to contract her views

Category: Education | Type: Historical | Title: Evelina (in Context) | Author: Fanny Burney | Vol: Volume I | Ch: Letter IV

The Rev. Villars and Lady Howard's exchange regarding Evelina's education picks up threads in the discussion of education that in Britain had its roots in John Locke and Mary Astell and had developed through earlier novelists like Defoe, Haywood, Richardson, and Johnson and the persistant education theme in the bildungsroman.  Villar's desire to tailor Evelina's education to the private life he anticipates for her compared to the more public arena, the "high life" a Miss Mirvan might enjoy, may owe something to Rousseau's Emile, but it also draws on contemporary debates about the appropriate scope of education for women.  At its most conservative extreme this could take the form of questioning whether young women should even be encouraged to read. 

The narrative Villars imagines for Evelina presumes that she will be denied the identity that depends upon her father's acknowledgement as well as access to the inheritances, both Belmont and Evelyn (through Madame Duval), to which she has a claim.  That these aspects of identity remain negotiable occasions the other narrative that will become the novel.  During the subsequent seven months, these social and economic aspects of identity will be complemented by deeper questions about Evelina's character and choices and affiliations she makes that will ultimately become more determinate.  It is a tribute to Villars that despite his modest expectations, the liberal education he has offered Evelina prepares her for the challenges the latter narrative will pose. 


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