The Wanderer, or Female Difficulties


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This edition is fully annotated with appendices on the French Revolution, race relations, amusements, and geography and a previously unpublished manuscript revealing the connection between The Wanderer and Camilla. The French Revolution in The Wanderer. Burney and Race Relations. The Provokd Husband. Explanatory Notes. With an Introduction by Margaret AnneDoody. Volume I. Volume II.

The Wanderer; or, Female Difficulties (Volume 1 of 5) by Fanny Burney

Volume III. Volume IV. So in the early days of the French Revolution, there was a lot of support for its principles, and a growing feeling that England could do with some improvement toowhich was very offensive and frightening to the powers-that-were. And all of this paved the way for very first discussion of the rights of women , specifically, protesting in particular their lack of protection under the law and the abysmal state of female education; though this line of argument was generally considered even more outrageous and pernicious than the rest.

And of course, when the French Revolution turned into the Reign of Terror, it was considered an illustration of the inevitable outcome of these "wild" new ideas to use the word that Harleigh keeps applying to Elinor , and ushered in a period of extreme political conservatism. Which I felt really sums Elinor up - she is intelligent and bright and passionate but somehow completely unable to consider how the way she behaves could affect anyone else.

Harleigh again: 'Misguided, most unfortunate, yet admirable Elinor! But that's much easier to think from a 21st century perspective! And that brought me to the end of Volume I where I paused to sympathise with contemporary readers who had to wait to get Volume II from the circulating library All throughout 18th and 19th century literature we see illustrations of something that Burney makes a major theme here, the absurd yet brutal situation where you can only get help if you don't need it; since people who need help must have done something wrong in the first place, to be in that situation.

While there was a large measure of self-protection in this attitude, it is also the easiest and cheapest way of proceeding as per those people today who protest foreign aid on the grounds that "charity begins at home", and then don't give anything at home either because "they're just scammers". The only excuse we can make for Mrs Howel is that she is very conscious of her responsibility towards Lady Aurorabut from the way she speaks it's obvious this attitude comes naturally to her.

We need to note, however, that he is able to practice what he preaches because he is a man, and an independently wealthy one.

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Society was so hyper-vigilant over the possible "contamination" of women via contact with "improper" people that it was very difficult at this time for a woman to practise charity for the "unfortunate" and retain her reputation unsullied. Yet I have no means, with any prudence, to enter into an explanation: I dare not, therefore, solicit your good opinion, though my distress is so urgent, that I am forced to sue for your assistance,I ought, perhaps, to say your charity!

Let me only know who you are, and I shall myself be the best judge what should be done for you. What is it, then, once for all, that you call yourself? No prevarications! Tell me your name, or go about your business.


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The spirits and courage of the stranger seemed now to forsake her; and, with a faultering voice, she answered, "Alas! I hardly know it myself! Why I hope you don't come into my house from the Foundling Hospital? In fact, Elinor was one of the main things that critics of the time attacked when condemning this book, chiefly because Burney never outright condemns her. Ordinarily you would expect a character like Elinor to exist as a sort of paper tiger, intended just to be torn down.

And while to an extent this is true, it is also true that Burney allows a lot of what Elinor says to go uncontradicted particularly her speeches about female passion. While other of Elinor's shocking beliefs, such as her atheism and I should note that female atheists were very rare in English literature , are argued with through the narrative, her assertions about the strength of female feeling are generally not.

Burney herself as did most women, we would think struggled all her life to reconcile her emotions and impulses with what society taught was "correct" for a woman; and she seems to expressing some of that struggle via Elinor. In interpreting Elinor, we need to be careful not to put the cart before the horse: the French Revolution has not made her the way she is; instead, it appeals to what was already there in her natureher rebellious impulses, her awareness that she has an intellect above what women were supposed to have, her frustrations with the stifling restrictions placed upon women by society.


