Frances (Fanny) Burney, at the tender age of fifteen, put pen to paper and began a lifelong habit of journaling, allowing modern readers transportation to the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century world. In 1768, Fanny shared her purpose in journaling was to “have some account of [her] thoughts, manners, acquaintance and actions, when the hour arrives at which time is more nimble than memory” (Damrosch 2832). It is beyond belief young Fanny could have any idea of just what lay ahead of her, of the adventures she would be party to, or the people she would encounter along the way, when she began by writing to “Nobody,” the only person she felt she could “reveal every thought, every wish of [her] heart, with the utmost unlimited confidence, the most unremitting sincerity to the end of [her] life” (Damrosch 2832).
Muriel Masefield describes Burney’s journals as a reminder of “the charm of growing intimate with a bygone generation, especially one which was distinguished for good talk” (Masefield 3). Alongside her personal journaling, and plethoric letter writing, Fanny wrote four novels whose success thrust “a timid, but piquant, little figure to the fill the role of literary lion” (Masefield 35). As an author Fanny gained access to London’s literary society, allowing her to observe such men as philosopher Edmund Burke or author and parliamentarian Horace Walpole to name but a few (Masefield 62, 70).
Burney’s life was far from the hum-drum of normal eighteenth-century life as Queen Charlotte invited Fanny within her court for five years. Fanny described her relationship to the Queen as a marital “union” to which she would become “the best wife in [her] power” (Masefield 77). Fanny was not always comfortable at court, declaring “Toilette should be spelled without the ‘ette’” (Masefield 82). It is thanks to Fanny’s dedication to journaling, however, we have such wonderful descriptions of everyday palace life, “which throw light on the personalities of the Royal Family and their attendants” (Masefield 105) that without her obsessive journaling we might be missing.
Fanny’s life at court did come to an end and in the midst of the French Revolution, Fanny met and married a French émigré, Chevalier d’Arblay, who had fled to England. The life they shared immediately after their marriage was one of simplicity, displaying yet another arena of eighteenth-century life. When M. d’Arblay later received permission to return to France and accepted a position within the military, Fanny chose to accompany him. With Fanny we then enter French society, including the reign of Napoleon, and even the court of Louis XVIII. Her legacy lies throughout literature as authors, such as William Thackeray who “based his account of the battle of Waterloo in Vanity Fair on Fanny’s gripping version of the events as she had witnessed them,” used her insights to further their own (Sabor 8).
In 1768, Miss Young, a great friend of Burney’s mother, had advised Fanny to discontinue her journaling out of fear of others reading her thoughts, referring to the practice as “the most dangerous employment you can have” but Fanny was not dissuaded and for this we should be thankful (Damrosch 2834).
Damrosch, David, and Stuart Sherman, eds. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Fourth ed. Vol. 1C. White Plains, NY: Longman, 2009. Print.
“Hyde Collection Catablog.” Hyde Collection Catablog. Harvard.edu, 8 Nov. 2010. Web. 27 Sept. 2013.
Masefield, Muriel Agnes (Bussell), and Fanny Burney. The Story of Fanny Burney; Being an Introduction to the Diary & Letters of Madame D’ Arblay,. Cambridge [Eng.: University, 1927. Print.
Sabor, Peter, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Frances Burney. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007. Print.
Wolf, Abby. “19th Century Women Writers.” PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 27 Sept. 2013.