After a slow start I think I'm finally on track with Frances Burney's Camilla and so far I'm finding it an enjoyable read. This weekend I read Book One (there are ten books divided into five volumes), which introduces the characters and follows their lives for about seven years. I was afraid the more formal language, which I am not used to reading, would slow me down. And while it did take a little getting used to, once I fell into the story I didn't think about it so much. I do think this is a book best read in chunks and read steadily--a little bit each day, so I'm going to have to try and spend as much time with Camilla as possible to keep the story flowing.
Formalities first. Let me introduce you to the characters so far. Although Camilla is the heroine, the first book is as much (maybe even more so) about her sisters and her uncle, Mr. Hugh Tyrold, as it is about Camilla. She is the second daughter in a family of four children of the Reverend and Mrs. Tyrold. Lavinia is the eldest and Eugenia the youngest and they have one brother, Lionel. The family lives in Hampshire, in the parsonage-house of Etherington. Camilla's father is the younger son of the House of Tyrold, and after a number of years of living estranged from his brother, Mr. Hugh Tyrold has decided to move into the neighborhood not being in the best of health. A Baronet with several wards, he moves into the Cleves' Estate.
Indiana and Clermont Lynmere are two of Mr. Tyrold's wards. Cousins to the Tyrold children, Indiana is about the same age as Camilla. Clermont is away at school at the beginning of the story. Edgar Mandelbert (who is going to be Camilla's love interest later) is another of Hugh's wards. He's the only son of of a "bosom friend of Mr. Tyrold" (not sure if that means the friend is dead, but in any case Hugh takes care of Edgar's education). Edgar is heir to a fine estate and is an "uncommonly spirited and manly boy", and indeed Hugh does seem to hold him in high regard.
Camilla is ten at the opening of the story and has made quite an impression on Hugh. So much so that he decides to settle the bulk of his fortune on her as she "amuses" him so much. He convinces her parents to allow her to remain at Cleves, but it's at her tenth birthday party that there will be a reversal of fortunes of sorts. The party decides to make an excursion to see Edgar's home, and on the way the group stops at a fair where Eugenia is exposed to and eventually falls sick with small pox.
Hugh Tyrold proves to be a flighty sort of character, though his heart's in the right place. Mrs. Tyrold considers him "more childish than her children themselves" having shown such poor judgement in bringing Eugenia out into the neighborhood where small pox had been known to sicken some of the residents. Not only does she catch the virus but she suffers a fall which results in one of her legs not healing properly. Once the prettiest of girls, she has "not a trace of her beauty left". In his despair Hugh promises to give her his fortune--anything to make it up to poor Eugenia, only later realizing that his favorite, Camilla, has been left out in the cold. I don't think her mother minded so much since that meant she returned home to her parents. And being a child with goodness of heart, Camilla doesn't care about a fortune, only about her uncle's sadness.
The rest of the chapter is taken up with Hugh's scholarly endeavors. He's not a bookish sort of man, having been more of an outdoorsman prior to his illness, so he tries to educate himself (and his nieces and nephews) to sometimes humorous results. Indiana may be "the best girls in the world as well as the prettiest", but "she has got no brains". Lionel was just impertinent and so not a very good study partner. It's Eugenia who takes to the books and has a passion for knowledge (despite being only a girl).
I can see the way the wind's blowing, though. Mr. Hugh Tyrold is either going to act as the story's "fairy godmother" in getting couples (Camilla and ? suitor) together, or his actions are going to be good natured but ultimately disastrous in keeping the right lovers apart. By the end of the first book Mr. Tyrold is already eyeing Clermont as potential husband material for fifteen-year-old Eugenia. And he begs his brother for the return of Camilla, who is now seventeen.
"Her qualities had a power which, without consciousness how, or consideration why, governed the whole family. The airy thoughtlessness of her nature was a source of perpetual amusement; and, if sometimes her vivacity raised a fear for her discretion, the innocence of her mind reassured them after every alarm. The interest which she excited served to render her the first object of the house; it was just short of solicitude, yet kept it constantly alive. Her spirits were volatile, but her heart was tender; her gaiety had a fascination; her persuasion was irresistible."
And now I think things are going to start getting interesting.
My copy of Frances Burney's Journals and Letters came last week as well, but so far I've only read the introduction. I'm not sure I'll manage to read the entire second book this week (not for lack of trying of course), but I'm going to try and only write about each book as I finish it. So next week you're likely to hear more about her Journal. As silly as it sounds, I'm so happy I am finally reading Fanny Burney.