McGill-ASECS Fellowship Report from Cassie Ulph

Cassie Ulph (Bishop Grosseteste University, UK) was the 2016 McGill-ASECS Fellow at the Burney Centre . Her Fellowship Report is shared below, with her permission.


“I visited the Burney Centre in August 2016 to consult archival material relating to Frances Burney’s Memoirs of Doctor Burney (1832). I hoped to uncover the extent to which Burney’s presentation of her father, Charles, as a musical and literary professional accorded with his own. This was a return to research I had begun as a doctoral candidate, whilst investigating Burney’s construction of her own literary-professional identity in relation to the artistic culture in which she was raised, and the impact on that identity of her father’s musical career.  Memoirs of Doctor Burney is relatively neglected amongst Burney’s published work, and is a text that has frequently been treated as incongruous with, or inferior to, the other texts she produced since Croker’s attack in the Quarterly Review in 1833.  Most often it is treated as evidence of Burney’s desire to over-write or silence her father, and many critics have rightly noted that this supposed biography frequently strays into auto-biography.  John Wagstaff in his 2004 DNB entry for Charles attributes Burney’s ‘frequent inaccuracies’, rather more kindly, to ‘an over-zealous sense of duty, to paint her father in the best possible light’, something not all critics agree she achieves (or intends).[1]  Remarkably few critics have treated Memoirs as a creative product in itself: amongst the few who have, Margaret Doody suggests that Memoirs is Burney’s ‘riposte’ to Hester Piozzi’s Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson (1786), ‘proving that Burney, too, can write from intimate knowledge of a great man, and thus is great herself’.[2] That Memoirs of Doctor Burney is as much about the author as its subject is, then, generally agreed. Where there is less consensus is how this strange work can be understood within the Burney family oeuvre: it relates not one but two creative careers; it is an intersection between Charles’s and Frances’s entwined artistic identities. For many critics, the inability to adequately distinguish between these is Burney’s failing in Memoirs: for my project, it is their chief point of interest.

In the context of my own recent research, I have begun to understand Burney as carving out a distinct identity that is in relationship with, rather than necessarily against, her father as an artistic professional.  To this end, I wished to investigate the extent to which Burney’s presentation of her father is in dialogue with his own self-fashioning, how far it conformed to his intentions for his posthumous reputation, and how far it truly marked a conscious distinction or resistance. Prior to visiting the Burney Centre, this investigation had begun with the published version of Memoirs itself: in order to establish the extent to which Burney’s editorial strategy conformed to or differed from her father’s wishes, I would need to consult Charles’s unpublished correspondence, fragment memoirs, and miscellanea, of which copies are held in the Centre.  By consulting copies of letters and fragments reproduced, annotated, or partially obliterated by Frances Burney, I hoped to uncover the strategies for inclusion or exclusion of Charles Burney’s original material in Memoirs; for the same reason, I was particularly interested in Charles’s correspondence relating to the last few years of his life (1810-1814) following Burney’s return from France, and in the period following the death of Elizabeth Allen Burney in 1896, during which time Charles is reported to have first begun composing his own memoirs and arranging correspondence with Burney’s help.[3] This, surely, would reveal the extent to which Charles had directed or curated his own memoirs, and how his own representation of his professional life differed from that ultimately presented by his daughter.

My initial enquiry began with the extant fragments of Charles’s memoirs that remained as edited by Burney.  As Miriam Benkovitz has noted (and as others have since), even the little that survived Burney’s executorship is rarely included in Memoirs.[4]  However, there is evidence to suggest, firstly, that Burney was editing those materials with at least some intention of including them, and secondly, that she believed, or at least hoped, that editing to conform to her father’s intentions.  One such document, recounting Charles’s friendship with ‘a Norfolk friend’, shed light on Burney’s priorities for such through her amendments to Charles’s original text. Where Charles had written that his friend ‘attached me the first time I saw him, though he only sent for me to tune his Harpsichord’, Burney amends this to ‘This Gentleman attached me to him the first time I saw him, though it was but professionally’, eliding the inconvenient employment relationship with the euphemistic ‘professionally’, and formalising Charles’s ‘my friend’ to the more respectful ‘this Gentlemen’. Other references to the precise nature of Charles’s profession were similarly edited out, consistent with the narrative shaped in Memoirs of Charles as a polite, learned ‘professional’ rather than a musician for hire, many of whose social acquaintances were, more often than not, also his employers.  This was one of a number of examples where Burney doctored the extant manuscripts in preparation for publication, only to omit them later.

