The Cecilia Chronicles

For the sake of easy access…

“The Cecilia Chronicles” are a series of summaries/reactions to Frances Burney’s Cecilia.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Chronicling Cecilia Part 5… Finis!

When last we saw our darling heroine, she was preparing to forever  renounce Delvile and seek solace by following Mr. Albany’s scheme of good works. Cecilia felt certain that time would soften the blow of Delvile’s loss,  though it might note heal it.

Deciding to release her guardians from their duty to her uncle, Cecilia seeks the aid and advice of Mr. Monckton, who views it as a prime opportunity to continue pursuing his claim on Cecilia by appearing officious and concerned. Traveling to London to stay in Lady Montgomery’s (Mr. Monckton’s wife) town home, Cecilia wishes to have the matter settled with as little fanfare as possible.  Embarrassed by the thought of having to interact with Mr. Delvile so soon after the events that transpired between her and the members of his family, Cecilia makes  a point of saying  little to that gentleman but comes to learn that Mr. Delvile has received negative reports of her conduct during her time in London and of her relationship with Mr. Belfield! Could it be that this is why young Delvile was so eager to seek her consent to marry so speedily and in a manner that went against their better judgment?

Perplexed, Cecilia returns to the country and begins to wonder how such an ill report reached the ears of a man so little given to mingling within society. Wondering at the several events that coincided to prevent her marriage, the arrival of Mrs. Delvile, and the prejudice of Mr. Delvile, Cecilia begins to consider that perhaps someone close to her had the indelicacy to tarnish her reputation. Yet, the only person who was aware of the debts that she incurred during her stay with the Harrels and her interest in the Belfield siblings was Mr. Monckton. Surely he would have no desire to damage her reputation? But the niggling doubt remains and Cecilia has no one with whom to share her thoughts.

It is with much surprise that Cecilia once again receives Mr. Delvile, who comes with a proposal that is sanctioned by his mother: If their love is true, they only need overcome the one impediment that stands in the way of their marriage and which so offends the Delviles–Cecilia must renounce her fortune by taking her husband’s name.

Poor Cecilia! If Delvile had but known that the small fortune bequeathed upon her by her late father was long lost due to the demands of Mr. Harrel, he would never have made such a proposal. The loss of her fortune signifies the end of Cecilia’s ability to continue tending to the needs of the poor and desolate. It means the loss of her independence. But it also means a life alongside Delvile.

Though uncertain what their future will bring without such a fortune, Cecilia agrees to wed Delvile and journey abroad while the Delvile estates are let. They are married in secret and all is well.

But fate would not be so kind to Cecilia. While she waits for Delvile to deliver his mother to France, a letter arrives from her cousin laying claim to her estate now that she is married and demanding the return of the monies used during the interim between her marriage and the receipt of his claim. At a loss what to do, Cecilia tries to delay his arrival but must quit the premises and try to reach Delvile in Nice!

Stopping in London to visit Mrs. Belfield and inform her that her daughter will be staying with Mrs. Harrel now that Cecilia was forced to leave the country, Cecilia is surprised during a private conversation with Mr. Belfield by none other than her husband! A misunderstanding, the threat  of a duel, and a chase at midnight ensues! Cecilia’s mind grows heated by the thought of harm coming to Delvile or Belfield and she chases through town to stop them. Becoming ill and confused, she pauses at the door to a pawn shop and is taken for a madwoman and confined!

Three days  she spends locked against her will until found by Mr. Albany, who informs Delvile and Miss Belfield of her whereabouts. Delvile is  certain the trial was too much for her and anxiously regrets his rash behaviour.

But, at last, Cecilia recovers! The misunderstandings are laid aside. Mr. Delvile learns that all was a mistake and accepts Cecilia’s marriage to his son. All is well and Cecilia is able to openly acknowledge her marriage.

Fanny Burney

There was plenty of action in this final volume of Cecilia and it made for a very fast-paced read, but though I enjoyed much of it, I was disappointed with the ending. I knew it was going to happen, but I really wish Cecilia had turned down Delvile’s proposal that she give up her fortune for him.

True love is all fine and good, but Delvile is a self-serving little jerk during much of the book and just makes poor Cecilia miserable with his actions. If he truly loved her, I think he should have defied his father and overcome his pride by giving up his name or taking up a title.

Cecilia is a smart and original heroine, observant and independent, but she gives up her plans to become Delvile’s wife. It’s an eighteenth century novel, so it’s to be expected that there would be a happily-ever-after, character redeeming wedding at the end, but oh! Delvile is such a prig!

And so end the Cecilia Chronicles.

