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Fanny and Jane

Evelina

To complete what has turned out to be a trilogy of female writers admired by Jane Austen we turn to Fanny Burney.

Frances Burney was the daughter of Dr. Charles Burney, the organist and musical historian. He had moved from London to King’s Lynn for the sake of his chest and it was there that Fanny was born in 1752. Music and the arts were very important to the family. They returned to London when Frances was eight and  two years later her mother died. Burney was the third of six children from her father’s first marriage and they were all close. She didn’t go to school, and didn’t learn to read and write until she was eight.  Five years after the death of her mother Burney’s father married a widow he had known in King’s Lynn. The stepmother was not popular with his children and Burney never accepted her. Charles Burney was a doting father and Burney constantly sought his approval, which had been missing in her earlier life. She was his secretary when he wrote his four volume history of music.

Burney met many of the leading men in music and literature, thanks mainly to her father. Her brothers and sisters were also interested in writing, one of her sisters also becoming a novelist. As well as writing novels and plays, Burney was a prolific writer of letters and journals. These were intended for posterity rather than for the moment and these were the source of her fame for the last century. Famously she described spending the night before Waterloo in Brussels and her own mastectomy, undertaken without anaesthetic.

Evelina was her first and best novel. She wrote it in her teens and finished it in 1777. It was published in 1778. In the fashion of the time it was published anonymously. Authors tended not to admit to their works until the works were successful. Burney even disguised her handwriting, afraid that the publisher would recognise it from the work she had done writing her father’s manuscript, and sent it to the publisher by her brother.  Dr Johnson was an admirer and said that some of the passages would do honour to Richardson. Walpole, Burke, Garrick and Reynolds praised it.

Burney has long been considered an amateur writer who never developed. Her first published novel is considered her best work. There was an earlier novel that she burnt at the behest of her father. Her novels dealt with the identity and character of her heroines.

In 1779 she wrote her first play The Witlings. It was a satire on the blue-stockings, a group of intellectual women who met to discuss literature and the arts. These women had enjoyed Evelina and supported Burney when she admitted to being the author. Burney’s father and other friends persuaded her against trying to have it put on. Dr Burney thought that it was insulting to people who would otherwise have helped her. It was also recognised that a gentlewoman should not have anything to do with the theatre. Women associated with the theatre were considered immoral.

From 1786 to 1791 she was the Second Mistress of the Robes to Queen Charlotte. It was a tedious job, but she needed the £200 per annum it brought, since she wasn’t sure that she would marry, having already had two failed romances. She was thirty-four when the position was offered to her. Burney wasn’t interested in clothes; she found she had little time to write; and one of the other keepers of the robes made her life so unbearable that she wanted to resign. This would have been an insult to the queen, with whom she had developed a good relationship, so she stayed until she became ill. During this time she had another failed romance, which wore her down still further. When she eventually resigned due to ill health she was given a pension of £100.

In 1793, when he was forty, she married a penniless, exiled French officer, M. d’Arblay. He was a Catholic with no means of support at all. It was a love match, but her father did not attend the wedding. Their son Alexandre was born in 1794. One of them needed to earn some money, so Burney wrote.

Burney’s play Edwy and Elvira was produced in 1795, but was a failure, closing after the first night. Her next novel, Camilla, published in 1796 was a financial success. It was published by subscription and Jane Austen and Maria Edgeworth were among the subscribers.

From 1802 to 1812 the d’Arblays lived in France. They had gone there during a period of peace in the hope of restoring M. d’Arblay’s fortunes, but this was not to be. When hostilities began again Burney was a political prisoner and could neither send nor receive mail. D’Arblay took a clerical job, since he was unwilling to join an army that fought for republican ideals. Burney could not receive the money from her writing so d’Arblay eventually joined the republican army. Later he was able to join the royalists.  Burney’s final novel, The Wanderer (1814), written after their return to England, was not well-received. It was considered dated.

In 1810, while still in France, Burney had a mastectomy. This was achieved without anaesthetic and she was conscious throughout the operation. One of her surgeons was Larrey, who was later a surgeon to Napoleon’s army at Waterloo and whose bravery was recognised by Wellington. The surgeons who carried out the operation were the best in France and included the obstetrician of the empress Marie-Louise. Burney later described the operation in detail in her journal and it’s not for the squeamish. Although she recovered, d’Arblay died of cancer in 1818. Burney’s last work was a life of her father, published in 1832. He had died in 1814.

Burney died in 1840, having outlived her husband, her son and her siblings.

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Commander: The Life and Exploits of Britain’s Greatest Frigate Captain by Stephen Taylor – A Review

Commander

I’m in the early stages of planning a book whose hero is a naval captain, so I was happy to come across this biography of Edward Pellew, later Viscount Exmouth, the greatest seaman of his age. By a happy coincidence he was, like my prospective hero, a Cornishman.

A contemporary of Nelson (they joined the navy within three weeks of one another, although in very different circumstances), Pellew was born in 1757 and died in 1833. During the forty-six years he was in the navy he spent over thirty-six years at sea.

