Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Excursion

Frances Brooke's The Excursion (1777) is funny, sly, cheeky and very entertaining. It is very much in the vein of Fanny Burney's Evelina (but not quite as good). While I was reading this, I couldn't help but think how much I would have loved to have known Frances Brooke - she seems like she'd be a lot of fun!

The Excursion is about the "excursion" of a young lady to London. Maria, the young lady in question, has lived in the country her whole life, but starts to wish for a "coronet" (to marry a member of the nobility), so off she goes. Predictably, all sorts of wild and wonderful things happen there. She falls in love, spends way too much money, becomes briefly addicted to gambling, and has the play she has written rejected by a theater manager (a not subtle at all parody of David Garrick, who had some not very pleasant interactions with Brooke). I spent half the book being irritated with Maria for being so dumb, and feeling strangely maternal and protective towards her.

The best part of the novel is definitely Brooke's narrative voice. The narrator is like a proto-Jane Austen narrative voice - it's a bit sly, it's a bit ironic, but it's very sympathetic and wise. Brooke uses chapters very effectively to signal her way around the text, often ending a chapter by saying something along the lines of "okay, you've seen this scene. Let's look at another scene happening at the same time as this one". That could get irritating, but it really works for her.

I really enjoyed this one and will have to read more Brooke - especially The History of Emily Montague, which is considered to be the first Canadian novel.

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