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McGill University
Department of English

The Burney Society

Biographies



Sarah Harriet Burney (1772-1844)

Image of Sarah Harriet Burney
Sarah Harriet Burney (presumed) (n.d.)
By John Hoppner



Born: August 29, 1772
Died: February 8, 1844

Works:
  • Clarentine (1796)
  • Geraldine Fauconberg (1808)
  • Traits of Nature (1812)
  • The Shipwreck (1816) (published in Tales of Fancy)
  • Country Neighbours (1820) (published in Tales of Fancy)
  • The Renunciation (1839) (published in The Romance of Private Life)
  • The Hermitage (1839) (published in The Romance of Private Life)



    Birth
    Sarah Harriet Burney was born on August 29, 1772, in King's Lynn, Norfolk. She was the youngest child of Charles Burney (1726-1814) and his second wife, Elizabeth (née Allen) (1728-1796). She was about twenty years younger than her six half-siblings.

    Youth and Education
    From the age of nine, Sarah Harriet was schooled for two years by a governess in Switzerland (1781-1783). She studied French, Italian, drawing, and music.

    Personal Life
    As the last remaining child in the Burney household, Sarah Harriet was left to act as a companion and caregiver to her mother. After her mother's death in 1796, Sarah Harriet kept house for her father, but became increasingly emotionally isolated from him. In 1798, she left her father's household to live with her half-brother James, who had left his wife and family. James and Sarah Harriet kept house together for five years, moving between London and Bristol. In 1803, James returned to his wife and children. Sarah Harriet found a position as a governess for the Wilbraham family, in Cheshire. In 1807, she returned home to Chelsea to care for her father. After her father's death in 1814, Sarah Harriet found work, first as a companion to a young invalid and later as a governess for the granddaughters of Lord Crewe. In 1829, she left for Italy, where she spent time in Rome and Florence before coming back to England in 1833. She spent her final years at boarding houses in Bath and Cheltenham.

    Literary Career
    Sarah Harriet was widely read and had a particular regard for the works of Sir Walter Scott and Jane Austen (Sarah Harriet's copy of Pride and Prejudice was recently put on sale by Simon Finch). Sarah Harriet, though now largely overshadowed by her more famous half-sister Frances, was a novelist in her own right. Her writing also provided her with a necessary source of income. Her first two novels, Clarentine (1796) and Geraldine Fauconberg (1808) were published anonymously. Her third, Traits of Nature (1812), was published under her own name and sold out within four months. Tales of Fancy was a three volume collection that includes The Shipwreck (1816) and Country Neighbours (1820). Her final work, The Romance of Private Life (1839), includes The Renunication and The Hermitage.

    Death
    On February 8, 1844, at the age of seventy-one, Sarah Harriet Burney died at Belgrave House, the Promenade, Cheltenham. She is buried at St Mary's, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.



    Further Reading

    Online Resources

    Sarah Harriet Burney DNB entry
    By Lorna J. Clark
     Available to online subscribers to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

    Sarah Harriet Burney biography & plot synopses
    By Claire Murley
    Made available online by the Corvey Project at Sheffield Hallam University

    Period reviews, comments, and publication details of Geraldine Fauconberg (1808)
    Made available online by the British Fiction, 1800-1829: A Database of Production, Circulation & Reception project at Cardiff University

    Period reviews, comments, and publication details of Traits of Nature (1812)
    Made available online by the British Fiction, 1800-1829: A Database of Production, Circulation & Reception project at Cardiff University

    Period reviews, comments, and publication details of Tales of Fancy (1816-1820)
    Made available online by the British Fiction, 1800-1829: A Database of Production, Circulation & Reception project at Cardiff University


    Print Resources

    Clark, Lorna J. The Letters of Sarah Harriet Burney. Athens: U of Georgia Press, 1997.

    ---. "The Family in the Novels of Sarah Harriet Burney." Lumen 20 (2001): 71-81.

    ---. "Jane Austen and Sarah Harriet Burney." Persuasions 17 (1995): 16-25.

    ---. "Sarah Harriet Burney: Traits of Nature and Families." Lumen 19 (2000): 121-34.

    Morley, Edith J. "Sarah Harriet Burney, 1770-1844." Modern Philology 39.2 (Nov 1941): 123-158.



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