In a spirited attempt to forestall criticism, Margaret Doody warns her readers that they may 'feel horrified at what they they regard as a changeling-substitution of a mad Gothic feminist for the cheerful little Augustan chatterbox' which is the conventional picture of Fanny Burney. Stimulated to anger by past biographers who see Fanny Burney as sunny and shallow, 'dear little Burney', who class her with, but below, Jane Austen, who are interested only in Evelina and the Journals, Professor Doody sets out to present an altogether different version. 'Burney', or 'Frances', as she alternately and rather confusingly calls her subject, was a different kind of writer from Jane Austen, more like Dickens or even Hardy. She should be judged on all her works, and more on the plays and later novels than on Evelina and the Journals. Violence, anxiety, grotesque farce and brutal jokes pervade her works. 'The search for identity, egoism, embarrassment, self-destruction, emotional blackmail' are listed as the subjects that interested her most; 'drift, inconsequentiality and anti-climax' as her constructive principles. Revolt against the pattern of female submission laid down in the contemporary courtesy manuals, and an ardent advocacy of self-dependence, are detected as master themes in all the novels and plays.
LRB 14 September 1989 | PDF Download