Thursday, June 9, 2011

Evelina, Letters 21- Volume 2, Letter 6 (21- 37)

This series of letters opens with Evelina’s account of her humiliating trip to the opera with the pushy Branghton family. To escape the public humiliation she allows Sir Clement to bring her home but instantly regrets her decision when Lord Orville sees them together. On the carriage ride back Sir Clement makes advances on Evelina causing her to almost jump out of the carriage. She is further embarrassed when she arrives safely to the Mirvins to find Lord Orville had arrived earlier out of concern for her.
The group returns to Howard Grove this time with Captain Mirvan and Madame Duval, who are making the atmosphere uncomfortable for everyone else, especially Evelina who feels responsibility for the presence of her grandmother. Madame Duval comes up with a scheme to sue Evelina's estranged father, Sir Belmont so that he will acknowledge Evelina as his daughter, a crass move that everyone except Madame Duval can see will have embarrassing effects. Lady Howard manages to stop Madame Duval by writing to the gentleman herself but Sir Belmont’s response returns, rejecting the proposal of meeting with Evelina.
In the meantime Evelina is very displeased when Sir Clement comes to visit, invited by Captain Mirvin in order to jointly make Madame Duval’s stay miserable. The two proceed with a complicated prank of faking a robbery and a kidnapping of her companion, M. DuBois.

Is it any surprise to you that Madame Duval and the Braghtons are related? Their behavior leading up to and at the opera was just insane. Had Mr. Braghton but read the Gossip Guide he would know not to leave during the first act. I honestly couldn’t blame Evelina for running away with Sir Clement, even I subsided my hate for him and silently encouraged her to get away from that awful company. But boy were we both deceived! We all know about riding in cars with boys and must remember those rules apply to carriages as well. As Susan Howard notes in my edition of Evelina, Willoughby had ordered the driver to drive east rather than to the West End where Queen-ann-street is. I was genuinely concerned for our Evelina…we all know what happened to Clarissa!

Is anyone else getting the feeling that Captain Mirvin and Sir Clement are their own little fraternity? That extravagant prank with Madame Duval confirmed it my mind. Which gets me thinking: there are movie adaptions of Shakespeare’s and Austen’s works set in modern times. Could Evelina be set in our times? Sir Clement is that privileged frat boy and Lord Orville is that cool guy you’re always flustered in front of.  But I digress.  The prank also leaves Evelina, once again, alone in a carriage with Sir Clement who continues his efforts to desperately seduce her. But the part of this haywire prank what really got me was Madame Duval's reaction afterward, “Her feet were soon disentangled; and then, though with great difficulty, I assisted her to rise. But what was my astonishment, when, the moment she was up, she hit me a violent slap on the face!” Bitch! I would have told her to have fun finding her way back home (although I would have been equally upset to lose a wig). That would have been the last straw for me.

Our weekly salon draws to a close with the news that Sir Belmont will not see Evelina which is more of a relief to her than anything. But what I am left wondering is just how much more Madame Duval can Evelina take? Why oh why does she still put up with her, and why doesn't the Reverend do more when he finds out about the new level of abuse Evelina has dealt with?  Last week (when Evelina's stories were not nearly as horrifying) many were surprised that the Reverand didn't quickly bring Evelina home.  Honestly, Mrs Mirvin is a saint for having Duval as a guest. Also, were you excited that Lord Orville came to see Evelina off and just as quickly disappointed by the utter lack of courtesy he had to endure?

My lingering question is, why does Sir Clement persist in attempting to seduce Evelina.  He has already made it clear that his interest in her isn't honorable; so why bother.  It seems like a hopeless cause in my mind.  Could he possibly and actually be in love with her?

...and Congratulations to Erin Blakemore whose name I drew for a copy of the book! Email me with your address and I'll mail it off to you!


  1. Gotta say I'm glad for your summary -- I was reading the book so fast at the start of the week, that I worried I'd have it all done in a day or two and wouldn't remember anything to talk about for the salon. So I intentionally slowed my reading down, taking big pauses between events, but this seems to have backfired and I actually absorbed very little and was totally confused as to what was going on. So I suppose I'll be better off just reading through at my normal speed for future installments. I might even try to reread some of it tonight to see if I might have anything better to contribute.