Chronicling Cecilia Part 4

Oh, Cecilia, you’re breaking my heart…

What fresh torment has been thrust upon our dear heroine.

I am about to begin Volume 5, and with just two more books to go before I finish Cecilia, I thought it the perfect time to document our heroine’s progress.

After evading her companions, Cecilia arrived in Pall Mall, only to have her whereabouts traced by the intrusive Mr. Morrice, town busybody and gossip. Interrupting her meeting with Mr. Delvile, Morrice is eager to know why this pair should be meeting at such a late hour. Delvile is certain that it will only be a matter of time before Morrice’s news is spread to the whole of London society, therefore her refusing to marry him after such a discovery will only cast a shadow on her virtue and damage her good name. Compelled to agree to meet him for their covert ceremony, Cecilia wrestles with herself and tries to overcome her original misgivings.

Meeting at the appointed location, Cecilia prepares to become Delvile’s wife and hopes time will allow the Delviles to forgive her for her trespass. But, alas, even the best intentions cannot make this ceremony a success. As the couple starts to take their final vows, they are interrupted by a stranger who challenges their union! The unknown woman is pursued, but not found. Too late, the pause allows Cecilia to consider her position and regret the ease with which she agreed to Delvile’s scheme.

Rejecting his claim, she returns to the country and finds temporary solace in the company of Mrs. Harrel and her brother, Mr. Arnott. There she once again meets the unfortunate Mr. Belfield, who embarked on a course of self-imposed solitude and labor to forget the troubles that assail him. Cecilia is taken aback by his actions, but finds that her own effort to forget her troubles by tamping down her emotions is no better.

Seeking to forget all that has transpired, Cecilia finds that the Delviles will not let her be. Mrs. Delvile soon arrives to warn her against seeking her son and tells her that she will never be forgiven for the loss of so fine an heir. Reassuring the lady that she has no intention to purse her claim, Cecilia believes that the trial is at an end when Delvile himself appears. Mother and son both try to wrest an agreement from Cecilia–the son, that she will be his, the mother, that she will reject such a union. The incident only serves to torment Cecilia further, who feels that it is her duty to honor the demands of so honorable a lady, but knows it to be at the cost of her future happiness.

When Mrs. Delvile experiences a terrible fit that leaves her incapacitated for several days, Cecilia feels she must renounce Delvile forever and tend to his mother until she is well enough to be transported to her home. Taking heart from the knowledge that Mrs. Delvile will be spared further pain, Cecilia tries to ignore her own pain. Caught up in the aftermath of her encounter with the Delviles, Cecilia is little prepared for the loss of her close friend, Mrs. Charlton, but when an unexpected visitor arrives and charges her to seek her happiness through good works, Cecilia vows to make the most of her situation and serve the needs of the poor and dejected. After all, what is her plight compared to that of her tenants?

Most of Book VIII was taken up with the several incidents that occured to hinder Cecilia’s marriage to Devile. Cecilia’s indecision may seem like fickleness at first, but it is her unwavering sense of duty that causes her to doubt her actions. During her short acquaintance with the Delviles, Cecilia came to regard Mrs. Delvile as the sort of friend she always sought, someone whose intelligence and sensibilities were in tune with her own. Nevertheless, in Delvile she found an equal whom she considered the most perfect of partners. Caught between two such individuals, Cecilia finds herself in a bind. She knows that giving in to the demands of one will surely earn her the censure of the other; she therefore deliberates too long on the matter and often finds herself changing her mind after giving her word. While she loves Mortimer Delvile, the respect that she has for Mrs. Delvile forbids her from wilfully rejecting that lady’s demands.

Will Mr. Albany’s good works help Cecilia overcome her misery? Her character is so good, that helping others may very well afford her some amount of happiness, but it seems as misguided as Mr. Belfield’s scheme to forget his past by immersing himself in hard labor.

With two books left, what will be in store for Cecilia? There is still the matter of Mr. Monckton’s intentions for her. Did he hire the stranger to interrupt the wedding? Was he involved in informing those close to the Delviles that such an event was to take place? And what will Cecilia do now that he insists on her residing in his home until her own home is completed?

Chronicling Cecilia Part 3

I have just finished Book VII and what a mess Cecilia is in!

To know that one is esteemed and, yet, not esteemed so highly to surmount such a trifle as losing one’s name for the sake of love is quite distressing. Poor Cecilia, driven from the home of the kind but proud Mrs. Delvile, has no alternative but to return to Suffolk and seek the hospitality of her dear friend, the elderly and infirm Mrs. Charlton, until she reaches her majority. What else was there to do but leave Delvile-Castle when it became clear that young Mr. Delvile was in love with her but refused to overcome his vain pride and take her name and all that such a union would imply? No, better to avoid his society altogether than continue to experience the pain of such a barrier.

