Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Camilla by Fanny Burney

Note: I originally gave the wrong title, Evelina, for this book.

Camilla by Fanny Burney is the book I've just started reading. It was published in 1778. It's a novel about a group of young people's vicissitudes in the quest for true love, as the blurb tells me. I picked it up from the book exchange shelf outside the library, months ago. What drew me to it was the fact that it's so big (four hundred and fifty-five pages). I like the idea of a thumping big novel. I really liked It and The Stand by Stephen King, partly for their sheer length. I also like the idea that it's a "sort of" classic- the name "Fanny Burney" was vaguely familiar, but I wouldn't have known who she was. I like the idea of a book enjoyed by generations, but I also like the idea of going off the beaten track-- an obscure classic allows me to indulge both appetites.

My New Year's resolution was to read only Irish language stuff, and I've more or less kept it. And I do want to keep up my Irish language reading. But it seems very limiting to only read the Irish language. Much as I love insularity, that seems too insular. And Irish language writers (or activists) were nearly always well-versed in international literature and general culture-- I can't think of an exception.

Also, I've just been reading An Experiment in Criticism by C.S. Lewis (again), and it's made me excited to read some literature. (Yes, there is Irish language literature, but my Irish is not really good enough for literary appreciation.)

In the last few weeks, we've been shifting books in the library-- foreign language literature. Every time I work on the foreign literature shelves I feel such a sense of haplessness. French literature, German literature, Italian literature...these are whole worlds I'll never explore. Somehow, the reality of these worlds only become real to me when I see whole shelves of them-- when I see how many books there are about Thomas Mann or Jean Genet. (Especially when there is a series of leather-bound collected works.)

All my life I've had an inner debate about what I should read and what I should know about. Coming to faith added a new dimension to this. What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What has nationality to do with culture? What has culture to do with nationality? Would it be better to be "a man of one book", as St. Patrick has been described (incorrectly, as some argue)? How much should our reading be guided by "the canon", and how much should we seek to make our own way, to set off into the wilderness? How does anyone decide what book to read for pleasure, or leisure, or mental enlargement, when there are so many possibilities?

I may not persevere with Camilla, but I'll give it a go.


  1. i imagine women writers were a rarity at the time it was written. except for nuns in the more catholic regions.

    i thought "vanity fair"was a bit boring, this sounds like a similar sounding book. yet i knew a professor who was mad about vanity

    1. She published her first book anonymously, on account of being a woman.

  2. I seem to remember the novel *Camilla* being mentioned in another very famous classical novel or short story of a later date, someone was reading it in the story. I can't,for the life of me remember which