  2. Okay... so I was able to reread the stuff I hadn't been able to pick up before (like I said, I seem to be able to just plow through it really fast.) Basically everything about the ambush/fake robbery onward is what I failed to capture initially.
    So opinions... well, first of all, I have to say that I'm beginning to wonder why Evelina doesn't just admit to the Captain about her relation with Duval (since I believe she's specified that he doesn't know how closely related they are) since that might be enough to calm down his ill-treatment of her. (I mean, if you have a teenager staying at your house and there's some random crazy annoying old lady following her around, that might be one thing; but if that's the girl's grandma most folks would try to be a little nicer to her.)
    I was impressed with Evelina's carriage scene(s) with Clement, showing how some things never change. I suppose men don't have the misfortune of being so vulnerable as women are, and so don't have quite an understanding of how utterly creepy and distressing it is when they do stuff like accidentally-on-purpose go the wrong way in a car, or carriage, in hopes of being alone with you longer. (I think they imagine it's a nice romantic surprise or something.) With Clement always around and being so unpleasant, though, I sort of wonder why Evelina's BFF Miss Mirvan isn't around her at all times. (I mean isn't Evelina supposed to be there to see her? Odd how they seem to barely ever hang out -- though I suppose the details when they do might be typically too boring or too unflattering to include in a letter back to dad. "Maria and I spent an hour telling intentionally unfunny jokes which were funny because of how unfunny they were, then we knitted hats shaped like monkeys and made each other wear them, and then we baked cookies" or whatever well-behaved teenagers did in those days. Maybe it should be "And then we had the servants bake us cookies.")
    And I guess that ties in to the question of Evelina set in modern times. It could probably be done, though I don't know how the story ends at this point so don't know if it would make a good movie plotwise -- you know how folks always say "the book was better?" Lots of stuff that works in a book won't work out on screen. So far I don't see much that particularly couldn't be adapted. I expect the whole "daughter through a secret marriage to a nobleman and raised by a priest" thing would just be replaced by "illegitimate and raised by stepdad" (and mom could have died in a car wreck or something more common.) I don't know what the needline in the story would be at this point, however -- in typical films, the main character requires a needline and a desireline which can be broken down as "The character thinks he wants _____ but really wants ____" and I don't think Evelina's got something like that, at least not obviously at this point. That's another trait that wasn't done much in 18th century theater and stories -- if anyone learned a lesson it was usually the villain. I once wrote a screen adaption (never produced) of The Marriage of Figaro where I had to have the Count storywise be the main character because he was the only one that learned a lesson by the end; and so, if we followed that, I'd guess Evelina's natural father or else maybe Clement Willoughby would be the protagonist in film, at least by my guess at this point.

  3. I think that Evelina has too much to take. Can you imagine the level of stress she has been under ever since she left Berry Hill? It's enough to drive anyone crazy what with Madame Duval's, Sir Clement's and Captain's presence. Not to mention her feelings of embarrassment, frustration or mortification every time she meets Lord Orville.

    If I were in Evelina's place, I would have run off in the dead of the night, go to another country and change my name. I think she is under too much pressure from all sides and Mrs. Mirvan's and Lady Howard's good manners and intentions often pose as much of an evil as Madame Duval's and Captain's lack of them.

    I was shocked by Captain's and Sir Clement's barbaric prank on Madame Duval. I thought that they went too far and I was extremely sorry for Evelina, who had to be a part of it, and also felt a tiny bit of pity for Madame Duval. But she is an insufferable woman and I can't stand her. All the same, I think what they did to her was very cruel.

    I am also extremely bothered by how powerless women are. Of course, it is no news to me that women have never been granted a lot of freedoms, but I was particularly struck by the notion when Captain forbade Miss Mirvan and Evelina to express what they think on the matter of the opera or the theatre or something like that, because it didn't coincide with his own opinion and he was very displeased that they should like something that he doesn't and scolded them publicly for it. And then when he intended to play his trick on Madam Duval, he forbade them to interfere or stop him or warn her of what was to happen. And I think Evelina was rather brave to confront him about his next bit of fun.

    And as for Sir Clement – I wish he would stop. I just think that he wants to get to Evelina before Lord Orville does. But the latter is so proper and civilized that he might never get the chance if the likes of Sir Clement or the unnamed Lord are around.

