Claire Harman, Author . Knopf $30 (448p) ISBN 978-0-679-44658-3

Authoritative and scholarly, this is an entertaining biography of one of the earliest celebrated English women of letters. Harman, a British author (Sylvia Townsend Warner: A Biography), skillfully traces Fanny Burney's (1753–1840) life from her childhood as the daughter of composer and music historian Dr. Charles Burney through her career as a well-known novelist. Burney revered her father, and it was not until she was sure of his approval that she was able to enjoy the success of her first, sensational novel, the satirical Evelina (1777), published anonymously. When her authorship was revealed, she began to mingle in literary society and became acquainted with Samuel Johnson and other notables. In deference to her father's social ambitions, Burney accepted an appointment to the court of Queen Charlotte and "mad" King George III. Drawing on her subject's voluminous letters and journals, the author describes Burney's unhappiness during this period until, after five years, she received her father's permission to resign. An inspiration to Jane Austen and called "the mother of English fiction" by Virginia Woolf, Burney was nonetheless ambivalent about her status as a writer and would deprecate other novelists as she grew older. She married a French Royalist émigré in her early 40s and had one son, whom she outlived. Of particular note and partially excerpted in this account is Burney's harrowing recollection of a mastectomy she endured in 1811 without an anesthetic. B&w illus. (Aug. 30)

Forecast:This engaging biography, if widely reviewed, should reawaken interest in Burney and sell well among fans of English letters and women's history.

Reviewed on: 07/16/2001
Release date: 08/01/2001
Genre: Nonfiction
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