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HUMANITIES 471 Sarah Harriet Burney. The Letters ofSarah Harriet Burney. Edited by Lorna J. Clark University of Georgia Press. lxvi_ 550. us$85.00 Lorna Clark's splendid edition of the letters of Sarah Harriet Burney (17721844 ) gives us a pungent writer with a flair for the original. The musicologist Charles Burney's youngest child, half-sister of the author Frances Burney, Sarah Harriet Burney published five works of fiction that were popular in her time but have not been reprinted. Clark argues that her letters are her most valuable work, and this may be so. These 183letters, go per cent of which are previously unpublished, cover her life, beginning at the age of twenty and ending two months before her death. Burney did not marry, and lived mainly at home tmtil her father died. From time to time she would take a position as companion or governess. She was always in straitened circumstances, but she kept her pride, accepting loans but refusing gifts. In 1829she travelled alone to Italy~ where she stayed for three years, enjoying for the first year the lively company of Henry Crabb Robinson and his friends ('She became om pet,' said Robinson, 'and generally dined with us'). On returning, she settled in Bath, and finally moved to a boarding-house in Cheltenham, where company was easy to come by and easy to ignore. This suited a woman of seventy who now lived with 'troops of infirmities.' She had never been-a beauty, and now she described herself unsparingly. Her face had become an'octagon ... its colour, a pale orange, sometimes varigated [sic] with green -lips of a dirty white, dried & chapped.' She wonders how beautiful women must feel when they see the dreadful effects of ill health and old age. Her style was somewhat acerbic, as was her personality. A newly married pair becomes 'a little couple just noosed.' Her sister Charlotte feels 'genuine' sentimentality~ but 'nervous hippishness is quite another thingAnd Novel Romance makes me puke'! She was no fen1inist: 'I must own, a mere peticoat [sic] party is rarely worth putting one foot before the other for.' Often alone, and often lonely, Burney had to write resourcefully, to make much out of little. Though alraid of being thought 'a deuce of a pedant' she reviews current books, sometimes sharply (the first volume of Frances Burney's diary is filled with 'tautology and vanity'). She gives more posibve opinions of Jane Austen ('careless originality'), Sir Walter Scott (even his 'Boney,' a nine-volume life of Napoleon, raises 'unwearied interest and entertainment'), and Maria Edgeworth ('the most useful author, whether male or female, now existing'). She plays with language, yawning over Mme de Stael's 'eloquent bubbles' and habitually writing 'trumpery joking letters.' When words are not enough, she also occasionally breaks into line-drawings, inducting Mrs Siddons's wry mouth in a scene from Shakespeare's King John and a 'pretty little husband~ for her niece. The youngest Burney's letters provide important informationabouther. For instance, as Clark argues convincingly in her introduction~ it seems quite clear here that Sarah Harriet Burney did not commit incest, even 472 LEITERS IN CANADA 1997 though she fled her father and set up housekeeping for five years with her brother James (1798-18o3). When James wanted his daughter to move in with them, Sarah Harriet insisted that he return to his family. Dr Burney appears at his worst in these pages, repeatedly quarrelling with the daughter who twice became his live-in amanuensis and caretaker. Though Sarah Harriet took care of her father for the last seven years of his life, he left her a smaller inheritance than either of her half-sisters. I have only two cavils, and both are matters of omission. A brief outlinesummary of Sarah Harriet Burney's life would have helped the casual reader. Also, there is no central list of the black-and-white illustrations that are scattered through the book, such as the bust of Crabb Robinson and Edward Francesco Burney's illustration of Raphael appearing to Eve in Paradise Lost. Clark's decision to place her notes at the end of each letter has made this edition especially appealing...


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pp. 471-472
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