    All the situations that Evelina finds herself in are very cruel upon women. The society sets very tight rules and regulations for women to follow and it's very easy to ruin one's reputation, because there is no room for maneuvering.

  4. Also, for modern equivalent to Duval and the Captain... now, the Captain is, obviously, a military man, and the British had been at this time on and off at war with the French a long while and I think were sort of unofficially at war, with the Revolution going on in the American colonies and the French helping the rebels. I think to equal the situation, Duval would be a loud obnoxious Iraqi or Pakistani woman, and the Captain some military man.

  5. @Min Self, I think Evelina not telling the Captain the truth about the weird French lay is her acting her age. Don't you think? I can't say I would admit to our relationship either...and I have a sneaking suspicion at this point, the Captain's knowledge of Evelina's relationship with Duval, wouldn't make much of a difference in his actions toward her. He, like his French victim, really doesn't seem to have a filter. I also enjoy your refection on the modern equivalent! But perhaps Duval c/would stay French in our figurative movie. Much of the Captain's anti-Franco comments seem to match those of my un-PC father's and English humor still makes the French the butt of many jokes!

    @Farida, Do you find yourself getting stressed out yourself just reading the book? I know I do. I wouldn't consider myself a very empathetic person. It's a wonder I enjoy the book so much considering all the stress!

    I just realized I asked about modern equivalent before even bemoaning the fact there isn't a regular film adaption of the book. Burney's work seems perfect for a Masterpiece adaption. This last weekend Lauren and I were discussing potential cast and decided upon Jayne Wisener and Richard Armitage (drool).

  6. Poor Ol’ Willoughby; so maligned, disliked and distrusted and all he wants is to have a good time. I have quite a few mates like Clement; funny, charming, the centre of the party and rather shallow. Great for a drink but awful as a confidant. I am drawn to people like this, I like their energy, their sense of fun and their lust for life, but people like this do not think about the their actions and what may seem like an enjoyable and amusing game of courtship to him could seriously and permanently injure Evelina’s reputation. It’s not that he means any harm, I think he’d be quite shocked if he thought his actions could be read in a malicious way, which is exactly what makes him so unpredictable and dangerous. Flattering and adoring is nothing more than banter, turning the carriage around, a bit of sport and pretending to mug an innocent, if odious, old lady something to tell the lads in the pub later on.

  7. I love this book! And I'm horrible, there is just something about Clement that I just like, even if he is a torment to poor Evelina.

  8. As for Evelina, I think her actions at the opera reflected badly on her. Yes the Branghtons are vulgar and rude and embarrassing, but her problems and scares with getting in a coach with a lone man, stem from her trying to get away from them. However, (and maybe this because I feel I am more a Branghton than a Lord Orville) I found their objections to opera (it’s silly, stilted and they don’t even sing in English) to be rather sound and I find their honesty and directness far more honest. For Evelina to be so utterly mortified about them seems more like prissiness to me, snobbish prissiness at that. As the orphaned, unmonied ward of a country clergyman, it seems a bit of a surprise that only earls, lords and dukes are cultivated enough for her. I have embarrassing relatives, much richer than me but embracing the whole ‘chav culture’ in Britain. It’s all dyed hair and hundreds of kids by various fathers, but they are my family and can enjoy their company – why can’t Evelina? (My opinion of both Evelina and the Branghtons changes as we go on however.)

  9. Perhaps for Clement its a game, or rivalry with someone? I cannot say for sure, but it seems that way as he does nto have any honorable intentions. Sport!

    Mdm Duval perplexes me with her rich history of being in her own bon ton yet not seeing the impropriety of the people she is surrounded with in London. Discussed the issue with Heather, and her suggestion that Mdm Duval does not know what to expect from the English (or does expect rash behavior) from them leads to her acceptance of the likes of the Branghtons.

    As for the carriage scene, that right there I thought would end Evelina’s contact and civilness to Clement. Yet he persists!

    However she did marry an English bloke of some position so you would think, she would have a clue!

    Sir Belmont, how old would this man be?

