Evelina Summary and Analysis of Volume II, Letter XII –Volume II, Letter XIX


Evelina continues her letters to Mr. Villars.

Mr. Smith called upon Evelina to invite her to the Hampstead Assembly, but she refused him. Despite his surprise and persistence, she would not change her mind. Finally, he appealed to Madame Duval through flattery, and succeeded in winning that lady's favor.

The next day, Evelina saw the young Scottish man at the Branghton's shop. He was turning the corner up the stairs when she saw a pistol fall from his pocket. She was dumbfounded, and, realizing that he intended to commit suicide, she followed him upstairs to stop him. She rushed into his room and grabbed his arm, falling down by his side. He was utterly shocked, and Evelina grew embarrassed. She tried to take the pistols, imploring him to have mercy on himself. On his knees before her, he passionately called her his angel, and Evelina quickly seized the pistols and exited the room. He followed her downstairs, but their conversation was interrupted by the Branghtons.

Evelina fainted from the encounter, and the Branghtons roused her with their loud talking. She told them what had happened. That day the "rashness and misery of this ill-fated young man engrossed all [her] thoughts," she writes to Mr. Villars.

The next day, the Branghtons invited she and Madame Duval to dinner. They talked rudely about their lodger, until they were interrupted by the arrival of Mr. Smith. The party then amused themselves by reflecting on all the London locations Evelina had not seen.

The next day, Evelina was sent back to the Branghtons while Madame Duval remained in bed with her vapors. Evelina saw Mr. Macartney reading in the corner of the shop, but was not able to speak with him. Instead, she sat with Miss Polly and her lover Mr. Brown, a situation that made her uncomfortable. Mr. Smith arrived sometime later to join the whole family. Evelina became increasingly irritated by him. She was also sensible of the family's rudeness in front of Mr. Macartney. She tried to "shew civility to this unhappy man, whose misfortunes, with this family, only render him an object of scorn." She was happy that Monsieur Du Bois was there, because he was the only one who was kind and respectful to the Scot.

A few days later, they journeyed to Vauxhall as a group: Madame Duval, Evelina, the Branghtons, Monsieur Du Bois, Mr. Brown, and Mr. Smith. Evelina enjoyed the hautbois concerto, finding it very enchanting. She also found the lights appealing, but greatly disliked her company. Mr. Smith annoyed her by attaching himself to her for the entire experience. Thankfully, she found some respite in the company of Monsieur Du Bois.

The party had supper, and then the girls were given permission to walk about the gardens together. Miss Branghton proposed that they stroll along the dark walks, and Miss Polly agreed since it would allow her to playfully hide from Mr. Brown. The plan concerned Evelina, who worried they would get lost from their group, but she had no choice but to follow them.

They soon encountered a boisterous and riotous group of young men who rushed upon them. One of them grabbed Evelina and called her a "pretty little creature." She pulled away and ran up the walk, right into another group of men. One of them caught her hands and aggressively asked where she was going. Terrified she implored them to let her pass. One man in the group recognized her voice: Sir Clement Willoughby.

He quickly pulled her away from the young men, astonished by her presence there. She found his attention annoying, and did not want him to see the company she was with. He followed her, however, asking her questions and complimenting her, then begging her forgiveness when she grew angry. They finally found her party, and she knew she could no longer conceal them from Sir Clement. He was astonished when he met them. Madame Duval, of course, was incensed to see the man who she knew had been involved in the Captain's schemes.

Evelina was perturbed by Sir Clement's manners towards her, which adapted depending on the company they were in. Here, he seemed bolder and less restrained than when around the Mirvans. When inquiring about her situation with this party, he was far too open and blunt. The Branghton girls finally returned from the walks, and then the party looked at art for awhile. Everyone seemed in awe of Sir Clement, and his presence obviously made Mr. Smith jealous.

When it was time to leave, Sir Clement managed to finagle his way into the same carriage as Madame Duval and Evelina, which distressed her since she did not want him to see where she was staying. Madame Duval was infuriated that he was with them. When they arrived, Evelina noticed him looking over the abode.

The next morning, Miss Branghton and Mr. Smith were full of questions about Sir Clement. After a while, Clement himself entered the room to notify Evelina that he was heading towards Howard Grove the next day, and to inquire if she had any messages to send there. He then sat with the family, and discoursed on a variety of subjects. The group was disinclined to reply, each person for his or her own reason – Madame Duval was angry, Mr. Smith was afraid, young Branghton was ashamed, and the sisters were enamored.

Finally, Madame Duval could forebear no longer, and she angrily accused Sir Clement of engineering the robbery prank. Her intensity made Sir Clement nervous, which in turn helped everyone else relax, so proud they were of how Madame Duval excoriated him. His attempts to defend himself made him behave awkwardly. He finally insisted he would depart, which subdued everyone else. Before he left, he asked Evelina why she kept company with such people.

Evelina continues her letters to Mr. Villars. She writes of an encounter she had with Mr. Macartney, who generally seemed very shy and disordered around her. He tried to speak to her one day, to ask her who she was and why she seemed to be the "arbitress and ruler of the destiny of such a wretch as I am?" When she said she had merely meant to help him, he praised her voice. She was called upstairs by the Branghtons before any more was said.

