Who Is The Mother Of English Literature?

By Antonia Čirjak on June 16 2020 in Literature & Languages

Frances Burney. Image credit: bbc.co.uk
Frances Burney. Image credit: bbc.co.uk
  • Frances Burney, nicknamed Fanny, is one of the most prominent figures of 18th century English literature and is considered to be the mother of English fiction.
  • Many of her novels draw inspiration from her personal life that was somewhat contradictory to the social delicacy of that day and age.
  • She was acknowledged and respected for her wittiness and satirical elements, and was admired by authors such as philosopher Edmund Burke, playwright David Garrick, and many others.

Frances Burney, nicknamed Fanny, is one of the most prominent figures of 18th century English literature and is considered to be the mother of English fiction. It was Virginia Woolf who said that Frances Burney is the mother of English fiction because of her big success and significant influence she had on her fellow writers.

Originally, Fanny wrote her books anonymously, but after the universal critical acclaim of her novel Evelina, she revealed her identity to the public, including her father. He was oblivious to the fact that his daughter was already a famous writer in her mid-twenties.

Evelina, Or The History Of A Young Lady's Entrance Into The World 

Frances Burney was born in 1752, in Lynn Regis (now King's Lynn), in England. She was a diarist, playwright, and she also wrote satirical novels. She grew up with her father, stepmother, and six siblings. She began writing in her teens, and she kept a diary where she began her literary exploration and experimentation. Evelina or the History of a Young Lady's Entrance into the World was her first novel that was published anonymously in the year 1778.

Many of her novels draw inspiration from her personal life that was somewhat contradictory to the social delicacy of that day and age. There are multiple reasons why her first novel earned positive reviews and reactions. Most of all, it is the quality of the work and the masterful portrayal of multiple characters with distinct voices and first-person perspectives.

credit: Alan Kean / Shutterstock.com
Virginia Woolf bust in Tavistock Gardens, Bloomsbury, London. Image credit: Alan Kean / Shutterstock.com

It was also a novel that was written by a woman, despite her attempts to conceal the authorship at that time. Evelina was about a young woman from the countryside, who explores the various levels of 18th-century society (which is heavily satirized) humorously, with romanticism akin to the works of Jane Austen. 

The Importance Of Female Authorship

She wrote many more novels after Evelina, and she continued to be critically successful, later even supporting her whole family with the earnings from her craft (especially due to the 1796 novel Camilla). Her success is not to be taken lightly, as Frances Burney inspired many more female writers to step into the spotlight of literature.

She was acknowledged and respected for her wittiness and satirical elements, and was admired by authors such as philosopher Edmund Burke, playwright David Garrick, and many others. Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice is an hommage to the final pages of Burney's novel Cecilia. Her family and friends were supportive but discouraged her from publishing some of her work because they did not consider it to be appropriate for a woman. There was certainly much outside pressure on her work and talent.

Still, even so, she managed to persist in her career as a writer (even surviving breast mastectomy without anesthetics) and pave the way for many female authors after her such as Jane Austen, Maria Edgeworth, and Anne Radcliffe. You could say she was like a mother to all of them, they certainly thought so.

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