  10. Iononsarah, I agree Sir Clement Willoughby has the charm and would be likeable to women. I wonder if Austen drew on Burney's Willoughby character in P and P? I don't think Willoughby was as cruel and obviously a seducer, as Sir Clement, however he was a bad boy! Evelina is evidently put off and aware of Sir Clement's dubious intentions and made uncomfortable by them. Her youth and inexperience makes it hard to not keep getting into scrapes with him and charm forces her to keep forgiving him.
    The Captain is just plain horrible and sadistic, he has no redeeming qualities. He could be played in an update by a military martinet a la Robert Duvall in The Great Santini. Or even Gene Hackman as the villain in Superman. Captain Mirvin almost makes you not dislike Madam Duval, maybe.
    These chapters really ramped up the stress level when you are reading this book and the story really got interesting. You want to remember that Evelina is a teenager in the 18th Century but as teenagers in any age, she is embarrassed by her vulgar city relatives the younger trying to be in fashion and simply do not have the means or background or the manners with which she is familiar. Compared, rightly or wrongly, to the people she had met in London with the Mirvins, her grandmother, to whom she just met, is very common. My country Grandma because she was my grandma and I grew up loving her. None the less, if I had only met her in my teens I might have been less forgiving of her foibles. And you have to admit Madam Duval is a piece of work. It will be interesting to see where she goes with the Lord Belmont refusal. She doesn’t seem to have Evelina’s feelings at the forefront of her scheme. I am glad Mr Villars was able to stand his ground somewhat and get her to agree to take her only to London. She has more up her sleeve.

  11. I thought the scene with the Branghton's was very funny and could somewhat relate. Who hasn't had a publicly embarrassing incident with family? It's the 18th century equivalent to having your Mom hold up a bra in a busy department store while yelling, "Come try this on!" for a teen.

    She got careless when she went off with Clement. Her first instinct was right. What a cad to fling himself at her! She should have decked him.

    I was really disgusted with the Captain and his prank. What is he, 12? Tying up an old lady after scaring her half to death. He's lucky he didn't murder her. I don't like him at all.

    I'm surprised Evelina writes these things to Mr Viccars. Is she trying to give the guy a stroke?

  12. Oops Villars, not Viccars though it seems appropriate.

  13. Actually, I don't think I like the comparison between the Anglo-French tension to Americans with Iraqis and Pakistanis. For one thing, since Iraqis and Pakistanis often emigrate to the US and take American nationality, that's not exactly parallel. For another, the British hated and mocked the French, that's known. But is it known that Americans hate and mock Iraqis and Pakistanis? Is that really a modern source of humour? I would hope a modern day re-telling would be more sensitive to modern-day consideration to others and simply make the grandmother someone silly for being silly, not for her ethnicity.

  14. @Grub Street, The Devil's advocate stance. Brava, Sir, I admire your point of view because I certainly can't stand those trashy Branghtons. But ya know, you're right about Evelina making a rather haughty move by leaving them...especially since it did endanger her.

    @LonLonSarah @Bankerchick, I'm finding it so interesting in our talks how many people are drawn to Clement's bad boy ways. Hence my enjoyment of our salons...there's so many wonderful and varied opinions.

    Lauren's comments also bring me to another thought. While there does seem to be a tad bit of French bashing I am reminded that the fabulous Miss Burney eventually became the Madame d’Arblay when she married a Frenchman for love in 1793. Were the French just easy targets at the time? Did Burney put a hated French character in to appeal to an English audience? Interestingly enough Madame Duval is quite similar to Abigail Adams' description of Mme Helvétius, a squeeze of Ben Franklin's

  15. As to the people shocked that Evelina's not more tolerant of her relatives, I'm with what Banker Chick said -- Evelina only just met these people at age 17 or 18 and doesn't have that long family connection that makes them tolerable. I have relatives I can't stand myself, and I HAVE known them since childhood; I've often considered proposing a voluntary permanent parting of ways between us, since I don't find them enjoyable they don't seem to find me enjoyable (they don't seem any more interested in my opera or Beaumarchais than I am in their country music and reality TV; I can't begin to describe how hurt my feelings were they day I was so happy to have finally finished writing that translation of Eugenie that had been a few years of work, and everyone was so, so, so obscenely much more happy and impressed that my cousin just got a job at Dairy Queen the week before.) and it would really just be for our mutual benefit -- the only reason I don't is because we live so close by and I still live with my parents who are able to find a little more common ground, and so visit often.

