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Frances Burney, Dramatist

Frances Burney, Dramatist: Gender, Performance, and the Late Eighteenth-Century Stage

Barbara Darby
Copyright Date: 1997
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130hqx7
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  • Book Info
    Frances Burney, Dramatist
    Book Description:

    The position Frances Burney (1752-1840) holds as a novelist, journalist, and letterwriter is now undisputed, thanks to reevaluations of the canon in recent years. Yet Burney was always intrigued by, and wrote for, the stage. Though only one of Burney's dramas was performed in her lifetime, Barbara Darby places the plays in the context of performance and feminist theory, challenging past assertions about Burney that were based entirely on her novels and journals. Darby maintains that in exposing the failure of such practices and institutions as courtship, marriage, family, government, and the church, Burney's dramas often exceed her novels in the depth of their social commentary.

    In her four comedies and four tragedies, Burney uses stage space, dialogue, blocking, and gesture to highlight the ways power is distributed among society's members. According to Darby, these plays show that the eighteenth-century female experience was dominated by physical, psychic, and emotional regulation that included bodily punishment and the limitation of personal choice.

    Placing Burney alongside other prominent female playwrights of the period, Darby brings to light a substantial body of work, revealing that Burney's drama was not a casual sideline to her novel writing.Frances Burney, Dramatist, expands our appreciation of the extent to which eighteenth-century women playwrights used the stage as a forum.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5931-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations and figures
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  5. Note on Texts and Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    In a letter of October 1799, Charles Burney Jr. writes triumphantly to his sister Frances that Thomas Harris, manager of Covent Garden Theatre, is delighted with her new comedy,Love and Fashion.He refers to the new play in the siblings’ code of secrecy: “Huzza! Huzza! Huzza! Mr. H. admires the Table—& will bring it into use in the month of March!—” Charles closes his letter, in which he urges Burney to come to London to meet with Harris, by telling her that Harris "is surprised, that you never turned your thoughts to this kind of writing before;...

  7. 1 Gender and the Stage
    (pp. 7-21)

    Critics in the area of feminist studies and performance theory explore the ways in which drama and performance are related to notions of gender and gender-related behavior and attitudes. This is a particularly compelling area of investigation because performance has so often furnished theorists with a metaphor for describing the differences between men and women. Greek drama, after all, provided Freud with a narrative on which to model a theory of gender development and differentiation. The concepts of spectatorship, objectification, and the regulation of movements or bodies in a social space, the typical rules of which are preexistent or predetermined,...

  8. 2 Censored Women: The Witlings
    (pp. 22-42)

    The problems of inevitable social interdependence preoccupy most of Burney’s novelistic heroines. Evelina seeks the familial legitimation that will secure financial and social status and is perpetually requesting others’ help, although the sincerity of her pleas has been debated.¹ Cecilia suffers from bad advice and the mismanagement of her money by male guardians; her desired romantic match is marred by an inheritance clause that asserts her father’s power over her from the grave. Camilla is plagued by debts that are foisted upon her by others and suffers from an absence of caring advisors. InThe Wanderer,Juliet’s position as a...

  9. 3 Politicized Bodies and the Body Politic: Edwy and Elgiva and Elberta
    (pp. 43-81)

    Burney’s tragedies—Edwy and Elgiva, Hubert De Vere, The Siege of Pevensey,andElberta,all written between 1788 and 1791 and revised later—present the important critical challenge of rethinking the established contexts for these plays. They have been condemned for their occasional inelegance in an age not known for successes in the genre, or recuperated as little more than the therapeutic creations of a troubled woman. Morrison writes that the tragedies “could not even be classed as mediocre.” Burney was “working in a field for which she had absolutely no talent and in which she could do no more...

  10. 4 The Daughter’s Tragedy: Hubert De Vere and The Siege of Pevensey
    (pp. 82-107)

    Daughterhood has always been heavily circumscribed by ideals for appropriate behavior, many of which resemble those that define what it means to be a wife or mother. Richard Payne Knight writes inAn Analytical Inquiry into the Principles of Taste(1808) that a man’s love of his wife “partakes of the nature of parental affection; as that of the woman for the man does of filial; whence the terms of endearment would naturally be transferred from the one to the other: that yielding delicacy too, which constitutes the principal charm of the female character, as it is nearly allied to...

  11. 5 “Choice” and Evaluation: Love and Fashion
    (pp. 108-129)

    Burney’s tragedies expose and question the limited control women have over their physical occupation of space in a male-dominated world. The bodies of Elgiva, Elberta, Cerulia, and Adela are the literal sites on which overt and implicit forms of oppression are enacted. The comedies, varied as they are in content and characterization, do not exclude the evaluation of women as particularly physical bodies that are tyrannized by patriarchal hierarchies and institutions. Courtship, marriage, and membership in a family all have their physical, bodily components. This being said, the female figures of Burney’s comedies are oppressed less by physical coercion and...

  12. 6 family Matters: A Busy Day and The Woman-Hater
    (pp. 130-164)

    A Busy DayandThe Woman-Haterwere probably written, likeLove and Fashion,before Burney departed for France to join d’Arblay in 1802. Burney may have startedA Busy Dayin December 1801, when she wrote to d’Arblay of some prospects for earning money(JL,5:92). A manuscript ofA Busy Day,a fair copy in d’Arblay’s hand, survives in the Berg Collection. He may have transcribed it after Burney’s arrival in France; it bears numerous revisions by both Burney and d’Arblay.The Woman-Haterexists in two versions, both in the Berg Collection. One is heavily corrected, the other more...

  13. 7 A Context and Overview: Burney and the Late-Eighteenth-Century Stage
    (pp. 165-192)

    I have argued that Frances Burney’s plays reveal a thorough awareness of the conventions of the theater of her day and of the ingredients of a potentially successful production. Her knowledge and love of the theater is also well represented in the novels. Her heroines all attend and comment on plays and other public entertainments.¹ Indeed, in the novels, the theater provides a metaphor for female experience and the performative aspects of femininity: learned appropriate behavior, movement, manners, and speech. Each heroine must discover the proper way to “act” for a given audience, and more often than not, she is...

  14. Conclusion: Really a Genius for the Stage
    (pp. 193-203)

    The figures, situations, and voices in Burney’s plays linger long after a reading of the texts, especially one that is supported by an imaginative sense of their presence onstage: the tortured and imprisoned bodies of Elgiva, Cerulia, and Adela; the piteous desire for food expressed by Elberta; the ridiculous banter of the witlings; the farcical battles between Sir Archy and Valentine; “Margarella” Watts’s curtsey lesson; the declaration of Joyce for “liberty, liberty, liberty!” We need not read Burney’s plays as mere sideline curiosities of a successful novelist or diarist, or apologetically, as unspectacular and unsuccessful attempts in a new genre....

  15. Notes
    (pp. 204-226)
  16. Index
    (pp. 227-238)