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What Evelina Wants – Amanda Bynes’ Twin?


Evelina a novel by Frances Burney explores the obstacles a girl has to overcome in the upper class society of England. The novel centers around Evelina and her coming into upper class English society and the problems she has to overcome, to gain acceptance. To my surprise I have found this novel to be of great similarity to Amanda Bynes’ movie “What A Girl Wants” 2003. In the movie, Bynes’ character Daphne, an American from New York City, embarks on a mission to the UK to see if she can locate her father, as he was not present in her life. Daphne had never met her father as he disowned Daphne’s mother shortly after her birth because his family did not approve of her mother. As she arrives in England she quickly finds out her father is a Lord running for the House of Commons, and Daphne realizes her father is not an ordinary man, but a member of royalty in England.  Daphne soon learns, the world she has lived in New York City, is nothing compared to how she is “obliged” to act in the UK. As the daughter of a Lord, Daphne learns proper English etiquette, the rules of attending a ball, and last but not least, how she should be behaving amidst the royals, which at some points she just could not succeed in doing. Although Daphne was submerged into the upper class society of England and tried to adopt the certain way of life, she felt staying true to her roots, and her “down to earth” life was much more important.

The plot of What A Girl Wants bears great resemblance to the overall plot of Burney’s Evelina. Although not an exact replica of one another, the logistics of a middle class girl, learning the behaviours of upper class society is quite prevalent. An example Evelina and Daphne shared in common is their behaviours and etiquette practices while attending a ball. In the instance of Evelina, she not only was unprepared while attending the ball, but she also did not know proper etiquette of the upper class. This can be seen when she refuses a dance with a gentlemen because he did not meet her standards, but then accepts another dance with another gentlemen, something ladies were never supposed to do. The altercation between Evelina’s first dance partner at which she refused his dance is seen “He begged to know if I was not well? You may easily imagine how much I was confused. I made no answer, but hung my head, like a fool, and looked on my fan. He then, with an air the most respectfully serious, asked if he had been so unhappy as to offend me?” (63) Evelina was thrown into such a society, where etiquette amidst social gatherings plays such a big role in her everyday life, that she was unprepared and yet not knowledgeable enough of all the social etiquettes.

Although Evelina and What a Girl Wants one can argue bear a resemblance, the outcome of both the ladies social upbringings, play a different role in their relation to society. Although Daphne learns the customs of the upper class and the behaviours that comes with being of an upper class lady, she remains the low key New Yorker she has always been. Evelina on the other hand, although reluctant and negligent to observe the behavioural etiquettes of upper class society, she adopts their ways as she matures in this society. The behavior and attitude towards society Evelina possesses after learning the etiquette creates a type of highbrow snobbish persona, which she is not at fault at possessing, because this society she is trying to be accepted in teaches her these values. Although Evelina learns the behavioural etiquette of being a proper lady amongst distinguished guests makes her a women, her behaviour towards other people of lower classes does not display any type of etiquette at all, rather can be seen as snobbish and prudish.

Works Cited: Burney, Frances. Evelina: Or, a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World. N.p.: University of Oxford, n.d. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Ebook, IBooks.


1 Comment

  1. juliabeng307 says:

    What a fabulous parallel to draw! I loved that movie when I was twelve and thirteen–there is something so appealing to young women about stories of other girls trying to make their way in a world which seems bogged down with so many flatly illogical rules. I particularly like the contrast you draw between the choices both young women make when they have integrated into their new social roles. You are right–it provides an excellent view of the contrasting pressures working on women in the eigtheenth/twentieth century. Your description of Evalina’s growing “high brow” streak reminds me of Margaret Cavendish’s argument that eighteenth-century women’s minds are made small by cultural confinement, not natural inadequacy. You are right–Evalina doesn’t seem to have much choice as she learns to ‘peform’ upper-class culture.

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