemed to be talking about her, whispering odd snatches of verse. She was even more disturbed to run into Sir Clement Willoughby, who said he had been looking for her. He said he was brought to Bristol by accident and did not know she was there, but would have realized it quickly now that she was famous. Evelina inquired what he meant, and he explained that a copy of verse about her had been dropped in and around the pump room.

He continued to compliment her, and implored her to spend time with him. She refused. Unfortunately, he quickly endeared himself to Mrs. Selwyn, and she forced Evelina to attend an assembly with them.

Back with the group at Clifton, Lord Orville and Sir Clement eyed each other warily, and Lord Orville seemed confused by Evelina's growing aloofness. He tried to privately ask her whether he had offended her, and further asked whether she had known Sir Clement was in town. He was even more astonished to hear that she was engaged to Sir Clement at that night's assembly. Sir Clement continued to accost Evelina throughout the evening, and he showed her the paper of verse that he had copied from the original. It did indeed mention her name, and she believed it to be by Mr. Macartney, who was apt to praise her. Sir Clement bothered her incessantly, asking thousands of pointed questions, especially about Lord Orville. That night, Evelina confesses in a letter that she worries she is not acting honorably towards her former friend Lord Orville.

Mr. Villars writes to Evelina about the Miss Belmont situation, ruminating that Miss Belmont may be the child of an after-marriage, but was certainly taking the place to which Evelina had an indisputable right. He deplores John Belmont's cruel treatment of Evelina's mother, and insists that the latter's reputation deserved to be cleared before public opinion. He includes in his correspondence a letter from her "unhappy mother," which had been reserved for Sir Belmont should this very situation ever arise. The letter begs Sir John Belmont, in the most emotional and florid tones, to recognize his true daughter.

Evelina writes back to Mr. Villars, detailing how forward and obnoxious Sir Clement was in monopolizing her time and attention. At one point, he found her in the garden, grabbed her hand and would not let her alone. Lord Orville came across them, and she finally asked him forcibly to have Sir Clement release her hand. He asked Sir Clement if he meant to detain her by force, and he proudly released her hand and insisted he did not need Lord Orville's opinion. Evelina flew indoors. Later, she heard about their subsequent conversation from Mrs. Selwyn, who eavesdropped upon it. Lord Orville had asked Sir Clement about his intentions, and Sir Clement rudely answered that he had none, since her birth was low. He also sneeringly asked why Lord Orville was so interested; the latter spoke of how Evelina was "very young, very inexperienced, yet appears to be left totally to her own direction." The two men continued to argue until Mrs. Selwyn left for fear of discovery.

Evelina next writes Mr. Villars of how Lord Orville found her alone, and begged to have a private moment. He very simply asked her why she had changed. She was disconcerted at how forthright and honest he was in his entreaty, but she remained silent. He asked her about Sir Clement, and she hotly denied that he mattered to her at all. Lord Orville was remarkably relieved by this. At dinner, he was excessively friendly and gay with Evelina.

After dinner, he went into the library to help her choose a few books for her impending journey back to Berry Hill, and he could finally resist no longer. He declared his love and esteem for Evelina, and she could not resist him: "he drew from me the most sacred secret of my heart!"

She acknowledges to Mr. Villars that there are many questions to address at a later point, but adds that they are blissfully happy. That night, Evelina wept from sheer happiness, and felt the tremendous honor of being chosen as wife by a man like Lord Orville. The next day, he asked to announce their affection publicly, but she implored him to wait until she had taken care of her business in town (which involved the Belmonts). He agreed with alacrity. Evelina concludes her letter to Mr. Villars by explaining how the two of them had actually discovered that Lord Orville never wrote that bold and inappropriate letter. He knew nothing about it. She hopes her guardian will think well of Lord Orville, and feel honored by his choice of her.


This set of letters presents examples of the rich behaving very, very badly. Lord Merton, in particular, is a dissolute and lascivious newly-made nobleman who enjoys exploiting and mocking those around him, simply to entertain himself. He does not care about his reputation because he knows his fortune will be secured when he marries Lady Louisa. He is a paragon of "modern" manners and stands contrast to the genteel and traditional Lord Orville. Even Mrs. Selwyn's wit and virulent satire can do little to quell the boisterous cruelty and brazen excess of Lord Merton. For all her strength, Lady Louisa is but a tool towards securing Lord Merton's wealth. She has no more power than Evelina does, though she has been raised to affect a superiority. In this way, she is far more pitiable than our heroine, especially when her fiancee so blatantly hits of Evelina in front of her.

Lord Merton has replaced Captain Mirvan as the novel's grossest, rudest male, and Mrs. Selwyn has replaced Madame Duval as the older woman supervising Evelina. However, while Lord Merton possesses no redeeming qualities, Mrs. Selwyn remains valuable to Evelina because she protects her, respects her, and gently pushes her into self-awareness. Even though her satire sometimes seems coarse to Evelina, it does suggest to her that she is free to make up her own mind about Lord Orville, and does not need a man - Mr. Villars - to guide her any longer.

Another instance of privileged cruelty is the race between the two old women, an episode that puzzles many critics, particularly as regards its origin. Most have tried to find literary, historical or anecdotal precedents for it, but one critic, as Jones points out, is probably right in claiming there was probably no single source. Betting on foot-races was pretty common; young laboring women raced against each other at fairs in "smock races." Jones writes that this scene "certainly captures the cruelty involved in many eighteenth-century amusements, while the introduction of 'poor old women' focuses on issues involving both gender and social status." In other words, the race is itself a cohesive symbol of all the oppressions related throughout the novel.

Lord Orville is finally prompted to make his feelings known to Evelina, and it is significant that he does so without knowing the truth about her birth. She has dropped some hints about herself, but he remains oblivious to the exact particulars, and to the impending conflict with her father. Considering how important social status was - and how much of the 'marriage contract' was about securing a valuable commodity in a wife - Lord Orville is admirable in acting from his affection alone. He very clearly leans toward the fictional and unbelievable: while it is not impossible to imagine a young man with manners and a deep sense of decorum, it is unlikely that one in his social position would so blithely pursue a young woman whose birth was unknown. Burney's inclusion of such an angelic man is in many ways a deference towards the system of marriage, since her cynical attitude about people would otherwise overwhelm the book's perspective and make it far more transgressive than it ultimately is. And, of course, it would likely sell more copies it it conformed to what most of society thought, instead of explicitly attacking those thoughts.

One note about some historical information is useful. A pamphlet-shop was a place that sold cheaper and unbound publications and was usually frequented by men as opposed to women, who procured their reading material from the circulating library. The fact that Mrs. Selwyn prefers this outlet demonstrates her more masculine education and taste. "John trot style" (334) referred to a man who, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, was of "slow or uncultured intellect, a bumpkin, a clown." Vivien Jones's annotations explain that "the insult suggests that older women are masculinized, as well as stupid."