Backstage in the Novel

Backstage in the Novel: Frances Burney and the Theater Arts

Francesca Saggini
Translated by Laura Kopp
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    Backstage in the Novel
    Book Description:

    InBackstage 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 Novelaims 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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3264-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. Introduction: A Wide Angle on the Muses
    (pp. 1-12)

    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 has received only recent attention and less systematic treatment. Still a secondary field of research, its restrictive confines remain the preserve of relatively few specialists. This is particularly the case where the theater’s close ties to the novel are concerned. Here, the...

  6. ONE In the Beginning
    (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 its inception, therefore, Restoration theater was closely tied to the Court and reflected its core values.

    In tragedy, it was heroic drama that most fully expressed the chivalric ideology favored by the Court. Strictly bound by the rules of classical drama, heroic tragedy provided a mimetic representation of noble characters...

  7. TWO “In the Novel Way, There Is No Danger”: Transmodal Adaptations and Transtextuality in Evelina
    (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 of his manuscript materials, which had been entrusted to her after his death.

    Outwardly identical, but of opposite significance, the two episodes reveal much about Burney’s complex attitude toward writing and professional authorship. Women’s writing in the eighteenth century...

  8. THREE Caliban’s Mirror: The Witlings
    (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 toThe History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World.The alteration was a tribute to established convention (Henry Fielding’sHistory of Tom Jones,for example, or Samuel Richardson’sClarissa,subtitledThe History of a Young Lady), but it also stressed the importance of verisimilitude to Burney’s epistolary technique, as did the preface, in which Burney had followed tradition...

  9. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  10. FOUR The Theater and the City: Cecilia
    (pp. 133-190)

    Following the suppression ofThe 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.dhave you very careful, & very perfect—that is, as far as your own Efforts, & the best advice you can get, can make you. In the Novel Way, there is no danger.”¹ A few months after she received this letter, Burney was already complying with her father’s wishes, announcing in the fall of 1779 to Samuel Crisp and Hester Thrale that she had begun a new literary project...

  11. FIVE Texts, Bodies, Performance: Staging Madness in Cecilia and The Wanderer
    (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 novelsCeciliaandThe Wanderer,and their presence in Burney’s letters and journals, as well as in her tragedies, suggests that an isotopy of madness runs through Burney’s macro-text.

    In this chapter, I examine the episodes of madness inCeciliaandThe Wandererthrough a semiotic analysis of their...

  12. Appendix: An Index to Frances Burney’s Theatralia, 1768–1804
    (pp. 223-244)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 245-284)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 285-300)
  15. Index
    (pp. 301-316)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 317-317)