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Backstage in the Novel

Frances Burney and the Theater Arts

Francesca Saggini. Translated by Laura Kopp

Publication Year: 2012

In Backstage in the Novel, Francesca Saggini traces the unique interplay between fiction and theater in the eighteenth century through an examination of the work of the English novelist, diarist, and playwright Frances Burney. Moving beyond the basic identification of affinities between the genres, Saggini establishes a literary-cultural context for Burney's work, considering the relation between drama, a long-standing tradition, and the still-emergent form of the novel.

Through close semiotic analysis, intertextual comparison, and cultural contextualization, Saggini highlights the extensive metatextual discourse in Burney's novels, allowing the theater within the novels to surface. Saggini’s comparative analysis addresses, among other elements, textual structures, plots, characters, narrative discourse, and reading practices. The author explores the theatrical and spectacular elements that made the eighteenth-century novel a hybrid genre infused with dramatic conventions. She analyzes such conventions in light of contemporary theories of reception and of the role of the reader that underpinned eighteenth-century cultural consumption. In doing so, Saggini contextualizes the typical reader-spectator of Burney’s day, one who kept abreast of the latest publications and was able to move effortlessly between "high" (sentimental, dramatic) and "low" (grotesque, comedic) cultural forms that intersected on the stage.

Backstage in the Novel aims to restore to Burney's entire literary corpus the dimensionality that characterized it originally. It is a vivid, close-up view of a writer who operated in a society saturated by theater and spectacle and who rendered that dramatic text into narrative. More than a study of Burney or an overview of eighteenth-century literature and theater, this book gives immediacy to an understanding of the broad forces informing, and channeled through, Burney's life and work.

Published by: University of Virginia Press

Series: Winner of the Walker Cowen Memorial Prize


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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Dedication Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. xi-xiii

Writing a book is like undertaking a long journey through a changing landscape. Progress brings a distillation of experiences, memories, questions, and research—leading both inward and outward. Writing this book, through all of the various shapes it assumed as I traveled from one stage to the next, reached one turn after another, and shifted from...

List of Abbreviations

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p. xv

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Introduction: A Wide Angle on the Muses

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pp. 1-11

In Britain, the novel emerged as a new genre in the context of sweeping social, political, and economic changes that also had a strong impact on the theater. But whereas the theater of the Restoration has been the subject of informed historical studies focusing on its ideological, social, and even sexual components, the theater of the eighteenth century...

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One: In the Beginning

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pp. 13-47

Upon the restoration of the Stuart monarchy, the Puritan ban against theaters was lifted immediately. A strong supporter of both public and private theatrical entertainments, Charles II issued patents to William Davenant and Thomas Killigrew to stage productions in the capital, granting their theaters direct royal patronage and protection. From...

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Two: “In the Novel way, there is no Danger”: Transmodal Adaptations and Transtextuality in Evelina

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pp. 48-89

Frances Burney’s literary career was framed by two episodes that can be considered emblematic both of her poetics and of her life. In 1767, at fifteen, she destroyed all of her manuscripts in a bonfire, afraid that her father would discover she had been writing; sixty-four years later, as she prepared to write her father’s biography, she burned a substantial portion...

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Three: Caliban’s Mirror: The Witlings

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pp. 90-132

Burney’s first novel proved to be so popular that three reprints were issued in quick succession, followed by a pirate edition published in Ireland in 1779. After the first edition, Burney added the word “history” to the subtitle, changing it to The History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World. The alteration was a tribute to established convention...

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Four: The Theater and the City: Cecilia

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pp. 133-190

Following the suppression of The Witlings, Charles Burney continued to caution his daughter against writing for the stage, encouraging her instead to return to novel writing: “For the stage, I w.ᵈ have you very careful, & very perfect—that is, as far as your own EVorts, & the best advice you can get, can make you. In the Novel Way, there is no...

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Five: Texts, Bodies, Performance: Staging Madness in Cecilia and the Wanderer

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pp. 191-222

Although Frances Burney’s journals, novels, and plays are chronologically distinct works written over many years, they share a number of recurring themes, among them that of a female protagonist who undergoes an experience of alienation that can broadly be termed an episode of “madness.” The importance of such episodes in the novels...

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Appendix: An Index to Frances Burney’s Theatralia, 1768–1804

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pp. 223-243

This appendix lists the plays, operas, musical performances, and other productions that Frances Burney attended, read, performed in, or referred to in writing between 1768 and 1804, the period covering the correspondence, novels, and plays discussed in this book. Each section of the appendix was produced by collating and crossreferencing Burney’s letters and journals with her novels...


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pp. 245-284


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pp. 285-300


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pp. 301-315

E-ISBN-13: 9780813932644
E-ISBN-10: 0813932645
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813932545
Print-ISBN-10: 0813932548

Page Count: 336
Illustrations: 9 b&w illus. (9 redacted), 26 tables
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Winner of the Walker Cowen Memorial Prize
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OCLC Number: 796999193
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Backstage in the Novel

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Subject Headings

  • Burney, Fanny, -- 1752-1840 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • English fiction -- 18th century -- History and criticism.
  • Performing arts in literature.
  • Theater in literature.
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