“Fanny’s Cecilia came out last summer, and is as much liked and read, I believe, as any book ever was,” wrote Charlotte Burney in Jan. 1783. “She had 250 pounds for it from Payne and Cadell. Most people say she ought to have had a thousand. It is now going into the third edition, though Payne owns that they printed two thousand at the first edition, and Lowndes told me five hundred was the common number for a novel.”*
* The Early Diary of Frances Burney, with a selection from her correspondence, and from the journals of her sisters Susan and Charlotte Burney. Edited by Annie Raine Ellis. 1889. Vol. II. p. 307.]
The manuscript of Cecilia was submitted to Dr Burney and Mr Crisp during its composition, and their suggestions were in some cases adopted, as we learn from the Diary. Dr Johnson was not consulted, but a desire at once to imitate and to please him evidently controlled the work.
Under these circumstances it is naturally less fresh and spontaneous than Evelina, but it is more mature. The touch is surer and the plot more elaborate. We cannot today fully appreciate the “conflict scene between mother and son,” for which, Miss Burney tells us, the book was written; but the pictures of eighteenth century affectations are all alive, and the story is thoroughly absorbing, except, perhaps, in the last book.
Miss Burney often took the name of her characters from her acquaintances, and it seems probable that some of the “types” in Cecilia are also drawn from real life. The title of Miss Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was borrowed from Cecilia, and some points of resemblance may be traced between the two novels.
The present edition is reprinted from:—
CECILIA, or, Memoirs of an Heiress. By the author of Evelina. In five volumes. London: Printed for T. Payne and Son, at the Newsgate, and T. Cadell in the Strand. MDCCLXXXII. R. B. J.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:06