Image of Frances Burney, 1782 (painted by Edward Francesco Burney) The Burney Centre at McGill University
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McGill University
Department of English

The Burney Society


 

Backstage in the Novel

Frances Burney and the Theatre Arts

 

Francesca Saggini, University of Tuscia, Italy


Translated by Laura Kopp

Published by University of Virginia Press




In Backstage in the Novel Francesca Saggini traces the unique interplay between fiction and theater in the eighteenth century through an examination of the work of English novelist, diarist, and playwright Frances Burney. Moving beyond the basic identification of affinities between the genres, Saggini establishes a literary-cultural context for Burney’s work, considering the relationship between drama—a long-standing tradition—and the still-emergent form of the novel.

Through close semiotic analysis, cross-genre comparison, and cultural contextualization, Saggini highlights the extensive metatextual discourse in Burney’s novels, allowing the theater within the novels to surface. Through close semiotic analysis, cross-genre comparison, and cultural contextualization, Saggini highlights the extensive metatextual discourse in Burney’s novels, allowing the theater within the novels to surface. Her comparative analysis addresses, among other elements, textual structures, plots, characters, narrative discourse, and reading practices. The author explores the theatrical and spectacular elements that made the eighteenth-century novel a hybrid genre infused with dramatic conventions. In doing so, Saggini contextualizes Burney as a typical reader-spectator of her day, who kept abreast of the latest publications and was able to move effortlessly between "high" (sentimental, dramatic) and "low" (grotesque, comedic) cultural forms that intersected on the stage.

Backstage in the Novel aims to restore to Burney's entire literary corpus the dimensionality that characterized it originally. It is a vivid, close-up view of a writer who operated in a society saturated by theater and spectacle and who rendered that dramatic text into narrative. More than a study of Burney or an overview of eighteenth-century literature and theater, this book gives immediacy to an understanding of the broad forces informing, and channeled through, Burney's life and work.

 

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