Evelina Summary and Analysis of Volume I, Letter XV – Volume I, Letter XXI


Mr. Villars writes to Evelina that he is distressed by her situation. He counsels her to avoid becoming like Madame Duval, but also to treat her grandmother with respect and deference. He feels uneasy about her experience with London life, and worries how the change back to remote Berry Hill will suit Evelina.

Evelina writes him back to explain how Madame Duval is traveling a companion – a Frenchman named Monsieur Du Bois. He speaks very little English. She also tells him how the group decided to go to Ranelagh. Sir Clement Willoughby arrived on the morning of the trip, and managed to get on Captain Mirvan's good side by joining in his insults to Madame Duval. As a result, he was invited to Ranelagh. The party thus went on their way, but everyone was in ill humor.

At Ranelagh, they learned that Lord Orville was also there, and he joined their party. His appearance "gave universal restraint to every body." However, it was not long before Madame Duval recommenced her vociferous arguments with the Captain and Sir Clement. Mrs. Mirvan, Maria, Evelina, and Lord Orville left them to conduct their own more pleasant conversation, although Evelina could not speak, so embarrassed she was by her assumption of Lord Orville's contemptuous opinion towards her.

On the way home in the driving rain, the coach broke down. Sir Clement carried Evelina back to Ranelagh in his arms, and set her before a fire. He knelt before her, and began to apologize for his behavior at the ridotto, but he was interrupted by the entrance of everyone else except Madame Duval. She and Monsieur Du Bois finally showed up, covered in mud. Madame Duval was raging mad; it took her some time before she could explain that Monsieur had tried to lift her over some mud, but had tripped. The Captain was roaring in ecstasy and would not forebear teasing them. Finally, Madame Duval grew so angry that she spat in the Captain's face, and he violently grabbed her shoulders. The group then prepared to leave, but had to wait quite a while yet for a new hackney coach.

In her continued letters, Evelina tells how she called on Madame Duval the day after the journey. She found the woman in bed, cursing the Captain in the bitterest fashion. However, Madame Duval did ask Evelina many questions about her life, and insisted the girl should be taken to Paris. Evelina was also introduced to Madame Duval's nephew, Mr. Branghton, and his three children. Mr. Branghton expressed much contempt for those who lived outside the city. His son, Young Branghton, was "weaker in understanding, and more gay in his temper." Miss Branghton, the eldest daughter, was not ugly but did look "proud, ill-tempered, and conceited." Miss Polly, the younger daughter, was pretty enough, but was also foolish and ignorant.

Their conversation centered around the young people's ages, their heights, and finally Evelina's dress. Evelina found that they spoke too long on such banal subjects. The group then discussed the theaters, though Evelina overheard Madame Duval speaking of her to Mr. Branghton. The group decided to attend the opera together, but Evelina hoped they would not go if she was to be expected to attend with them.

The next morning, Evelina discovered Lord Orville alone in the drawing room downstairs at her lodgings, waiting to join the Mirvans for breakfast. They spoke for a few moments. Evelina mentioned she would be leaving soon, and Lord Orville took her hand and said, "I [do] think, that whoever has once seen Miss Anville, must receive an impression never to be forgotten." This compliment completely surprised Evelina, and she nervously withdrew her hand, and left to check on Mrs. Mirvan. She wonders why she has not yet found an opportunity to apologize to Lord Orville for her behavior at the ridotto. She further writes to Mr. Villars of Lord Orville's pleasing conversation at breakfast that morning; his manners are "so elegant, so gentle, so unassuming, that they at once engage, esteem, and diffuse complacence."

Mrs. Mirvan later invited Madame Duval to dinner, and the latter accepted. Evelina was surprised, because she thought her grandmother would shy away from more potential conflict with the Captain. Indeed, once at dinner, the two argued most of the time. Halfway through the meal, Sir Clement came in. His easiness astonished Evelina as overly familiar, but that behavior was precisely why the Captain enjoyed him. The group decided to head to Cox's Museum, but Evelina could barely enjoy it. She felt very embarrassed by the captain's loud, gross, and rude behavior in public.

That evening, the group went to the Drury Lane Theater and was joined by Lord Orville. The play was a bit shocking, especially for the ladies. At one point, the foppish man from the first party - Mr. Lovel - entered their box. He began to tease Evelina about all the customs and manners of London that she did not understand. Sir Clement and Lord Orville clearly did not much care for Mr. Lovel, and responded coldly to some of his statements. Lovel surprised the group when he claimed that he only came to plays to "shew that one's alive," not to actually watch them. Captain Mirvan was particularly amused by the idea that someone would attend a play but not know what was going on in it. Mr. Lovel further annoyed Evelina when he asked her what she thought of the play's young country lady character, Miss Prue. Provoked, Evelina answered that she did not think anything of her. By the end of the conversation, Evelina was aghast at this "malicious and impertinent" man who talked to her the way he did. She felt that there should be a rulebook provided to all young people upon their first introduction to society.

In her next letter, Evelina tells Mr. Villars that she has volumes to write. She and Maria were dressing for the opera one night when the Miss Branghtons burst into the room, with orders to take her with them to the opera. She refused, saying she was already engaged to attend with the Mirvans. They were so rude and forward that she did not feel too bad for refusing them. They left in anger, but were succeeded by Madame Duval, who arrived full of fury. Frightened by her grandmother's anger, Evelina agreed to go with them. Evelina was very conscious of how overdressed she was for their seats (she was expecting to sit in the pit), but they would not let her change.

