restricted access Dangerous Fortune-telling in Frances Burney’s Camilla

Frances Burney’s novel Camilla is an experiment in speculation. Charlatans and adepts in Camilla claim to be able to predict the futures of a cast of children, and Burney invites her readers to try, alongside these supposed experts, to predict the futures of these young people, whose economic, health, and educational futures are in flux. By reading Camilla in the context of popular fortune-telling games and probability theory, we can more clearly understand Burney’s use of the novel to critique various forms of projection. I examine in particular Every Lady’s Own Fortune-Teller, a 1791 manual that claimed to offer a new method of using scientific induction to tell individuals’ futures. Burney’s novel shows the danger inherent in this combination of scientific authority and reductive guesswork by demonstrating the varying effects of fortune-telling on two young characters: Camilla and her sister Eugenia. By simultaneously encouraging readers’ curiosity about the characters’ futures and undermining the efficacy and value of projection, Burney trains her readers to read more flexibly and to understand women’s lives in more complex, contingent ways.