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Written in secret, the manuscript copied for her publisher in disguised handwriting, Frances Burney's first novel Evelina appeared anonymously in 1778. It was a sequel to Caroline Evelyn, the novel burned by its author when she was fifteen; Evelina, the apparently illegitimate daughter of vanished Caroline, happily enters a society much more dangerous than she realizes. Subtitled The History of a Young Lady's Entrance into the World the novel records in letters its young heroine's encounters with society, both high and low, in London and at fashionable watering places.
Leaving the secluded home of her guardian for the first time, beautiful Evelina Anville is captivated by her new surroundings in London's beau mondeand in particular by the handsome, chivalrous Lord Orville. But her enjoyment soon turns to mortification at the hands of her vulgar and capricious grandmother, and the rakish Sir Clement Willoughby, who torments the naive young woman with his unwanted advances. And while her aristocratic father refuses to acknowledge her legitimacy, Evelina can hold no hope of happiness with the man she loves.
Published anonymously in 1778, Frances Burney's epistolary novel brought her instant fame when the secret of its authorship was revealed. With its ingenious combination of romance and satire, comedy and melodrama, Evelina is a sparkling depiction of the dangers and delights of fashionable society.
Margaret A. Doody teaches English literature at Princeton University. She has also published A Natural Passion: A Study of the Novels of Samuel Richardson (1974).