After an embarrassing encounter with the ticket seller – Mr. Branghton thought the opera was too expensive and only consented to the cheapest spot – they took their seats, far away from the stage. Evelina was exceedingly uncomfortable with their ignorance and coarseness. When the opera began, they tormented Evelina by talking, complaining about the opera's foreign language, and making fun of her for being engrossed in the drama onstage. She saw her friends seated elsewhere, and noticed Lord Orville as well.

Mr. Branghton found much fault with the opera, first criticizing it for being first too short when he thought it was over, and then for being too long when it continued. When the show ended, the Branghtons rejoiced. They rudely offered their opinions of it, and Evelina felt "this family is so low-bred and vulgar, that I should be equally ashamed of such a connexion in the country, or any where."

As they waited to exit their section, she observed Sir Clement coming towards them and tried to think how she could avoid any further humiliation. Nobody save the Mirvans knew of her family connections (or lack thereof), and she did not want to be associated with the Branghtons. She allowed Sir Clement to quickly lead her from the gallery, rudely telling Madame Duval that she would ride home with Mrs. Mirvan. She was gone before they could ask any questions. Unfortunately, she discovered that the Mirvans had already left; her plan was foiled. The situation became more awkward when they encountered Lord Orville. He offered her his coach and said he would find another way home, but Sir Clement managed to steer her into his own chariot.

On the way home, Sir Clement profusely complimented her, giving many "fine speeches" about his adoration. She was shocked into silence and continually tried to recall her hand from his grasp. She noticed that it was taking a long time to get to her lodgings, and worried that Sir Clement had told his coachman to take a different route. She grew terrified, and she put her head out of the window to demand that the coachman stop. Sir Clement tried to calm her, and finally told his coachman to get her home quickly. He apologized profusely, and begged for her pardon. When they arrived at their destination, he fell to his knees and begged so ardently for her forgiveness that she felt compelled to grant it.

At the house, she saw that Lord Orville was waiting there; he said he could not return home until he knew she was safe. This angered Sir Clement. Both men left, and Maria told Evelina that Lord Orville had seemed very anxious and impatient about her safe return.


Evelina continues to brave the treacherous London scene, encountering foppish and ill-bred men, her coarse kinsmen, and confusing attentions from Lord Orville. Throughout the novel, Evelina evinces an uneasiness and anxiety that is acute and relatively consistent. To a large extent, this is due to her ignorance of city life. However, in this section, she has started to learn how to better navigate social expectation, and yet she remains extremely anxious. For instance, she makes several comments that show she begins to understand that good-breeding and social rules do not make good people. She notes how Mr. Lovel ought to be taught better manners (even though he affects a foppish demeanor), and notes that the ugly behavior of the Branghtons would be equally out of place in the country as it is in the city.

Her anxiety is in fact due to much more than her unfamiliarity with London. Navigating the social scene for women was not an easy task for anyone, as they were beset with dangers of varying degrees. In her article on the "female difficulties" in Evelina, Susan Staves identifies the threats faced by the heroine.

Staves first addresses the actual threats of physical violence. Evelina is slapped roughly by her grandmother, and repeatedly grabbed by Sir Clement and other men in the gardens. Being separated from her companions usually leads to physical confrontations with men; this happens at Vauxhall Gardens and Marybone Gardens later on. Staves notes that the heroines in Samuel Richardson's novels also encountered violence, but not in the same fashion as Evelina does; his heroines are "not subjected to the pervasive anonymous violence Evelina encounters," since they are not in public as much. Evelina's "terrors seem more immediate and real," and "most important, Evelina is usually too frightened to provide dignified condemnations or moral analyses of her persecutors' vices."

Evelina is also worried about physic threats, and hopes her delicacy will not be compromised. Staves tries to define delicacy in the context of this novel, writing that "true delicacy is opposed to cruelty, impertinence, and boldness; it is also superior to artificial decorums. False delicacy invokes lesser conventions to ignore the real needs of others." Almost every other character in the novel suffers from a want of delicacy, and in some cases it is the most 'refined' characters who most lack it. Consider Mr. Lovel, the Branghtons, or even the well-spoken and generally well-behaved Sir Clement Willoughby. His assault in the carriage is both physically and physically threatening to her; her body, peace of mind, and potentially her chaste reputation are at stake.

Staves looks into the question of what the novel is trying to say about delicacy and gender: does it seem to deny differences between the masculine and feminine ideals? On one hand, Mr. Villars later praises the way in which Evelina handled the Mr. Macartney-pistol episode, attributing her success to her masculine characteristics. Burney also heeded the 18th century tendency to praise feminine characteristics in men. Overall, though, the novel suggests a "discrete identity" of female delicacy, one that must be protected both for oneself and for the benefit of others. Evelina is quite aware of how she appears to others, and in many ways hates being accosted mostly because of how it appears. She seems to care more about being thought indelicate rather than actually being so. This was not a stupid fear, however, since "being thought to be indelicate is a serious social reality, not something to be dismissed in mere appearance."

If a woman was thought to have lost her delicacy, it made her more privy to lascivious behavior and even rape from the men that now knew her to be a "lost woman." This is why Evelina is later so upset when she discoveres the true nature of her female saviors at the Marybone Gardens; associating with prostitutes would raise questions about herself. Overall, there are many difficulties that Evelina faces: there are physical limitations of women which make them prey to men's physical power, and there are psychological restraints that provide real and forced ignorance of many subjects. Evelina clearly demonstrates how difficult to was to be a young lady forced to navigate the perplexing public sphere. Burney's great achievement is that Evelina possesses both an eloquent insight, and a perspective of another life. Whereas someone like Miss Branghton, even if she did have Evelina's eloquence and sensitivity, only knows city life, Evelina knows of her pastoral life at Berry Hill and hence has special insight into the true horrors a woman faces, horrors that a woman brought up in society is far too easily taught to take for granted.