    As to the comparison between the French and Pakistani, I think it apt -- but, I wasn't picking up any great humor from the insults against the French myself, that everyone else seems to have been delighting in. Meanwhile, I am afraid, I do actually know military folks who would, much like the Captain, think it totally hilarious to tie up a Pakistani woman and leave her in a ditch, and would probably even think it was patriotic to do so. (Also, for our imaginary film adaption, it would really raise the stakes -- Evelina's grandma wants to take her to Pakistan to teach her to be proper! Horror!) People aren't as aware at this point actually how much of the English/French thing was also partially religious in nature -- I don't think it wholly coincidence that the first record of the insult "frog" turns up in the 14th century during that thing with the French having their own Pope. And then once the English became Protestants but the French stayed Catholic....! As to the claim that French didn't immigrate to England and adopt the culture, that's not true; off the top of my head, David Garrick's family were French, Huguenots if memory serves (original family name was Garrique.) We usually read about the aristocrats in history, and for apparent reasons they might be less likely to want to change their culture when moving; but there were tons of French people who moved to England, especially if they were Protestants looking to move to a more friendly country, and lived perfectly normal lives in that new adopted country.

  16. I don't know, there's something about Sir Clement that I rather like... perhaps because he's such a bad boy! But somehow I keep expecting him to turn out alright, and for Lord Orville to end up being a scoundrel after all in the end. It would make for an interesting twist, to be sure! Then again, as a lover of Henry Fielding, I always love it when the bad boys turn out to be good men.

    Madame Duvall just becomes more and more aggravating as the book goes on. I lost any pity I might have had for her the moment she slapped Evelina. Clearly she's not just crass- she's a selfish brute!

    I don't think Miss Burnley intended to paint the French badly, so much as paint the Captain as a close-minded, judgmental bully. (I do love the image of him as an ex-fratboy, conspiring with a young protege in the form of Sir Clement.) All of the book's criticisms of the French are in his words, and he is far from a sympathetic character. Perhaps Miss Burnley intended it as an irony, as many of her readers were sure to sympathize with the Captain's feelings on the French, despite the fact that he is such an unlikable character. And honestly, if you were to set this book in modern-day America, the French characters could very well remain French. Americans tend to share many of the Captain's feelings on the French even today (too snooty, too fashion-minded, etc.) and the American military certainly has contempt for the French even still- ever hear that old quip about writing a book about French military victories, which would be only one page long? Of course the French are not our military rivals, as they were with England in the 18th century, but this seems to be the least of the Captain's criticisms of the French as a group.

  17. As I read this week’s section, a few things struck me as odd.

    When Evelina got into the carriage with Sir Clement, was this not an absolute violation of propriety—that is, a young single woman choosing to be alone with a man? I have heard stories of parentally forced marriages in the 18th century resulting from similar behaviour.

    As Chrisbookarama mentioned, why does Evelina write so frankly about these events to Rev. Villars? After promising Sir Clement not to mention what happened in the carriage, off she goes telling all in her letter. It seems a diary would be the better place to describe her adventures in detail. I understand that this is a novel of letters, but sometimes it just doesn’t ring true.

    As for the assault of Madame Duval, I was absolutely horrified. I would dearly love to tie the Captain and Sir Clement together and toss them into a deep, wet ditch! Madame Duval is far from a likeable character, but this attack seemed to me simply sadistic.

    I was sorry to read that Sir Belmont won’t meet Evelina, but I guess there wouldn’t be much story if he immediately and happily acknowledged his long lost daughter. Looking forward to the next reading section!

  18. @Heather, I think I will like to reread this book after all even, though I have to take long breaks in between, because sometimes it becomes too much for my nerves to bear. Not to mention, that it's a perfect read for my latest heroine :))

    I wonder why there's no "Evelina" film, though. Maybe we should petition to have someone consider it at Masterpiece?

  19. @Vinery, Would you keep a promise to Sir Clement? But you're right, Evelina knows the rules of propriety and follows them to the best of her ability but in this case...she does not. No wonder she wants to die when Lord Orville is waiting for her at the end of the horrifying journey!

