Fanny Burney, 1752–1840

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Biographical note

Novelist, daughter of Dr. Charles Burney, a musician of some distinction, was born at Lynn Regis, where her father was organist. Her mother having died while she was very young, and her father, who had come to London, being too busy to give her any attention, she was practically self-educated.

Her first novel, Evelina, published anonymously in 1778, at once by its narrative and comic power, brought her fame, and, through Mrs. Thrale, she made the acquaintance of Dr. Johnson, with whom she became a great favourite. Her next literary venture was a comedy, The Witlings; but, by the advice of her father, it was not put upon the stage. In 1782, however, she produced Cecilia, which, like its predecessor, had an enormous sale, and which, though not perhaps so popular as Evelina, added to her fame.

She now became the friend of Burke and other distinguished persons, including Mrs. Delaney, through whom she became known to the royal family, and was offered the appointment of Second Keeper of the Robes, which, with some misgivings, she accepted. This situation did not prove a happy one, the duties being menial, the society uncongenial, and the court etiquette oppressive and injurious to her health, and in 1791 she obtained permission to retire on a pension of £100.

She had, during her connection with the court, continued her Diary, which she had begun in girlhood, and continued during her whole life, and which during this period contains many interesting accounts of persons and affairs of note. She married [1793] Gen. D’Arblay, a French emigré, their only income being her slender pension. This she endeavoured to increase by producing a tragedy, Edwy and Elvira, which failed. In 1795 she published by subscription another novel, Camilla, which, though it did not add to her reputation, considerably improved her circumstances, as it is said to have brought her £3000. After some years spent in France, where her husband had obtained employment, she returned to England and published her last novel, The Wanderer, which fell flat. Her only remaining work was a life of her father, written in an extraordinarily grandiloquent style. She died in 1840, aged 87.

[From A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature by John W. Cousin, 1910]

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