Evelina grew up the ward of Reverend Villars because her mother Caroline died when she was a baby and her nobleman father John Belmont denied any knowledge of her. But now her family is catching up with her in the form of Madame Duval, Caroline’s mother. Madame Duval never knew she had a granddaughter, is determined to connect with Evelina, and wants to France. Not trusting Madame Duval’s judgement, Reverend Villars fears that Evelina will find a similar fate as her mother, so he arranges that Evelina visit his friend Lady Howard at her estate. But when Lady Howard resolves to go to London and take Evelina with her, an overwhelmed Evelina herself is introduced to the world at large and its dangers after all, especially in the form of two very different men: Lord Orvell and Sir Willoughby.
Evelina was quite the discovery for me. It’s a well-written, often funny and always engaging novel. Simply fantastic.
Evelina is an epistolary novel, which I absolutely love. But it is unusual in the sense that there are very few letter writers – mostly it’s just Evelina telling her side of things (so, if you’re not that into epistolary novels, you might give it a try after all). It’s still letters, but I would have liked a broader range of voices.
But that is really the only thing I can criticize about the book – and that is more a matter of taste than anything else. I can completely understand why Jane Austen was a fan, and obviously modeled her own Willoughby after the Willoughy we are introduced to here. Speaking of Willoughby – he may not have been quite the fascinating villain that I found in Derby (Evelina does share a surprising amount of similarities with Die Geschichte des Fräulein von Sternheims), but he was a good character.
But Evelina and Lord Orville were really easy to root for. They are the stars here and I was completely caught in their story. Mostly, though, it is Evelina’s story, her coming-of-age if you will, making the book one of the rare bildungsromans with a woman at the center.
Additionally, I really loved the edition I got – Oxford’s Classics – because it had such insightful and really helpful notes and comments that made me understand the book so much better. I have to tip my hat to Viven Jones for that. Overall, reading Evelina gave me an interesting insights into court protocols.
The book does have silly moments, but the emotional core is strong and not silly at all – and that’s what makes the book so very wonderful.
Summarizing: Loved it.