    @Farida, Well, I will tell you that on the second read I wasn't as stressed due to knowing the outcome :)

  20. Until the captains highway man prank I found him quite amusing. The description of him shaking her until he ran out of energy was horrifying!

    I had to agee with the captains opinion at one of the assemblies (in letter 23) that "the men, as they call themselves, are no better than monkeys; and as to the women, why they are mere dolls"

    I cant help but like Sir Clement despite his bad behaviour. Although I could understand Evelinas embarrassment I thought she behaved rather badly to her cousins, who didn't seem nasty, just a little "vulgar".

    I still don't see what Evelina sees in Lord Ormsby. I thought him rather cruel leaving her to go off with Sir Clement after the opera when it was obvious she was distressed about the whole thing and did not know what to do. However, if, as another poster suggests, Richard Armitage was cast as him In an adaptation am sure I could forgive him!
    In all I am really enjoying the book.

  21. I confess I devoured this book and wished for more, and I'm considering rereading it now that I'm less focused on what will happen next. I think Evelina would modernize very easily! One thing I noticed is there is very little mention of clothes, appearances, and other markers of the time period. The only thing that might be a challenge is this complex code of behavior and social obligation. People now don't seem to have a problem telling annoying relatives or entranced suitors (do those still exist?) to take a hike.

  22. Unfortunately my school schedule this week took over my reading time, so I am quite a bit behind. I really enjoyed reading everyone's insights though and will keep them in mind when I try to catch up this weekend!

  23. BTW, I should probably clarify that I don't think the sole reason the English hate the French is religious difference (I think 75% of it is just that everyone always hates the country next to them.)
    You find me fresh off a World History SAT so the events of the world are still up near the surface of my thoughts...

  24. To Diane: The Branghtons or Madame Duvall would tell people to take a hike, indeed the only person seeming to stick to this code is Evelina.

    To Min Self. We hate them because they are French, no more needed. (And I have French housemates)

    If we were doing a modern remake set in Britain, I think Madame Duvall would be American, pushy, fashionable and modern.

  25. Oh I LIKE that! A pushy American grandma, I have one of those! Then the redneck-ish Branghton family...oh now that'd be good.

  26. I'm catching up right now and I remember a time when, ashamed as I am to recall all this, I snubbed someone because I found them embarrassing and vulgar. This was back in my teens and I'm sorry for it, but at the time, I was so torn up by the embarrassment of association, that I just behaved as badly as Evelina did. Learning to say "eff it, I'm doing the right thing no matter what" and also knowing what the right thing is, is a matter of experience. And Evelina is what, 17?

    Also, reading how Lord Orville allowed Sir Clement to just push him aside like he did when being alone with him in a carriage would have been so improper for Evelina made me think "what a wuss."

    Back to the book with more comments later...

  27. Oh my God, the people in this book are so so so stupid. I'm so losing patience. And that Lord Orville, said it before and will say it again, what a wuss.

    @I lodge in Grub Street: your chav relatives sounds awesome and never dull. Lucky lucky you. And to paraphrase GB Shaw: the more respectable a person, the more they have to hide. ;)

  28. Richard Armitage is far too old to play Lord Orville. Armitage is like what,40 now? And Lord Orville is a twenty-something. Yes, Richard is handsome but he has that experienced-older-gentleman-suave kind of handsome look, not the swoon worthy handsomeness of youth. I don't know if I'm describing it right, but there's different kinds of handsome and when i see Richard Armitage i see a perfect Mr. Darcy not a Lord Orville.

    Perhaps Rupert Friend? Younger, handsome, aristocratic bone structure, great actor.

  29. I'm glad to see that others are bother by Lord Orville's behavior. Talk about mixed messages on his part! He lets Sir Clement take her in his carriage but Lord Orville is so worried that instead of following them he goes to the Mirvan's place. *Rolls eyes* I totally think he's a bit of a wuss.
    The prank that Sir Clement and Captain Mirvan played was too over the top. Very poor taste and to make her think that her boyfriend was going to die. Harsh.
    If I was a teenager, I probably would have faked illness and requested to be sent back to Berry Hill. At least she hung in there for better or worse.

  30. I'm a sucker! Lord Orville had me at Hello.

    @Amirak101, Oh boo, he is kinda old. Friend is the right age...but I would have to get over him as Willoughby in P&P.