Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Lynda Hall, Ph.D.
Joanna Levin, Ph.D.
James Blaylock, M.A.
Although much has been said about the authorial relationship between Frances Burney and Jane Austen generally, there is a gap in scholarship discussing Austen’s Emma in context with the Burney’s Cecilia. This paper argues that there are notable threads—heiresses with absent or inadequate father figures, charity-case best friends, and rushed endings—connecting Emma and Cecilia. Tracing these threads allows us to examine the possible influence of Burney’s writing on Austen and also calls attention to the author’s different approaches to female agency and minor character space. To accomplish this task, I look at the narrative space given to minor characters in Burney’s Cecilia and Austen’s Emma. Specifically, I assess the roles of the minor characters Henrietta Belfield in Cecilia and Harriet Smith in Emma. Both of these minor female characters function as charity cases for the heroines they befriend, emphasizing Cecilia’s and Emma’s respective good fortunes and superior social standings. I argue that the links between these two minor characters serves as a launching point into further discussions about marginalized women in the long eighteenth century and Burney’s and Austen’s different attitudes on the role of women in society. In Cecilia, both the heroine and Henrietta suffer socially, financially, and emotionally as a result of the manipulations of men. Yet, in Emma, the relationship between the heroine and the socially inferior Harriet grants the female protagonist with the authority to be the manipulator rather than the manipulated. Through these asymmetrical relationships between the heroine and her lower-class friend, Burney situates the traditional role of women in society as fixed, where Austen criticizes and complicates these same roles.
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Goodenberger, Emily. “Henrietta and Harriet:” Considering the Marginalized Best Friend in Burney’s Cecilia and Austen’s Emma. 2023. Chapman University, MA Thesis. Chapman University Digital Commons, https://doi.org/10.36837/chapman.000450