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Evelina by Frances Burney The Perfection of Femininity

EVELINA: PERFECTION OF FEMININITY When Frances Burney wrote Evelina in the Eighteenth Century, she was able to capture the essence of what it meant to be a female at this time in history. Throughout the novel, the character of Evelina captures the hearts of those aroundher. Mr. Villars describes Evelina as this artless young creature, with too muchbeauty to escape notice (19). The character of Evelina encompasses the traitsattributed to the description of the female gender. These traits include a focus onthe importance of reputation; a lack of passion; and distinct physical attributes.Above all else, Evelina holds her reputation in highest regards. EighteenthCentury literature focuses on the belief that an individuals external behaviorreflected his or her interior belief system. In An Essay on Man, Alexander Popewrites, Know then thyself, presume not God to scan / The proper study ofmankind is man (II. 1-2). Eighteenth Century society judges individuals based ontheir outside appearance. Throughout the novel, Evelina emphasizes her concernwith what other people think of her. When Evelina is in the company of MadameDuval and her Branghton cousins, she oftentimes hides from her acquaintances,embarassed to be seen in such company. Upon being seen by Lord Orville whenshe is accompanied by prostitutes, Evelina laments, How vainly, how proudly have I wished to avoid meeting him when only with the Branghtons and MadameDuval,-but now, how joyful should I be had he seen me to no greaterdisadvantage (265). Evelinas fears her reputation can easily be marred, shouldjust one man, such as Lord Orville, hold her in low regard.Lord Orvilles opinion of Evelina plays an important role in her life,because her primary cause for guarding her reputation is its importance incourtship. Mr. Villars wisely reminds Evelina, Remember...nothing is so delicateas the reputation of a woman; it is, at once, the most beautiful and most brittle ofhuman thing...

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