With no one to promote his interests, Pellew joined his first ship in the lowest position possible. His ability impressed those above him, but still he rose through the ranks slowly, finding less able men with more influential friends or family promoted ahead of him.  His talents were eventually recognised, however, and he ended his career as an admiral, commanding a fleet in the Mediterranean.

He was one of those men who never ask anyone else to do what they’re not prepared to do themselves. An athletic man, even in middle age he could climb the masts faster than most in his crew. He was always concerned for the welfare of his men, ensuring that they had sufficient exercise to keep them fit and out of mischief and lemon juice to keep scurvy at bay.

In his thirties, when he was a successful captain of frigates fighting and capturing French ships in the Channel, Pellew was for a while more famous than Nelson. He won the first engagement in the war with revolutionary France in 1793 and was knighted as a result. A superb sailor and a good leader of men, his ship was one of the few unaffected by the mutiny of 1797.

Pellew was in the unfortunate position of inspiring enmity and love in equal measure. Whilst at least two captains of French ships he captured became lifelong friends, he made enemies at the Admiralty and in Parliament. During the course of his career he had the frequent misfortune of impressing a man able to advance his cause just as that man was about be replaced, or to make an enemy of a man at the moment he rose to prominence. Apart from his ability to make enemies, other negatives about his character are brought out in the biography. One of these was nepotism. In an age of when this was so common that it was rarely worth mentioned, Pellew took it to extremes by advancing his sons beyond their ability and seems to have been slow to recognise that they weren’t very able. This drew a fair amount of criticism.

During his long career Pellew fought in Canada, where his talents were first recognised, and later had commands in the Channel, the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean. Despite his ability in battle, Pellew missed the defining battle for the British navy. In 1805, while Nelson was commanding the fleet at Trafalgar, Pellew was patrolling the Indian Ocean. Although he was an excellent all round seaman, his particular talent was to train his crews so that they were accurate in their gunfire. He made them practise so that they could take on an enemy with superior firepower and win.

Pellew was like Wellington, in that he never stayed in one place while he was fighting. He would move all over the ship directing and encouraging, even in his last battle at the age of 59. Unusually, for he was known for his snobbery, Wellington esteemed the low-born Pellew highly. Pellew had provided naval support to Wellington’s army during the Peninsular War.

The illustrations in the book are not of good quality. They are printed in black and white at the top or bottom of pages of text. There are no colour (or even black and white) plates in their own section as would be more usual in a biography. Since they are interspersed with text it would be reasonable to expect them to relate closely to the text, but they do not. Often they illustrate events in the past, and don’t relate to the events being described around them.

Taylor’s biography is easy to read and I found it difficult to put it down. This is partly because Pellew lead such an interesting life and partly because the incidents chosen to illustrate that life are well-chosen and nicely supported by contemporary documentation.

I enjoyed this book very much. It could have been a very dry account of the life of a great man, but it’s a lively story about a man who seems to have been very much larger than life.

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Waterloo 200

There’s a break in transmission this week, as I’d like to write about an event I attended at the University of Southampton recently. The university houses the papers of the first Duke of Wellington and it is currently putting on an exhibition displaying some of the papers that are connected to the Battle of Waterloo, including a draft of Wellington’s despatch to Lord Bathurst, Secretary of State for War. The exhibition is called Wellington and Waterloo: ‘the tale is in every Englishman’s mouth’.

 The exhibition is in the university’s Hartley Library. It’s not a large exhibition and it doesn’t need to be. The papers have such historical significance that it would be a mistake to dilute their impact in order to display more.

There are papers showing some of Wellington’s instructions for the Congress of Vienna; drafts of reports from Wellington at Vienna to Lord Castlereagh, Secretary of State for Foreign affairs; pages from Le Moniteur Unversel reporting Napoleon’s activities in Paris during April 1815; estimates of the number of French soldiers and the number of allied soldiers in the run up to the battle; a letter from Wellington requesting additional troops after the battle; and letters about the eventual abdication of Napoleon and the occupation of France.

Save for a few papers at the bottom of the cabinets, the documents are easy to see and to read. The explanatory material is helpful and to the point. The catalogue is also useful, as it contains extracts from the documents on display.

Probably the most interesting document, since we have been remembering the bicentenary of Waterloo on Thursday, is Wellington’s despatch from Waterloo. It seems he started writing it on the battlefield and finished it in Brussels. This was the document that officially brought the news of Bonaparte’s defeat to London in the evening of 21st June, although there had already been rumours reaching the capital throughout the day.

Even allowing for the haste in which Wellington drafted his despatch after the battle, his writing is dreadful, almost illegible, but his thinking is clear. Given how exhausted he must have been when he wrote it, there are remarkably few crossings out and most of the corrections relate to information that must have been brought to him while he was writing.

It’s a very interesting exhibition for anyone interested in Wellington or the battle itself. It runs until 26th June and again from 13th to 24th July.

The link for further information is here

The university has also launched a free Massive Open Online Course about Wellington and Waterloo which makes use of many papers from the collection. The link for this is here. I’m participating in this course and learned about the exhibition as a result. I hope to review the course in some detail once I’ve completed it.

Jane Austen Lives Here will return next week.

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