Thank you Mary for such thoughtful points to discuss!
The Wanderer, or Female Difficulties by Fanny Burney
This novel is very long and complex and so I have had some problems in structuring questions for our discussion. What I’ve come up with here are more like premises followed by questions.
1. There are a large number of social and philosophical points which are explored in varying degrees, e.g., racism questions, the rights of a husband over a runaway wife, an intensive discussion of atheism, women’s rights, snobbery in the upper class, middle-class insularity and xenophobia, doubt or suspicion of the existence of an afterlife, family duty/obligation, social mores and stereotypes. Pick one and discourse a bit on how it was used in the novel.
2. The main character, Ellis/Juliet is completely closed off, and the reader has no more idea than those around her of what she’s thinking and what her real background and family are—or even why she feels she has to withhold her identity—until the secret comes out and the other characters find out who/what she is. This makes it difficult for us as readers to sympathize or identify with her. She doesn’t even have much to say—making it even harder. How do you think it would have influenced either the character of Juliet, or the advancement of the plot if the reader was let into the secret closer to the beginning?
3. The aim of Burney is pretty clearly to show the difficulties a gentlewoman alone, with no resources to fall back on, faces in the world (or at least the world of England in the 18th century. Although she is described as having great propriety, she is surrounded by people who know something to her discredit and they seem sure to show up at times when they can do the most damage. Do you find the constant coincidences hamper the flow, or do they contribute to the overall progression of the novel?
4. Many if not most of the subsidiary characters are not admirable people. Please choose one (or more) from the following list to describe their characteristics, their relationship to Juliet and how significant they are to the maturing of the plot? Gabriella, the Bishop, the Marchioness, Lady Aurora Granville, Lord Melbury, Lord Denmeath, Elinor Joddrel, Selina, Mrs. Maple, Mrs. Ireton, Mr. Ireton, Sir Jasper Harrington, Giles Arbe, Miss Arbe, Miss Blydel, Admiral Powell, Ambroise, the pilot
5. The contemporary critic and professor Juliet McMaster compares Burney’s The Wanderer, or Female Difficulties with Austen’s Mansfield Park. She notes the similarity of Juliet and Fanny in their tastes and in their appreciation of the beauties of nature. These two novels are also similar in their darker tone and the series of trials and persecutions endured by the two women which call for great fortitude. What are some other similarities between the characters of Juliet and Fanny? What similarities are there in the plots of the two novels?
6. McMaster also compares the heroes, Albert Harleigh and Edmund Bertram, both staunchly moral, both winning the love of the heroine, but she is unsure that either fully deserves that love. She sees the “happy” endings as muted– and possibly not so happy after all. Do you agree?
Please note that our February meeting has met with scheduling difficulties, and our usual location is not available. Alternative locations are being discussed and will be posted here, and on the email list.