Evelina in Modern Day America
Evelina was written a very long time ago and the main character was written to fit in with that time, 1778. When we read such literature, set so long ago, it is difficult to put ourselves into that day and understand what is going on. Many times readers have difficulty imagining that such actions would really take place, because we are thinking that the story we are reading is taking place in our day and age. I will explain the way in which many of the main, important events that take place in this story, in 1778, would have happened in America in 2008.
When Evelina goes to London, she is extremely nave and steps out of her sheltered life for the first time. She commits her first embarrassing act when she refuses to dance with Sir Clement Willoughby but then accepts the offer of Lord Orville. In 1778, you do not refuse the hand of a gentleman who asks you to dance. No matter how uninterested the girl is, she consents to the dance. Evelina does not know the rules and is dumbfounded when she is confronted by Clement as she is dancing with Orville.
May I know to what accident I mush attribute not having the honour of your
hand? Accident, Sir! repeated I, much astonished. Yes, accident, Madam
for surelyit ought to be no common one that should tempt a lady so young a one too, - to be guilty of ill-manners (27).
A reader of our time would agree with Evelina and argue that, while it might be polite of the girl to dance with the gentleman who seeks her, it is not required that she do so. If the girl does dance with the man, however, it might be seen as leading him on and giving him false hope of a relationship, or whatever he intended to achieve with the dance, which is more disrespectful and embarrassing than declining the invitation in the first place.
The second thing that happens in Evelina that might seem unbelievable to readers of the twenty-first century is the way in which Sir Clement acts towards Evelina. After she declines his inquiry to dance, Clement still pursues Evelina in a very forward and disrespectful way. We were all sitting in this manner, he conversing with all gaietywhen that fop who had first asked me to danceapproached, and after a profound bow or two, said, I humbly beg pardon, Madam (26). Sir Clement continues and attempts to get Evelina to admit her fault and perhaps accept a dance. This could happen today, but most guys would get the hint and back off. Clement actually confronts the man that Evelina accepted a dance with and talks bad about her to him. By what I can make out, cried my defender, she must be a country parsons daughter. He! he! he! cried the fop, - well, so I could have sworn from her manners (29). Even thought Orville and Evelina just met, today the man would have gotten in Clements face and defended the lady more than Orville did. And when Clement bothers the pair while they are dancing, Orville would probably get into a physical fight. Guys today are very possessive of their women and do not like other guys to hit on or try to steal them. Today, there would have been a bigger commotion and definitely some blood.
Another thing that readers today might not comprehend is the way Lord Orville continues to pursue Evelina after the way she acts with him. Evelina has never been to a ball before and never been asked to dance by such a handsome man. She is struck by his beauty and is not able to say much, if anything, to her partner. He seemed very desirous of entering into conversation with me; but I was seized with such a panic, that I could hardly speak a word, and nothing but the shame prevented my returning to my seat, and declining to dance at all (24). She leaves him a few times because she does not know how to conduct herself in his presence; yet Orville seeks her out. He wants to dance with her, despite her lack of maturity and experience. He even defends her when Sir Clement says that she is ill-bred. This Lady, Sir, is incapable of meriting such an accusation (27)! I cannot think of one man I know who would keep after a girl like this, no matter how attractive she was. Although it is said that men only want one thing from girls, I think that more often than not, that is inaccurate. Men want to be able to have a conversation with their partner and have a good time; neither of which the pair was doing. Today, no man would continue to pursue a girl who could not speak to him and prove that she has a personality. Lord Orville would have thanked Evelina for the dance when it ended and found another partner for the next one.
Lastly is when the carriage breaks down and Sir Clement carries Evelina from it to the house without incident or problem.
The night was dark and wet; but I had scarce touched the ground, when I was lifted suddenly from it, by Sir Clement Willoughby, who begged permission to assist mecarried me in his arms back to Ranelagh (52). Out of the carriage Clement insisted upon first conducting me to a warm room but made me follow him to an apartment, where we found an excellent fire (53).
Being that he is a fop, whom we characterized as a dangerous, obnoxious, persistent, player-type, Sir Clement would not have simply taken her from carriage to house. After the entire evening trying to win Evelina over, today, Clement would have tried something with his damsel. He is so confident and cocky, and the type of man who would take a helpless, sixteen year old girl into the woods or the empty house to take advantage of her. Because he was being rejected all night long by Evelina, this would be his chance to get what he wanted from her without obstacles or interruptions. If Evelina was written today, there would be a rape in the story.
Obviously, seeing as how this is an English Literature course and we are reading English literature, we are required to crack the time period and cultural differences and get into the mindset of the people who are living in the century that these stories are written. However, it is interesting to think about how the story would play out and what would happen to the characters differently if it was written in the twenty-first century; we are able to compare the traditions and practices of the subsequent times.
Burney, Frances. Evelina. Ed. Edward Bloom. Oxford World Classic Edition. New York:
Oxford University Press, 2002.