Mr. Villars writes to Evelina, praising her bravery in the case of Mr. Macartney, and lamenting the poor man's situation. Mr. Villars wonders whether the man's behavior is influenced by guilt and misconduct, rather than misfortune. He also once more criticizes Sir Clement.

Evelina writes back, confessing that his conjectures on Macartney leave her uneasy, though his appearance suggests misery rather than guilt to her. Maria had recently written to her with news that Sir Clement had returned to Howard Grove, to the great delight of Captain Mirvan.

Mr. Smith visited Evelina, and again insisted she should accompany him to the Hampstead Assembly. Once he appealed to Madame Duval, offering both ladies tickets, Evelina was forced to accept. He smugly expressed happiness over his victory.

On the night of the assembly, the Branghtons quarreled in their usual coarse manner as Evelina got ready. Young Branghton warned Evelina to be wary of Mr. Smith, who often admitted he had no desire to marry. Mr. Smith, looking at Evelina, told Young Branghton, "if I did marry, it should be your cousin." Evelina was shocked at his forthrightness.

At the assembly, she watched her grandmother dance with Mr. Smith, while she delighted in being alone. She did have to reject many suitors, however. She equally refused to dance with Mr. Smith, no matter how hard he tried to recruit her. He grew frustrated with her abstinence, and commented that he would never again trouble to get tickets for a young lady if he was only to dance with her grandmother.


The concept of marriage becomes more prominent in this set of letters. This is to be expected, considering how inextricably linked the theme was to most 18th century literature written by and about women. Frances Burney had rejected a proposal when she was very young, and this novel, written a year later, was in many ways a response to that situation. In this book, she details the ever-present reality of a young woman's need to marry. She created a smart, intuitive, and virtuous young heroine to navigate the "marriage market," as scholar Judith Newton deems it. Newton's article explains how, in Evelina, Burney is "firmly committed to the assumption that marriage is a woman's only destiny and to the understanding that she achieves this destiny through displaying herself and waiting to be chosen." Of course, this situation means that a woman might often be viewed as overstocked merchandise or even as helpless prey. That Burney's intelligent heroine is nevertheless devoid of significant options is a damning enough condemnation of the reality, but that neither the author nor the protagonist even question this state of affairs is even worse.

In the world of Evelina, men behave badly, and view women very much as commodities. Burney seems to accept this as unalterable fact, but she does not shy away from representing how oppressive it can be for women. Mr. Smith is the best example of a man who knows he is a "buyer in a buyer's market," and therefore believes he can impress his will upon women. Recall the first assembly Evelina attends, and her observation that men there act as if they bestow gifts by asking a woman to dance. In the pleasure gardens, her situation becomes overwhelmingly oppressive; Evelina is grabbed, accosted, leered at, and finally "rescued" by Sir Clement, who uses the opportunity to try and seduce her. There is no sense that she has escaped an unjust situation; instead, the men feel lucky to now have her attention.

The unkind men in the novel – Lord Merton, Mr. Smith, Mr. Lovel – are distinguished from Sir Clement because the latter man "imposes upon his pursuit of Evelina the courtly fiction that she is Cinderella, the beautiful but distant object." He is thrilled to see her as sexual prey, and pursues her with a hunter's persistence - that is, he is not concerned with her feelings, but only with manipulating her feelings. He continues to play-act the role of a 'Prince Charming'; consider his profuse contrition after Evelina discovered he was driving aimlessly after the opera. However, Evelina prefers his advances to those of men like Mr. Smith because the former at least pretends that the pursuit has an air of civility.

So naturally, Lord Orville stands in stark contrast to almost every other man. In some ways, he is the center of the fiction for Burney. Newton writes, "That a man like Orville exists, that he ignores all the usual requirements of marriage, that he permanently confers upon Evelina the identity of Cinderella is a fiction so complete that Burney is moved either to anticipate the reader's disbelief or to reassure us that our hero has not been parted from his judgment." He is too good to be true and "his extraordinary virtues are both wish fulfillment and compensation." He is both a dramatic and thematic necessity, since he provides counterpoint to a novel that would be overly pessimistic otherwise, but Burney has to take great pains to keep him dramatically interesting, as will be seen with his letter in coming sections.

Newton also details Evelina's personal growth (and lack thereof) in the face of this 'marriage market'. Evelina does develop a defense against these forceful men, but she cannot truly maintain that defense, since she would ultimately have to abdicate that power to be a suitable wife. Lord Orville will have to intervene on her behalf multiple times in the third volume of the novel, as he will surely continue to do so in his role of husband. Considering that the third volume is where a protagonist would usually show the most agency, it is telling that this novel's protagonist will rely on another for that purpose. Overall, Evelina's encounter with the world "is a woman's traditional encounter; it is a time of waiting, a time of transition, during which she is transferred from the protection of one male authority to the protection of another." The quality that makes Evelina dramatically interesting is her pastoral upbringing - she has a perspective on the cruel absurdity of her situation that a girl brought up solely in such society would never have.

However, Evelina's journey is not a true bildungsroman because she cannot truly achieve the personal growth that a young man can. In other words, Burney somewhat lacks the original perspective Evelina does - we could imagine the latter finally realizing that the 'marriage market' is a sham, except that her creator is unwilling to go there. Fanny Burney wrote a novel that reveals an acceptance of a woman's role in the world, though there is a cynical edge in Lord Orville, since she can only temper her cynicism by "[creating] fictions" like him.