The recovery of the works of early English women writers is an ongoing project, and should include those of Sarah Harriet Burney (1772–1839). One of her novels has recently appeared in a scholarly edition and the rest will soon follow. Common themes and motifs can be found in her work, especially in relation to the family, which will be the focus of this critique.
Burney wrote five works of fiction between 1796 and 1839, a literary career that spanned almost five decades. Grounded in the domestic novel of manners with strong shades of satire, her fiction also incorporates elements of the Gothic to produce an eclectic mix. Almost the exact contemporary of Jane Austen (who claimed to have read Burney’s first novel three times), she began publishing fifteen years before Austen, and continued for another twenty-two years after Austen’s death. The two have many elements in common, but Burney wrote in bold colors and began experimenting with genres, incorporating influences that would be developed later in the Victorian novel. She can be seen as a pivotal figure straddling the two periods, building on the conventions of the eighteenth-century novel and carrying them forward. This paper aims to introduce the works of this author to a new audience. After giving an overview of her life and career, the paper will look at each novel in turn, finding structures and patterns that shape Burney’s world and her fiction.