Thursday 16 June 2011

My Full(er) Thoughts on Evelina, Letters 38-53

Usual stuff, Evelina bookgroup - see the discussion here

Mr Smith, yuck. I may have a soft spot for Willoughby but no-one will ever get me to like Smith. Incidentally Smith was Samuel Johnson’s favourite character and he used to do impressions of him, which I can completely imagine. All that creepy crawling ‘I don’t care about me, whatever the ladies want’ stuff. All that mock concern when it is obvious that he couldn’t care less for anyone but himself.
And the Branghtons, I found them rather sweet at first, they bicker and moan amongst each other and have all those very real tiffs and in-jokes but then they started to grate. Young master Branghton needs to grow up, he is so incredibly immature and the idea of Evelina getting together with him is nearly as icky as her getting together with Mr Smith. (I don’t mind the prospect of her and M Du Bois, he seems a sweety, and his poor little moping when she turns him down.)
The Vauxhall scene is my favourite in the book so far. The day I read it, I went to the Museum of London and they replay parts of it in the Vauxhall Gardens Experience they have there. There is the bit with the dumb Mr Brown looking ‘half the garden’ for her and the bit with her on in the Dark Lanes being saved by my old mucker Willoughby. Again, she is in his debt - but I still reckon they are as honourable as his intentions can get.
I like the bit where they make Smith look silly talking about the paintings, ‘I think a pretty picture is a-a very-is really a very - is something very pretty.-’ Now if that isn’t one of the most perfectly captured little piece of embarrassment. If you notice, Madame Duval’s reaction is not to laugh, but to agree. I think the mystery of her closeness to the Branghtons is simply that although she is rich and can buy rich clothes, she has not taste.
Next comes another fantastic scene, the one where Mr Smith takes Evelina and Madame Duvall to the Hampstead Assembly where she learns from her first assembly that she can’t dance with him after being offered by others and so essentially stands him up. I love how his mask melts at the thought of having to dance with the older lady, who is far more up for it then he hoped. 
This is followed shortly by McCartney’s letter. McCartney was another one Johnson had a soft spot for but he hasn’t really set my soul on fire. I’ve read a lot of eighteenth century novels the last few years and it is pretty common for any novel after the 1750s to have a weepy subplot that doesn’t contribute all that much to the main plot as some token nod to the cult of sensibility. I predict that McCartney will be Evelina’s. Not that I dislike the cult of sensibility, Tristram Shandy and Vicar of Wakefield are two of my faves, and I even enjoyed The Man of Feeling, but I don’t feel such a subplot is needed in Evelina.
Finally, the Marybone Gardens scene, which is too close to the Vauxhall one, except she gets saved by Lord Orwell instead. Again I am struck how every bit of the representation of Orville’s character is about how he makes Evelina feel - we still haven’t discovered him through Fanny Burney’s exquisite use of little character moments and so, although he is a perfectly nice person, he is still not a vivd character. 

All yours

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