Review: Cecilia, Memoirs of an Heiress, by Frances Burney

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Title:Cecilia: Memoirs of An Heiress
Author:Burney, Fanny

Fanny Burney is usually quite overlooked as an author from the old English literature names you usually hear. Everyone loves Austen, Bronte, Dickens, Defoe, and the others you always hear about but Fanny Burney wrote quite a few satire novels in the late 1700′s and early 1800′s. My favorite from her is Cecilia, or Memoirs of an heiress. I appreciate the above mentioned authors and their ability to tell a story with easy and grace, Burney however seems to keep my imagination moving and her plots are complicated while also being very interesting.

The story follows Cecilia, an heiress from Suffolk England. She has three executors to her estate as she was orphaned at an early age. Her uncle’s passing caused Cecilia to be turned over to these three men to handle her income and her social upbringing. She is forced to London to Mr. Harrell’s house and this is when her troubles begin. She is from a good country family but of course she can mix with the London nobility but could never become a part of the family. Ergo she falls madly in love without even realizing it with the son of one of her executors Mr. Delville won’t allow them to marry and after several attempts they all but completely give up. Cecilia has this awful clause in her inheritance that the man she marries must take her last name instead of her taking his. In the late 1700′s era London this would have been impossible for any man of standing. Therefore the couple have problems not only with the parents allowing the marriage but young Delville himself has a small pride issue at hand in taking her name.

In the end Cecilia is driven literally mad, and is locked in a house. Her estate is in ruins and is on the brink of being taken away from her. She has no family remaining and only has the affections of those who her inheritance can profit. This look into the late 18th century London from Burney is very descriptive and well documented. You almost feel like you are walking through the Pall Mall, and the other locations the characters visit. Never has one of the classics brought me into the book so well even with the old time English playing its part. Burney is a masterful storyteller and I truly rate this as one of my favorite novels, It bumped down Jane Eyre that was my all time favorite since I was around 14 or so. If you like classics or reading about the social customs of old England, then you should really pick up this story. I had real tears streaming from my eyes in the last three or four chapters of this book. Even with its massive length and old language it was a story I haven’t easily forgotten. The text seems to stay with you and I hope to see Burney listed with the greats of old language literature more often.

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One Response so far

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    I know that this post is now ancient — only slightly younger than Fanny Burney herself — but I love “the Burn” and was so, so happy to see you plugging her work. Why do more “Janeites” not read Fanny Burney? Her way with dialogue is incredible, and the pathos of many of her heroines is very moving. So it was good to read that you liked _Cecilia_!

    Have you read her letters and diaries? They take her from age thirteen to age seventy or eighty … incredibly funny and moving …

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