Cecilia: Or, Memoirs of an Heiress

Published in July 1782

Fanny Burney writes a classic plot in Cecilia – one where a strong female character chooses love over fortune in a world dominated by men. Our heroine, Cecilia Beverley has an inheritance from her uncle but only under the stipulation that she find a husband to accept her name. This ask proves impossible to Cecilia, and she gives up her fortune to marry for love.

Fanny began working on the novel in 1780. Her father and her literary mentor, Samuel Crisp, had not allowed her play The Witlings to be published as her father had concerns that the play, which is a comic satire of the bluestockings. The worry was that it might offend “real people” whom he depended on for artistic patronage, especially the famous Elizabeth Montagu. Disappointed, but determined to follow the success of her first novel Evelina, Fanny may have allowed the pressure and disappointment  to colour the tone and content of Cecilia.  

Fanny Burney Cecilia Title Page

It can be deduced that Cecilia Stanley of The Witlings became Cecilia Beverley of Cecilia.

Jane Austen was clearly a fan of Cecilia as she mentioned it, Northanger Abbey: “’And what are you reading, Miss — ?’ ‘Oh! It is only a novel!’ replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. ‘It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda’; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best–chosen language.”

Some also consider that the title of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice may have been inspired by a passage toward the end of Cecilia: “…remember: if to pride and prejudice you owe your miseries, so wonderfully is good and evil balanced, that to pride and prejudice you will also owe their termination.”  When we know she was a fan it seems like almost certain proof.