Evelina Summary and Analysis of Volume II, Letter I – Volume II, Letter XI


Evelina continues to write to Mr. Villars of her time at Howard Grove.

Howard Grove was enlivened by a visit from Sir Clement Willoughby. The Captain was extremely excited to see his friend, and hoped Sir Clement would help him annoy the "old French-woman." Evelina, however, was dismayed to see their plans to do so put into place. One morning at breakfast, the Captain convinced Madame Duval that Monsieur Du Bois was in trouble with the law. He was shifty enough that she believed him, and she soon began to inquire after her friend with the appropriate authorities. That evening, a letter arrived stating that Du Bois had been imprisoned for "suspicion of treasonable practices against the government." It had been written by the Captain, but Madame Duval did not realize it. Evelina could hardly believe that Madame Duval fell for this ruse.

Upon request, Evelina commissioned a chariot to bring Madame Duval into town so she could investigate the claims. She also accompanied her grandmother. Evelina was ashamed to be involved in the affair, but feared the Captain might turn on her if she did not comply. In town, they learned that Monsieur Du Bois had "escaped," and ordered the coachman to return home. Obviously, this information had been planted by the Captain.

While heading back to Howard Grove, their coachman warned the women that thieves were about. This news, which Evelina knew to be part of the Captain's plan, terrified Madame Duval, who assumed they would be murdered. Because of the warning, they left their money and valuables with a friend. It was not long until two masked men accosted the chariot. One held Evelina, while the other pulled Madame Duval from the carriage despite her shrieks and resistance. Evelina soon realized it was Sir Clement who held her, as he entered the carriage to sit by her. He forcefully told her of his affection until she begged him to desist, and demanded he stop the cruelty towards her grandmother. The man in the other mask came back, laughing and saying that "I've done for her!" It was clearly the Captain in the other mask.

After the men left, Evelina demanded the footman lead her to Madame Duval. She found her grandmother in a ditch, "roaring, and in the utmost agony of rage and terror." Her feet were tied together with a strong rope fastened to the upper branch of a tree. She was in complete disorder – her clothes were torn or in disarray, her head curls had fallen off, and she was covered in dirt and dust.

On the ride back to Howard Grove, Evelina asked Madame Duval for an account of what had happened. Madame Duval said that the robber dragged her down the road, and then shook her extremely hard. Pretending to be angry that they had no valuables, he revealed a rope, which she thought he would use to hang her. She screamed excessively, but he never said a word. He used the rope to tie her up and leave her in the state that Evelina found her in. Evelina almost wanted to laugh at the story, but she was mostly irritated with the Captain "for carrying his love of tormenting – sport, he calls it – to such barbarous and unjustifiable extremes."

At Howard Grove, Madame Duval went quickly upstairs. The men did not appear until supper, during which the Captain was in raptures over the prank's success. The next day, he wanted to do nothing but devise new ways in which to torture her.

Evelina asked Mrs. Mirvan to talk to her husband about ceasing these torments, but Mrs. Mirvan said it was fruitless. Evelina announced she would make the request of Sir Clement, but Mrs. Mirvan warned her that it was sometimes unwise to make requests of men "who are too desirous of receiving them." Indeed, the idea of asking Sir Clement for anything gave her pause.

Evelina first confronted the Captain with her request. It made him gloomy. Later, Sir Clement found Evelina in private to say that he wished to honor her request, but would have to leave town suddenly so as to not anger the Captain for abandoning their plans. He implored her for one word or look of approbation, threatening that without it, he saw no reason to help her. After bearing his demands silently, she offered a sarcastic admonishment and then hurriedly left. To her surprise, Sir Clement left that evening anyway. She admits in her letter that his presence is conspicuous at dinner since he tends to pleasant and agreeable while in large company. That same evening, Madame Duval was puzzled when a letter from Monsieur Du Bois made no mention of imprisonment.

The next letter is Sir John Belmont's short reply to Lady Howard. He wishes well for Evelina, but has nothing further to offer her. He also makes a veiled accusation of ill behavior on the part of Mr. Villars.

Evelina writes to Mr. Villars of her profound distress at her father's rejection. She can barely think of anything else in her anguish. She also tells how Madame Duval was incensed by the letter, and hinted that she might go to Paris to demand justice face-to-face.

Mr. Villars writes to Evelina to comfort her. He warns her to be careful of Sir Clement.

He then writes to Lady Howard, mentioning how Madame Duval had visited him and was, as ever, exceedingly unpleasant. She demanded that Evelina live with her in London, threatening to withhold any fortune due the girl if he did not comply. He hates the idea, but is forced by this threat to reach a compromise: Evelina will live with her grandmother in London for one month. He then writes to inform Evelina of this plan, warning her to be a prudent judge and guardian of her delicate reputation.

Evelina soon writes to Mr. Villars about her arrival in London. Though Evelina has separate lodgings with Madame Duval, her grandmother took her immediately to Mr. Branghton's house. While there, Madame Duval learned the truth about Monsieur Du Bois. As expected, she grew violently angry to realize what the Captain had done.

She complains of the Branghton house, which is small and inconvenient. Downstairs is a shop where they conduct business; it is very uncomfortable to sit in, yet they are there all the time. While there, she once again encountered the Miss Branghtons. It was not a very cordial reception. They laughed uproariously when Madame Duval told her story of the "robbers," which incensed the older woman. In talking with the two sisters, Evelina noted their "extreme want of affection, and good-nature" which "increased the distaste I already felt for [them]."