Finding solace in the company of Mrs. Charlton, Cecilia resigns herself to her loss and applies herself to forgetting her feelings for Delvile, until she suddenly finds herself the recipient of Delvile’s devoted dog and her one-time companion, Fidel. Uncertain what such a message signifies, Cecilia begins to hope that it is a sign of Delvile’s good faith, until she learns that it is another of Lady Honoria’s silly pranks. But too late, Delvile arrives in search of his dog and his feelings cannot be contained.

Delvile proposes that Cecilia marry him in secret, so that they may conceal their union until she can be brought forth before the Delviles as his wife. Certain that his family will forgive the injury caused by the loss of his family name after he marries Miss Beverly, Delvile hopes that his mother’s esteem for Miss Beverly’s virtuous nature will win the family over.

More than anything, Cecilia wishes to agree to the proposal, the thought of betraying Mrs. Delvile’s faith in her is repugnant. Torn by love and honor, Cecilia nevertheless gives in to Delvile’s scheme and consents to marry him within the week, to then be hidden away in London until such a time as they can be united before the Delviles.

Setting off for London to procure a license, Delvile leaves Cecilia to find a male witness. Knowing no one she would trust more than Mr. Monkton, Cecilia turns to this gentleman, ignorant of his designs for securing her and her fortune. Canny as ever, Monkton convinces Cecilia to renege on her agreement, telling her of the derision with which the Delviles will regard her if she goes through with the marriage. Taking it upon himself to deliver Cecilia’s refusal, Monkton sets off for London but fails to find Delvile.

Unwilling to let Delvile think the worst of her should she not meet him as agreed, Cecilia journeys to London only to find herself inadvertently drawn into a party of London’s most ruthless gossips. Will she find Delvile on time or become victim to Miss Larolles incessant chatter?

Miss Larolles is almost as funny as Lady Honoria, these two ladies get up to no amount of trouble for the sake of pleasure and seem to bring comedic relief to the story whenever Cecilia is in an especially dejected mood, though Miss Larolles appearance is surely less than amusing to Cecilia who wishes to make haste and meet Delvile before the proposed wedding is scheduled.

Delvile’s manner of proposing to Cecilia is so full of objections that I cannot help but make the connection to Pride and Prejudice. Like Darcy, he makes it clear that a connection with her will gain him the disapproval of his family, but it is his own dismay at the loss of his name that makes his avowals of love all the more painful to Cecilia. That he loves her, he cannot deny, but that the thought of willingly giving up his name to marry her brings him joy, he cannot proclaim. Cecilia is not as headstrong as Lizzie, but she does feel as strongly. She feels the insult of his proposal and finds that it goes against her sense of duty and honor, but she agrees because she cannot deny her desire to be married to the one man that she esteems as her equal in character and sense. That she is blind to Mr. Monkton’s ulterior motive is Cecilia’s main fault, allowing herself to be swayed by one who means to deny her the happiness that she desires in order to keep her for himself.

Will Cecilia reach Delvile on time or will she her plans be cast asunder?

Chronicling Cecilia Part 2

Oh, Cecilia, what a fine mess you’re in!

I’m almost through Volume III and plenty has happened to our dear heiress. The extravagant Mr. Harrel has gone off and shot himself after dragging his wife and her much put upon friend to Vauxhall for an evening filled with Champagne and unusually high spirits. One guardian down, Cecilia had to make a quick decision: move in with the miserly Mr. Briggs, or the haughty Delviles? And what to do about dashing,young Mr. Delvile? Intolerable to move in with Briggs, but so much heartache to be found near Mr. Mortimer Delvile. But difficult though being near the object of one’s affection may be, living with a curmudgeonly penny-pincher who refuses to clean house or light fires is so much the worse. To the Delvile’s it is.

Meanwhile, Mr. Monckton has made himself extremely helpful, assisting Cecilia with the debts that Mr. Harrel coerced her into, and Mr. Arnott has proven himself a most devoted friend, though Cecilia regrets that she cannot return his deeper feelings. To make matters more troubling, Miss Belfield, Cecilia’s one true friend, may very well be secretly in love with Mr. Delvile. And if the letter Miss Belfield concealed when Cecilia called on her is any indication, Mr. Delvile has confirmed the young lady’s devotion.

