- A Known Scribbler: Frances Burney on Literary Life, and: The Early Journals and Letters of Fanny Burney, vol. 4, The Streatham Years, part 2, 1780–1781
At a time when Frances Burney the novelist is regularly appearing on graduate and undergraduate course syllabi, these two books contribute to increasing the visibility of Burney's other texts, the letters and journals that made her one of the foremost diarists of her age. While both books bring the reader into immediate and welcome contact with Burney's own words and world, each has set itself a different task. Crump's book surveys the entirety of Burney's life-writings with a view towards selecting those that bear directly on her literary production, whereas Rizzo's volume, taking its place in the authoritative Early Journals and Letters series, covers just two years and provides a comprehensive collection of Burney's personal writings during that period.
Any reader inclined to judge a book by its cover will be greatly surprised upon opening A Known Scribbler, for Broadview has persisted in its practice of offering anachronistic cover photographs, transforming Burney into a stylish, laughing woman from the 1940s. Once past that image, however, the reader will find an admirably organized selection of Burney's letters and journals, letters sent to Burney by various correspondents, contemporary critical reviews of her work, and portions of her two lesser-known published writings, Brief [End Page 392] Reflections Relative to the Emigrant French Clergy and the Memoirs of Dr Burney. These are complemented by a concise chronology and list of principal persons, including Burney's siblings, step-siblings, and half-siblings. Crump takes an appropriately broad view of what constitutes Burney's "literary life," providing a range of materials that allows us to see Burney both as a domestic writer and as a participant in the literary marketplace. These selections show how Burney's family and friends responded to her publication and increasing fame, how Burney herself struggled with her identity as an author, and how she negotiated the necessary financial transactions with publishers. Letters from her first publisher, Thomas Lowndes, appear in full and make it clear that she attempted—unsuccessfully—to get more than the twenty guineas he first offered for Evelina. Also valuable are passages that record Burney's reading habits, and her responses to particular texts: she liked the epistolary Henry and Frances "prodigiously" (55), could not tolerate Mrs Rowe's Letters from the Dead to the Living (55), and is "provoked ... for the Honor of the Sex" (63) upon reading the portrait of Helen in the Iliad.
Burney's well-known anxiety of authorship is amply documented here, particularly in her exchanges with Samuel Crisp, a family friend and self-nominated literary adviser. Crisp's eventual encouragement of Burney's writing is mixed with so much concern about the propriety necessary for a woman writer that it prompts Burney's famous response: "I would a thousand times rather forfeit my character as a Writer, than risk ridicule or censure as a Female. I have never set my heart on Fame, and therefore would not if I could purchase it at the expense of ... propriety" (170). In keeping with this doctrine, Burney publishes her first novel anonymously and attempts to preserve the secret of her authorship even within her own circle. And yet, one of the strengths of this text is the way that Crump's selection brings out the other side of the story, one that does not make its way into most of the commentary on Burney's secretive publication practices: Burney is absolutely elated by the publication of her first novel, and, in some cases, the secrecy only adds to her pleasure, as the...