Madame d’Arblay

Apologies for the poor quality of this image – I’m not up to speed with this new laptop and things I might have been able to do on the mac, well I am less well versed in the shortcuts and commands…. Fanny Burney as painted by her cousin Edward Francis Burney, National Portrait Gallery

But to business, a second History Lesson on the women behind the rose and once again, my thanks to Peter Scott and his article in the Historic Rose Journal No 32.

Madame d’Arblay was born English and not French but she was among the first to have a rose named after her (1835).

Francis (Fanny) Burney was born in 1752 in Kings Lynn, Norfolk, the daughter of Esther Sleepe Burney and the famous music historian Dr. Charles Burney. Even in childhood, she was a writer, composing poems, plays and songs – all of which she burned at the age of 15, probably because she thought it inappropriate for a young lady to practice the art of writing. In the next year she began keeping a diary, maintaining the practice for the whole of her life. Her diary entries included first-hand accounts of the Johnson-Boswell circle, or which her father and to a degree Fanny herself were part along with David Garrick and Sir Joshua Reynolds; there are also contemporary references to the trial of Warren Hastings, George III’s madness, Napoleonic France, and the aftermath of the battle of Waterloo.

With her first novel, Evelina, published anonymously in 1778, she broke new ground, portraying women in society in realistic and contemporary terms. The work was an immediate success and even considered acceptable reading for Queen Charlotte and the royal princesses. Her father became reconciled to his daughter’s talents and Fanny was taken up by high society and the literary world, becoming the first respectable woman author.

Her work was much admired by Jane Austen, who is said to have based the plot of Pride and Prejudice on Fanny’s second novel Cecilia, and who was a subscriber to the publication of her third novel Camilla.

As well as novels, Fanny returned to play-writing. The dramatist and theatre manager Richard Brinsley Sheridan agreed to produce her first comedy, The Wiltings, but this was a step too far for her father who, although accepting Fanny as a novelist, drew the line at his daughter being associated with the theatre!

From 1786 to 1791 Fanny was at Court, serving as assistant Keeper of the Robes to Queen Charlotte, and her diaries chronicle much detail of the royal family and court life, including George III’s sanity crisis.

In 1793, against her father’s wishes – even though she was now 41 years old – she married the French royalist general Alexander d’Arblay, who had fled France when Robespierre came to power. Fanny bore Alexander one son and in 1802 the family moved to France. While in France, Fanny made medical history by chronicling her own mastectomy – without anaesthetic!

In Brussels in 185 she helped nurse wounded British soldiers returning from the battlefield at Waterloo, and her accounts of this period are said to colour Thackeray’s novel Vanity Fair.

After the death of her father in 1814 and her husband in 1818, Fanny stopped writing fiction and devoted herself to the memoirs of her father, published in 1832, and to editing her own considerable papers, published after her death in 1840 as Letters and Diaries of Madame d’Arblay.

We do not know the circumstances under which the rambling rose introduced by William Wells of Kent in 1835 became named for Fanny, (when she was 83, just five years before her death) but is was a fitting gesture, honouring a life full of significant achievements. ‘Madame d’Arblay’ is said to be a hybrid of Rosa multiflora x Rosa moschata. The rose is still available today.

A little additional reading for my holidays I think…