Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

In Our Time: Reader in English explores the life and work of Fanny Burney

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Dr Nicole Pohl, Reader in English, has appeared for the second time on BBC Radio 4, In Our Time, discussing the life and work of the eighteenth-century novelist, playwright and diarist Fanny Burney. The programme aired on Thursday 23 April at 9am, you can listen to it on catch up here.

Fanny Burney's first novel Evelina, was published anonymously and caused a sensation, attracting the admiration of many eminent contemporaries. In addition to four successful novels, Burney, also known as Frances D'Arblay or Frances Burney, wrote eight plays, mostly unperformed, and a multitude of journals and letters which document to Burney's sharp wit and literary talent.

Her writings are invaluable to any eighteenth century scholar as they document her early life at home with her father, the renowned musical scholar Dr Charles Burney, her entry into fashionable society after the publication of Evelina, her encounter with the circle of French refugees at Juniper Hall, including the infamous Mme de Stael and Burney's future husband Alexandre d'Arblay, and her time as the assistant keeper of the robes to the Queen during the time of King George III's mental illness. Burney also reported on the Battle of Waterloo during her stay in Brussels, where she helped to nurse the injured. Her account of her own mastectomy without anesthetics is one of the earliest reports on an operation of this kind, describing in detail the procedure and ‘the glitter of polished Steel’.

In an era when very few women published their work Fanny Burney achieved extraordinary success. Her admirers included Dr Johnson, Edmund Burke and Virginia Woolf, who later called her 'the mother of English fiction'.