While it is evident from these fragment memoirs that Burney made a number of tactical amendments to her father’s own words, and ultimately omitted much of his original material, it remained to be seen how far this conformed to Charles’s own wishes or directions. Burney claims in Memoirs that the little she includes of her father’s poetry ‘is inserted only biographically’ because it is of inferior quality and, more importantly, ‘not designed for the press’. I wished to investigate the extent of Charles’s ‘design’, and interrogate this claim that Charles’s poetry ‘could not, in these fastidious days, be called verses’.[5]  In my time at the Burney Centre I was able to consult not only copies of Charles’s poems in his own hand, but also Barbara Hopkinson’s 1979 MA Thesis, consisting of an edited selection of these.  From Hopkinson’s selection, and detailed editorial, Charles’s use of poetry emerges as a means of reinforcing personal relationships, both private and public: he commemorates loved ones (for example on the deaths of his daughter Susan, and his second wife Elizabeth); he eulogises eminent friends (such as in his poem on the death of Sir Joshua Reynolds); and he attacks rivals, as exemplified by the gleefully derisive ‘On Sir John Hawkins giving his collection of old musical books to the British Museum’.  The latter poem in particular illuminated Charles’s attitude to literary posterity: he criticises Hawkins for attempting to ‘escape damnation’ (that is, secure his reputation) through his gift like a sinner on his deathbead. Furthermore, Charles calls into question the value of that legacy:


E’en thus the Knight, in proud oblation,

Bestows the sweepings of each stall;

And with them, to escape damnation,

The dust, the cobwebs, worms & all. (ll. 5-8)


Charles’s satire, here, of Hawkins’s indiscriminate (and characteristically for Charles, scatological) ‘sweepings’ left to posterity, betrays his consciousness of the trace of a life that is left by the material text. Hawkins, Charles suggests, has tried to harness this potential by attaching his name to a mass of papers, but his selection is too indiscriminate to be of value.  In contrast to the dust, cobwebs and worms of Hawkins’s library, Burney argues that ‘None ’scape the flames – but by good works’ (l. 12).  The double meaning of this ‘pious protestant’ (l. 9) sentiment is piquant, implying that Hawkins’s is unable to supply ‘good works’ in the form of his own writing: Hawkins’s History of the Science and Practice of Music had been published almost concurrently with Charles’s own work on the subject, but had been far less well-received (in part due to Charles’s greater personal popularity). That only ‘good works’ (as opposed to bad ones) should ‘’scape the flames’ might prove a key to Charles’s own attitude to posthumous reputation: that his literary ‘works’ would prove his ultimate legacy, and that anything unworthy should be consigned to the bonfire. In light of this, Burney’s destructive sifting of her father’s works would appear less act of revenge than sacred duty, sifting out the ‘dust’, ‘cobwebs’ and ‘worms’ ensuring only ‘good works’ remained behind.

In additional to Charles’s own works, and Burney’s amendments to these, I was able to consult her annotations and commentary on these fragments as she sifted and shaped the narrative of her father’s life over many years. In one memoir fragment, Charles describes a pocket-book recording engagements, that seems to be precisely the kind of ‘stall-sweeping’ that he would not wish to commit to posterity:

when these short entries were made I had not leisure for details, & now memory will not supply them […] but sh.d these memoranda be termed my confessions, they at the worst cd only be called vain boasts of notice & favours rec’d from eminent & worthy persons; not of transactions too corrupt & depraved to be termed human frailties, or amiable weaknesses (Berg, Misc Holographs)

While this is in itself highly revealing of Charles’s self-conscious eye to posterity, the fragment is also annotated overleaf by Burney, who states that it

will account for the Why & the Wherefore his chosen memorialist has held it a duty to destroy, or suppress, the numerous MS. Volumes of Memoirs which Dr. Burney had drawn up: & which probably, when he read over himself, he had seen at once in the light he has here depicted them.  I have met with this wise, candid, deeply judged passage only this day, 10 Oct. 1824.  It was buried, unobserved, in a mass of papers. – But I am most thankful to be thus confirmed in the right path I had already taken from conscientious tenderness to the true fame of my revered & gifted father, who, had he a little earlier commenced his memoirs would have made them one of the best & most edifying works of the present age.

Burney’s course is retrospectively vindicated by this: her father’s wishes ‘account for’ her suppressions, which he would ‘probably’ have approved of, and in so doing she treats the pocketbook as representative of all of her father’s unpublished work, literary or otherwise. Of course, this raises the question of who Burney is addressing in her annotation. The anxiety betrayed by her self-justification echoes the awkwardness of her attempts, in Memoirs, to narrate her own position as editor or ‘memorialist’. Burney apparently preserves this piece of her father’s self-conscious, self-abnegating modesty – Charles’s self-presentation, as part of his memoir – as evidence for her own rightness of conduct. This is highly suggestive of the persona that she herself wishes to establish as his editor, and her desire to justify her own literary performance as a ‘good work’. The discovery of this document ten years into her project of self-confessed destruction and suppression – and her recording of this fact – offers a further puzzle: is this a means of balancing her own claim to authority and literary judgement with the demands of biographical responsibility?

