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Review: "Cecilia" by Fanny Burney

Cecilia, or Memoirs of an Heiress may be downloaded for free from our ebook catalog.

Cecilia was Fanny Burney's second novel, first published in 1782. It is the story of Cecilia Beverly, a young and beautiful heiress whose army of suitors is made up of gentlemen, scoundrels, and many others who are not what they seem. Admired by Jane Austen and other contemporaries, it is said that the title for Pride and Prejudice is taken from the last pages of this novel.

Cecilia is split into ten books, and each book is an action-packed story unto itself. While very long, it has the feel of a novel one half or a quarter the length. Like Burney's first novel, Evelina, this one is a page-turner. It has the quality best described as Jane Austen "sped up". Burney's influence on Austen is apparent in many of the themes in Cecilia: thwarted love, mistaken impressions, familial pride in the context of relationships. The character of Lady Honoria bears a strong resemblance to Lydia Bennet in Austen's Pride and Prejudice. She takes nothing seriously and loves a good practical joke. Some of the best and funniest parts of the book involve Lady Honoria, whose exploits deserve a whole novel to themselves. The difference between Burney and Austen arises in the fact that one of Burney's novels contain more action and suspense than all of Austen's novels put together. Put more simply, Austen you can read before bed, Burney you cannot.

Cecilia is not without its faults, such as the believability that a woman could attract suitors at such a rate as Cecilia. And while the pace hardly ever slackens throughout, the beginning of the last book becomes tiresome as Burney probably became aware it was time to wrap up. But if you enjoy a pulse-quickening tale full of colorful characters, you're in for a quite a ride.


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