BURNEY, Fanny (1752-1840) a.k.a. Madame D'Arblay
Plaque erected in 1885 by (Royal) Society of Arts at 11 Bolton Street, Mayfair, London, W1J 8BB, City of Westminster
MADAME D'ARBLAY (FANNY BURNEY) AUTHORESS. LIVED HERE. BORN 1752. DIED 1840.
Fanny Burney (known as Madame D’Arblay after her marriage) is famous for her novels – which were published to widespread acclaim in the late 18th century – and for her diaries, which record her life within the distinguished literary circles of Samuel Johnson and the bluestocking group. Her plaque, erected at 11 Bolton Street in Mayfair in 1885, is the earliest surviving official London plaque to a woman.
THE MOTHER OF ENGLISH FICTION
Born in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, Frances Burney – usually known as Fanny – was the daughter of the musician and writer Dr Charles Burney. She moved with her family to London in 1760, and was propelled into the limelight by the publication of her novel Evelina (1778). Sir Joshua Reynolds, a friend of the family, had reportedly ‘been fed while reading the little work,’ having refused to ‘quit it at table’, while Edmund Burke ‘had sat up a whole night to finish it’.
Fêted by Samuel Johnson and David Garrick, Burney consolidated her literary reputation with Cecilia (1782) and, after five years (1786–91) as Second Keeper of the Robes to Queen Charlotte, wrote the most profitable of her works, Camilla (1796).
A subscription was launched to make profits on the last, and a young Jane Austen was among those who signed up. It seems she had admired Burney’s previous novel, Cecilia, paying particular attention to its closing pages in which the phrase ‘PRIDE AND PREJUDICE’ is repeated three times in capitals. The influence Burney exerted over Austen and other novelists led to her being described by Virginia Woolf as the mother of English fiction.
Fanny Burney moved to 11 Bolton Street on 8 October 1818 at the age of 66, following the death of her husband, the French émigré Alexandre D’Arblay. She intended the house to provide a London home for her son, Alexander (1794–1837), and described it in her journal as ‘my new and probably last dwelling’.
Burney was, in fact, to move a further three times, always within Mayfair: in 1828 she left Bolton Street for 1 Half Moon Street; in 1837 transferred to 112 Mount Street; and in 1839 moved to her final address, 29 Lower Grosvenor Street. The greater part of her time at Bolton Street was dedicated to editing her father’s manuscripts into the three-volume Memoirs of Doctor Burney (1832).