Evelina writes to Maria Mirvan, complaining how different London is while living amongst the Branghtons. She no longer found it gay, but instead found it dull and gloomy. She then writes to Mr. Villars of how dinners were held at the Branghton house. They intended to dine in the room of their boarder, Mr. Smith, but he argued his room was only fit for after-dinner tea. Dinner was "ill-served, ill-cooked, and ill-managed," and the family argued incessantly. While passing through the shop on the way to tea after dinner, they encountered the Branghton's other lodger - a very melancholy and serious young man named Mr. Macartney (his name is not actually given until later). Miss Branghton explained that she believes him to be a Scottish poet because of his demeanor, and because they found scraps of poetry in his room. They showed Evelina what they had found, and she read, "an internal wretchedness, which, I own, affects me."

While at Mr. Smith's for tea, he began to address himself to Evelina in a "style of gallantry equally new and disagreeable to me." His manners were far worse than Sir Clement's. She spent the rest of the evening in painful attention to this "irksome young man."


Burney's perspective as a woman grows more pronounced as the novel continues. In this set of letters, several incidents highlight her understanding of women as constantly in danger from male aggression.

With the robbery prank, Captain Mirvan exceeds his previous torture of Madame Duval. It is an altogether strange and uncomfortable episode that serves as a demonstration of violence against women. The Captain's misogyny grows from verbal assaults into actual physical abuse. The psychological effect of his gleeful persecution is also much heightened by this particular attack; he is no longer sitting face-to-face with Madame Duval and trading insults, but is now constructing a situation to cultivate tremendous fear, anxiety, rage, and humiliation. What's more, he does all of this without having to take any responsibility for it. Madame Duval is treated like refuse, her femininity assaulted and mocked, and her person touched in an inappropriate way. Were the Captain's antagonist male, he would not have had recourse to the kneejerk fears that a woman felt while traveling unprotected. This episode reveals the length to which the Captain's hatred of women and foreigners extended, and, on a more macro scale, the ill treatment which women received at the hands of men in the 18th century.

Further, Evelina's beauty has become not only a liability, but also a torture to her. Sir Clement's niceties are revealed as hypocritical when he threatens to continue torturing Madame Duval if Evelina is not sweet to him. He manipulates the delicacy that society forces women to maintain, and is less interested in actually deserving it than he is in receiving it. It is almost as though he fetishizes this feminine delicacy, which in turn suggests it is not just women he is interested in, but moreover his masculine control over them. This interpretation can easily be applied to the robbery prank as well. The episode with Mr. Smith, while less physically threatening, also touches on Evelina's helplessness. Decorum requires her to sit as this manner-less ass accosts her, showing no subtlety in his aggression.

On a different subject, the epistolary structure of the novel begs some consideration. Why did Frances Burney write Evelina as a series of letters, rather than as a straightforward novel, and what points or themes does that reveal? In her influential critical article on the subject, Irene Tucker discusses letters and the theory of property. She sees Evelina's epistolary form as "[generalizing] the paradox of owning letters into a paradox about property, representation, and, ultimately, the nature of the self." In other words, the idea of 'owning' a relationship through a person's letters is a complicated idea that touches on how we define ourselves. The complexities of the relationships between writers and recipients of letters is increased dramatically when they are part of an epistolary novel.

Tucker expands her discussion to include properties of letters, and thereby touch on the novel's complexities. First, a real-world letter has an identifiable author and is addressed to a specific person. In an epistolary novel, there is also a second writer and addressee – the author of the novel and the novel's readers. Secondly, a letter implies an "I," which in the novel is still the fictional construction of the novel's author. Thirdly, letters in an epistolary novel are dated to help the narrative movement by marking the passage of time, but they do not provide any real-world context of time. The reader's perspective is complicated because s/he does not know whether s/he is reading the letters as they are being written, as they are being read by their recipient, or at some other independent moment. Fourthly, letters are always written without any foreknowledge or an understanding of the future; they cannot trace out a destiny and are naturally fragmented. Thus, in Evelina, there is a tension between this fragmentation and the novel's unity. Fifthly, there is a "splitting of material and ideal forms of the letter" in that "the idea of the letter is invoked, while many of the material aspects are held in abeyance" in an epistolary novel. Burney has to control all the events of the story as author, while the form of letters sits in stark contrast to this kind of control and omniscience.

All of these contradictions parallel Evelina's complicated place in the world. Burney places Evelina, a disowned heiress, "at the center of the contradictions regarding property and identity." Mr. Villars, her guardian, reveals through his letters that he considers Evelina to be somewhat his property; there are similarities between him sending out letters and "sending out" Evelina into the world.

The form of the letters changes throughout the novel. They are first short and very much like traditional letters. Later, however, as Evelina writes, they are longer and more novel-like. Evelina's letters show how she is growing apart from Mr. Villars as well. She is first hesitant to write, but then embraces her identity as a letter-writing subject and writes copiously. Tucker notes, "the substitution of the ideality of the letter for the materiality of Evelina's actual body hence becomes a necessary condition of her developing autonomy." She becomes "irreducibly different" from Mr. Villars, and becomes progressively more confident in shaping her own life. Thus, Burney traces her primary growth not through the language of an omniscient narrator, but instead through the changing form of the letters Evelina writes.