I've only just started reading Frances Burney's Camilla this past weekend (so a little on that below), but as I know very little about the woman herself I thought it would be interesting to read something more along with the novel. I'm still waiting for my copy of her Journals and Letters to arrive in the mail, which is going to be my companion read, but in the interim I found The World of Fanny Burney by Evelyn Farr at my library. Farr writes solely about the social and cultural milieu in which Burney lived, but she doesn't address her works critically. I'm actually glad as I'd like to get a feel for what life was like for Burney without worrying about getting caught up in (or bogged down by) critical details. There'll be plenty of time for that later if need be.
Frances Burney seems a really fascinating woman and lived a long life, 1752-1840. A dedicated diarist, she chronicled her years as Keeper of the Robes to Queen Charlotte, but it was only five years at Court she lived, however. She knew many celebrated people of the period including Samuel Johnson. She was married to a French aristocrat and lived in Paris for ten years under Napoleon's First Empire and mingled with royalty, literary and theater people in both English and French society. Her father was a musicologist and her mother beautiful and accomplished, sharing her husband's interests in music and literature.
"Quiet and shy, she (Fanny) could not read until she was eight, and was nicknamed alternately 'the little dunce' or 'the old lady' because of her grave, solemn demeanor. Within her own family, however, she was noted for her gaiety, humor and gift for mimicry, talents which show through clearly in her diary and novels."
From all accounts Fanny seems to have come from a close knit and happy family circle, which included six children from her father's previous marriage. Her mother died when she was only ten however, and for some time she was left in the care of her grandmother. Fanny had little formal education and was largely self-taught. She not only read through the major literary works of the time but she learned French and Italian with some help from her younger sister who went to school in Paris (apparently Fanny was kept back because there was a fear she would convert to Roman Catholicism?).
She loved to write and by the time she was fifteen she had quite a collection of her own literary undertakings, which she sadly sent to the bonfire on the advice of her stepmother (with whom neither she nor her step-siblings got on with very well), including a work called "The History of Caroline Evelyn" from which Evelina grew. It sounds as though Fanny was a reserved young woman and would "keep her own counsel" in fear of making any faux pas. But she was a good listener, charming with friends and kept her correspondents informed of social doings in her long letters.
I think I'll save the beginnings of her literary career for next week. No need to rush through such a long life when this is going to be a reading project to take me through the rest of the year (and perhaps into January as well).
And on to Camilla. The question is--do I stop and look up the end notes as I read or just plow through the story? Sometimes those notes are really helpful, but it's always a scramble to flip to the back and find the right reference. My very first impression was--is the language and writing style going to be the sort that requires extreme concentration? It's quite formal and not what I'm used to. Am I going to be lost from the first? I've not read many books written in the eighteenth (or earlier) century. But once I fell into the rhythm of the story, it flows quite nicely. So just a few reading notes to get started in order to orient things, and then next week we'll see where the story is leading.
"In the bosom of her respectable family resided Camilla. Nature, with a bounty the most profuse, had been lavish to her attractions; Fortune, with a moderation yet kinder, had placed her between luxury and indigence. Her abode was in the parsonage-house of Etherington, beautifully situated in the unequal county of Hampshire, and in the vicinity of the varied landscapes of the New Forest."
Camilla is the second daughter of Mr. Tyrold, a Reverend who is "gentle with wisdom and benign in virtue." The Tyrolds have a "felicitous" marriage with two other daughters and a son. Eugenia and Lavinia are each as pretty as the other, but there's something about Camilla--the set of her mouth?--which sets her apart. Into their lives they welcome Mr. Hugh Tyrold, a baronet, who after suffering ill health is moving into the neighborhood with his niece Indiana. The two brothers had been for some years estranged but now will reside just a few miles from each other. It's the futures of the four young women which the story will concern itself with.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to read more.