Burney’s conservatism: Masculine value and ‘the ingenuous Cecilia’

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

5 Scopus citations


Somebody in the horde of fops and merchants populating Frances Burney's second novel, Cecilia, or Memoirs of an Heiress (1782), names Vauxhall Gardens one of London's ‘semi-barbarous places’. This testimony neatly refutes the historian of manners Norbert Elias, who designates such sites of eighteenth-century leisure ‘pacified social spaces’. Indeed, Burney's London is not only not pacified, as Cecilia's guardian, who extorts his ward's property and then shoots himself in the head while rioting at Vauxhall, spectacularly demonstrates; Burney's London is also imbecilic. In a late draft of the novel, Burney blotted out the still-legible commentary of another one of Cecilia's onlookers, who remarks that urban ‘Conversation’ fails to elicit from adults even the ‘little skill’ required by ‘Children's Games’: ‘Thread the Needle may teach them grace, Hunt the Slipper dexterity, Move-all agility, & Blind Man's Buff penetration, while Hide & Seek calls for more address, perseverance & ingenuity than will be either displayed or required in such an assembly as this for a year & an half’. Burney's deleted censure offers this failure of even rudimentary cultivation as the source of Cecilia's preponderance of ‘characters, incapable of animating from wit or from reason […] [who,] void of all internal sources of entertainment, require the stimulation of shew, glare, noise and bustle to interest or awaken them’. Her list of games shows how readily Burney could gloss the sources of these characters' inner failings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationRecognizing the Romantic Novel
Subtitle of host publicationNew Histories of British Fiction, 1780-1830
PublisherLiverpool University Press
Number of pages27
ISBN (Electronic)9781846315633
ISBN (Print)9781846311628
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Burney’s conservatism: Masculine value and ‘the ingenuous Cecilia’'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this