Sunday, December 05, 2021

Fortnightly Book, December 5

Of Frances Burney's novels, I have already done her first and second novels, Evelina and Cecilia, both excellent, so let's do her third novel, Camilla: Or, A Picture of Youth, published in 1796. The novel apparently gave her some difficulties; when King George III asked her how much time it had taken to write it, she replied, "All my time, sir!" Camilla went through several revisions, and then she didn't like the criticism got when published, so she attempted to revise it again in a second edition (which took some work, because the publisher was reluctant to do it), and then, unsatisfied still, began reworking it for a third edition toward the end of her life. For significant periods, she had problems with respect to the copyright, having lost control of it. The version I have, the Oxford World's Classics, gives the 1796 first edition version, with grammatical and spelling revisions from the 1802 second edition (with more substantive revisions relegated to notes).

Given that it is a sizable tome and that my schedule is heavily unpredictable for the next several weeks, this 'fortnightly book' will likely take three and perhaps even four weeks. But when I am done with this, I will have completed the three explicitly mentioned novels by Burney and Edgeworth in the famous passage from Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey:

Such is the common cant. “And what are you reading, Miss—?” “Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.

We later learn that John Thorpe doesn't have a high opinion of it; he calls it, " that other stupid book, written by that woman they make such a fuss about, she who married the French emigrant" and "it is the horridest nonsense you can imagine; there is nothing in the world in it but an old man’s playing at see-saw and learning Latin; upon my soul there is not". Condemnation by John Thorpe is, of course, a high literary recommendation in itself.