Certain that Mr. Delvile’s recent coldness towards her is the result of his recent attachment to Miss Belfield, Cecilia finds herself perplexed by the effusive praise lavished upon her when the pair is caught in a storm.

Could it be that the conditions of her inheritance have created the barrier that separates them? Or is Mr. Delvile truly in love with Miss Belfield?

In the same manner that Mr. Darcy’s arrival at Netherfield raises the question of marriage and money, Cecilia’s wealth raises several points on the position of moneyed women. The theme of “gold-digging” abounds in literature, but more attention is paid to the difficulties of men faced with a sudden horde of women seeking an advantageous marriage, than the trouble faced by single heiresses in a similar situation. Though Mr. Wickham does not succeed with Mary King, Mr. Willoughby successfully entraps a rich wife to keep him in his favored mode of living. Cecilia’s friend, Mr. Monckton, married his older, rich wife in the hope that she would pass quickly and leave him her fortune. He tries to assure that Cecilia has no suitors so that she will be available to marry her “dear” friend when his wife is gone.

Wealthy though she may be, Cecilia is anything but free to choose her mate. The codicil in her uncle’s will demands that the man who marries her take her name, or Cecilia will have to relinquish her fortune. Find a man who will take the family name, or else. Sir Robert Floyer, Mr. Marriot, Mr. Monckton, and even Mr. Arnott all wish to secure Cecilia for their own advantage, making Cecilia wish for the privations of a humble existence if they would free her from their attentions. Nevertheless, the persecution that Cecilia faces from her suitors earns her social censure for seeming fickleness and haughtiness when she refuses to acknowledge any attachment to them. Why shouldn’t she make known her attachment for a respectable, titled gentleman like Sir Robert? Why should it matter that he only wants her inheritance? Why should a woman want to remain in control of her inheritance when other women are content with their lot in marriage? Her suitors are lauded for their fortitude and continued pursuit, while Cecilia finds herself forced to avoid society if only to prevent further gossip.

Just imagine Pride and Prejudice if Elizabeth had been the heiress. How differently Mr. Darcy might have reacted.


I have promised myself that I will finish reading Frances Burney’s Cecilia during the coming year, even if it takes me a while, so in an effort to get through it, I’ve decided to “chronicle” my readings rather than review it  when I finish.

According to my LibraryThing, I started reading Cecilia on June 7th. I selected this particular novel because I never did get around to reading much 18th century fiction and Jane Austen was a fan of Burney’s. Divided into 5 volumes, 10 books, the novel captures the pomp of 18th century London.

As it stands, I am on page 358, Book 5, Volume 3.

The story thus far…

A sweet and clever girl, Cecilia was left to the guardianship of her uncle after the death of her family. Growing up in the Suffolk countryside with little exposure to the foibles of fashionable society, Cecilia is unaccustomed to the hypocrisy and excess that mark her entrance among the ton.

When her uncle passes away, Cecilia emerges a wealthy heiress, left under the protection of three guardians who will look after her interests until she reaches her majority or marries. Cecilia’s guardians, Mr. Delville, Mr. Briggs, and Mr. Harrel, are as unlike in manner as they are in interest. Leaving the familiarity of the country, Cecilia travels to London to stay in the home of Mr. Harrel, in the company of her childhood friend, Mrs. Harrel. Finding little by way of sense in the Harrel home, Cecilia is disappointed to realize that her friend has fallen into a life of dissipation and waste. Living well beyond their means, the Harrels are heavily in debt and have no qualms about compromising the well-meaning Cecilia.

Cecilia’s wealth and beauty are a source of trouble for her, as fortune-hunting gentlemen seek her hand with little regard for her opinion,  exposing her to calumny and slander with their actions. Gossip arises as Cecilia falls victim to the machinations of the Harrels, who wish her to marry Sir Robert Floyer. Meanwhile, Cecilia is sought by her trusted friend, Mr. Monckton, whose intentions are not what Cecilia believes them to be,  Mr. Arnott, Mrs. Harrel’s brother, attempts to insinuate himself in her regard, and Mr. Belfield mistakenly concludes that Cecilia’s concern for him is more than friendly.

Poor Cecilia just wants to use her wealth to help people, but her good intentions are continually thwarted and misconstrued. Falling in love with the young Mr. Delville, her guardian’s son, Cecilia despairs of ever making her feelings known.

This is a tome. And at times, best taken in small doses. I am interested in the story, but Burney is a heavy read. At times, Cecilia almost reminds me of Emma, though Cecilia is reminiscent of Emma’s victims rather than Emma herself. It will take me a while to finish the  novel, but I really want to know how Cecilia is going to get herself out of the mess she is in.