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Fanny Burney: A Pioneer of Female Authorship in the 18th Century

Early Life

Frances Burney, more affectionately known as Fanny Burney, was born on June 13, 1752, in King’s Lynn, Norfolk. She was the third child of esteemed musicologist and historian Dr. Charles Burney. Fanny Burney’s intellectual environment, buoyed by her father’s associations with scholars and writers, played a pivotal role in shaping her as an astute observer and a self-taught writer.

Literary Debut

Fanny Burney’s first novel, “Evelina” (1778), published anonymously, became an instant success. This epistolary novel, which depicts the entrance of a young woman into the world of 18th-century society, is known for its vivid characters and sharp commentary on societal norms and manners. The revelation of Burney as its author astonished many who couldn’t believe such a young and relatively sheltered woman could craft such a work.

Subsequent Works and Royal Service

Encouraged by the success of “Evelina”, Burney penned “Cecilia” in 1782 and “Camilla” in 1796. Both novels were well-received and further established her reputation as a significant literary figure of her time.

In 1786, her rising social prominence led her to accept a position at the court of King George III and Queen Charlotte, serving as the Second Keeper of the Robes. However, the rigid protocols and demanding routines took a toll on her health and spirits. Her time at court, though providing rich material for later diaries and writings, lasted only five years, after which she sought an early retirement in 1791.

Personal Life and Later Years

In 1793, Fanny Burney married Alexandre D’Arblay, a French general. Their union was marked by deep affection, and they had one son, Alexander. Burney’s later works include “The Wanderer” (1814) and the biographical “Memoirs of Doctor Burney” (1832), which she wrote in tribute to her father.

Burney’s health declined in her later years, but she continued to write and engage in intellectual pursuits. She passed away on January 6, 1840.

Influence and Legacy

Fanny Burney’s novels, filled with keen social observations, wit, and strong female protagonists, significantly influenced the evolution of the English novel. Notably, Jane Austen, one of the most revered authors in English literature, drew inspiration from Burney’s works.

Beyond her novels, Burney’s journals and letters provide a detailed account of the literary and courtly society of her time. Her candid and descriptive style in her diaries, which covered over 70 years of her life, offers readers a firsthand look at the cultural and social shifts of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Today, Fanny Burney is celebrated not just for her novels but for her pioneering role in paving the way for future female novelists. Through her works, she challenged societal expectations, providing a unique perspective on the lives and aspirations of women in her era.

List of famous works

Fanny Burney, later Madame d’Arblay, was a prolific writer. Over her lifetime, she penned novels, plays, and diaries. Here’s a list of her most notable works:


  1. Evelina, or the History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World (1778) – This debut novel, written in epistolary form, was published anonymously and achieved great success, cementing her reputation in London’s literary circles.
  2. Cecilia, or Memoirs of an Heiress (1782) – Another epistolary novel, “Cecilia” delved into the trials and tribulations of a young heiress in 18th-century England.
  3. Camilla, or a Picture of Youth (1796) – This novel explored the romantic entanglements and societal expectations surrounding its titular character, Camilla.
  4. The Wanderer, or Female Difficulties (1814) – Her final novel, “The Wanderer” was a response to the French Revolution and the position of women in society.


  1. The Witlings (1778-79, but unpublished until the 20th century) – A satirical comedy that was withdrawn before it could be performed, largely due to concerns from her father and his friend Samuel Crisp about its possible reception.
  2. Edwy and Elgiva (1790) – A tragedy that was briefly performed but was not well-received.
  3. Love and Fashion (written in the 1790s, but unpublished during her lifetime).

Diaries and Letters

Fanny Burney’s journals and letters are perhaps as significant as her novels. They spanned over 70 years of her life, from 1768 to 1839, and provide a detailed account of the society, politics, and literary culture of her era. These writings were published in multiple volumes during the 19th and 20th centuries.

  1. Diary and Letters of Madame d’Arblay – Edited by her niece, Charlotte Barrett, and published in seven volumes between 1842 and 1846.
  2. Journals and Letters of Fanny Burney (Madame d’Arblay) – Edited by Joyce Hemlow and others, this comprehensive collection was published in twelve volumes between 1972 and 1984.

Additionally, Burney wrote several other plays and prose pieces, though not all of them were published or performed in her lifetime. Her breadth of work is a testament to her diverse talents and the depth of her observations on society, literature, and personal relationships.