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She is passionate and impatient and outspokenall things that women were not supposed to be. Above all, though as you note, Heather , she has a tendency to self-dramatisation that can be both ridiculous and embarrassingand dangerous, since it is linked to her morbid fixation on suicide. Yes, "I came of age" means she turned and importantly, that means that she is legally independent. She has control of her own money, and no male guardian. And we understand that one of her first actions upon becoming independent was to travel to France to see what was going on. Many English people did do this during the first years of the Revolution; plus many others simply continued to treat France as a holiday resort we gather that Mrs Ireton had been visiting the south of France for her health.

Harleigh clearly feels that Elinor should have been shocked and horrified by what she saw there, but instead Elinor is confirmed in her pre-existing feelings of rebellion. I'm a bit behind--just starting Chapter IX --but appreciating all the comments here. Like, don't get her on a bad day. But tomorrow she might be fine. It seems odd that knowing society's expectations, she'd have to realize she needed to come up with some sort of explanation for herself. So that seems like a weak spot in the plot to me. That's an interesting thought about Elinor.

The Stranger is forced to disguise herself to escape from France, but beyond that she is trying not to lie either verbally or through misleading actions: she repeatedly falls silent rather than give a false answer. She finally accepts "Miss Ellis" when it is more or less forced on her, but she won't invent a name for herself.

The Wanderer: or, Female Difficulties by Fanny Burney

Makes sense. Off I go to read a couple more chapters I find Elinor very interesting as a character and very frustrating. I can sympathise with 'her rebellious impulses, her awareness that she has an intellect above what women were supposed to have, her frustrations with the stifling restrictions placed upon women by society. Especially the way she doesn't seem to feel she should give any consideration to how either Ellis or Harleigh might feel as the result of her declarations.

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Was so caught up in what was happening I forgot how unusual that was. It makes sense but the moral rules of the time seem so unnecessarily severe from our perspective. Volume II Book III Chapter XXII I keep getting so caught up in the storyline that I forget there's still the big unexplained mystery around Ellis: 'In your present lonely, unprotected, unexampled situation, many and severe may be your trials; let not any of them shake your constancy, nor break your silence: while all is secret, all may be safe; by a single surmise, all may be lost.

But chiefly bear in mind, what has been the principle of your education, and what I wish to be that of your conduct and character through life: That where occasion calls for female exertion, mental strength must combat bodily weakness; and intellectual vigour must supply the inherent deficiencies of personal courage; and that those, only, are fitted for the vicissitudes of human fortune, who, whether female or male, learn to suffice to themselves. Be this the motto of your story.


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I know, I know - wait and see! Really only her atheism is outright combatted; granting that Harleigh, at least, believes that most of the rest stems from that, including her attitude to suicide.

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You can understand why the conservative critics were so outraged by Elinor, and why in turn they were outraged with Burney for not condemning her at all points. Though it assumes the inferiority of women in terms of physical strength and courage, nevertheless it grants them mental strength and intellectual vigour , which itself was fairly daring, and more in keeping with the views of someone like Wollstonecraft than the mainstream. Burney does diffuse this slightly by putting in terms of Ellis's religious and moral upbringing, but it's still another interesting touch.

How utterly dependant upon situation—connexions—circumstance! Her conduct is criticised, not scrutinized; her character is censured, not examined; her labours are unhonoured, and her qualifications are but lures to ill will! The overarching point of the novel, maybe??

Enjoying the way Burney teases us that maybe things will get better for our heroine only for everything to spiral out of control again. Specifically with regards to Volume II Book IV Chapter XXXI I have my suspicions that wires have got crossed again and Lady Aurora may not really approve of the scheme to give private concerts and that the money coming from her brother doesn't seem like such a good idea Sorry, all! I am still following along here, though, and will get back on track when I'm done with the Royalists.

The Wanderer, or Female Difficulties The Wanderer, or Female Difficulties
The Wanderer, or Female Difficulties The Wanderer, or Female Difficulties
The Wanderer, or Female Difficulties The Wanderer, or Female Difficulties
The Wanderer, or Female Difficulties The Wanderer, or Female Difficulties
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