Evelina: Burney's Idealized Social Hierarchies College

The societal structure of eighteenth century London was grounded in rigid class hierarchies. In Burney’s novel Evelina, the title character is born as an illegitimate child without a name because her father refuses to accept her. This situates Evelina at a particularly difficult intersection of London’s social structure. Evelina has little knowledge of the extent of social conduct in London and has no name or claimed inheritance to offer as dowry. In the context of eighteenth century London, this is a poor situation for a young unmarried woman to find herself in. Yet, Burney uses Evelina’s illegitimate status to reveal both the arbitrary nature of London’s societal expectations and the hypocritical members of society who enforce but don’t adhere to them. Despite Evelina’s naivety, she is arguably established as the best suited individual to navigate the complexities of social manners and rituals. With this in mind, it is important to critically question whether Burney challenges class hierarchies, class hypocrisy, or both.

Burney unpacks eighteenth century class structures and societal behaviors in a two-fold way: she presents Evelina as unlearned but capable. Despite Evelina’s upbringing in the country before her trip to...

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