- A Celebration of Frances Burney
A Celebration of Frances Burney collects talks that were delivered in 2002 at a meeting of the Burney Society upon the occasion of the author's 250th birthday and installation of a memorial window in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey. Editor Lorna J. Clark has put together this attractive and enjoyable volume so that the proceedings of the conference could be enjoyed by those of us who love Burney but were not able to be present at the event. Like many such collections, A Celebration of Frances Burney is uneven - some of the essays might well have been left behind, remembered by the initial audiences and reflected in the conference program and in the curricula vitae of the presenters. In my brief review I will focus on the essays that make this collection a welcome and worthwhile contribution to Burney studies. The lively joy of the conference is reflected in the way the essays as a whole reflect upon their occasion. As with the best of all 'occasional' work, some of these essays should be read for both the content of their scholarship and for the way they celebrate Burney.
Foremost of these contributions (to my mind) is Betty Rizzo's 'The Trajectory of Romance: Burney and Thrale,' which concisely and effectively excerpts diaries and letters to demonstrate the nature and depth of the relationship between these two brilliant (yet frustrated) literary women of the eighteenth century. Rizzo defines romance in terms of the perceived fulfillment of a lack in each of the partners in a romance. And then she draws out devastating excerpts, particularly from Thrale, demonstrating the combination of need, admiration, contempt, and jealousy - and, of course, mutual delight - that characterized the relationship. Thrale is the needy one, using the socially inferior Burney to fill many voids in her emotional life. Burney, initially aloof, succumbs to Thrale's overwhelming need after her sister Susan, formerly 'dearest,' marries Molesworth Phillips (partly from the loneliness of losing Frances Burney to writing - and to her life at Streatham with the Thrales). As you can see from my focused description, the emotional situation was highly complex for Burney and Thrale, and Rizzo describes and extracts brilliantly. This essay can stand as a memorial for Betty Rizzo herself, for whom this essay represents a small part of her contribution to scholarship of the eighteenth century.
Rizzo's is not the only piece in this collection worth noting: a large number of outstanding scholars were present at this event and have contributed their talks, including Peter Sabor, who writes the book's introduction, Lorna J. Clark, who provides a very interesting discussion of the relationship between Frances Burney and her half-sister novelist, Sarah Harriet Burney, Marilyn Francus, who takes a fresh look at the [End Page 353] relationship between Burney and her stepmother, Elizabeth Allen Burney, Justine Crump, who reconstructs what it might have been like to read Burney in the eighteenth century, Helen Cooper, who writes about mentors, Brian McCrea, who contextualizes the roles of physicians in Burney's novels with a glance at Burney's refusal to allow her own son to pursue a medical career, and John Wiltshire, whose essay on the relationship between Burney and Jane Austen manages to illuminate the subject while providing a strong and contentious point of view on both novelists, closes the volume on an appropriately celebratory note. Others essays worth noting are those by Hester Davenport on the curious absence of sea-bathing in Burney's novels, given her own hearty appreciation in her life, and Audrey Bilger's discussion of laughter and comedy - elements that, as Wiltshire notes in his essay, are too often neglected in recent analyses of Burney's writing.
The contributions to this volume reflect the tremendous editorial work on Burney's journals in the past fifty years by numerous scholars, led first by Joyce Hemlow (to whose memory the volume is dedicated) and then by Lars Troide and Peter Sabor, who have spearheaded monumental feats of editing of Burney's diaries...