The longer I spent amongst Charles’s papers, and Burney’s interventions in them, the more complex became the picture of Burney’s relationship not just with her father’s memory, but with his own attitudes to posterity and literary reputation. Her desire to recast Charles in the image of ‘man of letters’ and obscure the nature of his professional background, as suggested by my reading of Memoirs, became undeniable on the examination of the original documents. However, the widely-believed picture of the resentful daughter emerging from her famous father’s shadow with an act of editorial revenge was shown to be simplistic at best, reinforcing my increasing belief that Memoirs is an expression of negotiated identities, rather than a straightforward exertion of control.  In the short term, the research undertaken during my fellowship has allowed me to complete an article to this effect on Memoirs for a forthcoming special issue of Eighteenth-Century Life, which situates this neglected text in the context of Romantic-era attitudes to biography.[6] In the longer term, the research I undertook at the Burney Centre has allowed me to better understand Charles’s creative life and his own attitude to musical and literary professionalism. This has provided valuable archival material for my planned monograph, which places Burney in the context of fellow creative professionals including opera singers, artists, and women writers such as Hester Piozzi and Laetitia-Matilda Hawkins. This work is concerned with the informal artistic culture that informed women’s literary professionalism, taking the Burney family as its primary network.

I am sincerely grateful for the opportunity to undertake this research made possible by the generosity of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies and McGill University, and for the warmth with which I was welcomed to the Burney Centre and to Montreal.  Many thanks are due for the sage advice and good company of all the staff at the Centre, and in particular to Elaine Bander, Stewart Cooke, and Megan Taylor.  Megan’s day-to-day assistance as all-purpose Burney Centre guru (and her excellent lunch-spot map, which I have kept for future reference) made navigating new environments, institutional and geographical, infinitely smoother. In the spirit of sociability and ephemeral creativity, I’m eternally grateful to Lorna Clark for showing me what lies beyond the city limits. Finally, I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to Professor Peter Sabor and Dr Richard Virr for their advice and support, and for welcoming me to the Centre on what I hope will be the first of many visits.”

[1] John Wagstaff, ‘Burney, Charles (1726–1814)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Sept 2016 [, accessed 9 May 2017]

[2] Margaret Doody, Frances Burney: The Life in the Works (New Brunswick: Rutgers, 1988) p. 378.

[3] Alvaro Ribeiro, ‘Introduction’ in The Letters of Dr Charles Burney, ed. by Alvaro Ribeiro, 5 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991- ), i. xxii-xxix (xxiv-xxv).

[4] Miriam Benkovitz, ‘Dr Burney’s Memoirs’, Review of English Studies, n.s. 10:39 (1959): 257-268 (257).

[5] Frances Burney, Memoirs of Doctor Burney, 3 vols (London: Edward Moxon, 1832), i. 90, 147.

[6] ‘Authoring the “Author of my Being” in Memoirs of Doctor Burney’ in Sophie Coulombeau (ed.), New Perspectives on the Burney Family, a special issue of Eighteenth-Century Life (forthcoming, 2017).

The 2016 AGM was held on Saturday 1st October, 2 p.m.

The 2016 AGM was held at the University of Notre Dame, 1 Suffolk Street, London WC1. The speaker was Dr Jeni Buckley, the first scholar to be awarded the Hester Davenport Memorial Fellowship at Chawton House Library in September 2015.  Jeni is developing her research on Burney into a book, and the title of her talk was ‘The Politics of Debt in Frances Burney’s Camilla’.  Tea and cakes were served after the AGM and the talk.  

We are also looking for more people to join the committee, in a variety of roles. If you are interested in getting involved, please drop Sophie Coulombeau an email (

Unveiling of plaques at St Swithin’s on 11 June 2016.



24 members and friends of the Burney Society assembled at St Swithin’s on the 11th June 2016 to see the unveiling of the new plaque to Sarah Harriet Burney. Linda Bree, the current Chair of the Society, opened the proceedings and Tony Davenport, accompanied by his daughter Imogen, unveiled the plaque. A special plaque in memory of Hester Davenport, as a tribute to all her work for the Society, was also unveiled.  Lorna Clark then spoke about Sarah Harriet Burney and her life, and the story of how she had come across the picture of the missing plaque.

‘Burney and Popular Entertainments: the business of pleasure in Late-Georgian Britain’ (4-6 July 2016, St Chad’s College, Durham). Please see the ‘Conference Information’ post for all information about the conference.

Due to unforeseen circumstances, Durham Student Theatre will no longer be able to stage a performance of ‘Love and Fashion’, as had been planned. However, the performance will be replaced with a rehearsed reading. We apologise for any disappointment caused.

Plaque ceremony for Sarah Harriet Burney, 11 June 2016

On 11 June 2016, in celebration of Frances Burney’s birthday on 13 June, the Burney Society (UK) unveiled the restored stone memorial to Sarah Harriet (also known as Sarah Harriotte) Burney, Frances’s novelist half-sister. The stone memorials to Frances and Sarah Harriet, originally installed side-by-side in St Swithin’s Church, Walcot, Bath, were removed and lost during the installation of a church organ in the early 20th Century.

The Society commissioned Bath stonemason Tony Brown to reproduce the memorials using traditional methods and restore them to their original place. The memorial to Frances was restored in 2013 through the generosity of members of the Burney Societies of the United Kingdom and North America, and fundraising continued for the restoration of the memorial to Sarah Harriet. During this time Dr Lorna Clark (Carleton University) discovered a photograph of the original, allowing the precise wording to be reproduced.

We are grateful to everyone who has contributed to the fund for their generosity, and for their patience throughout the restoration process, and we were delighted to be able to invite members of both societies and the public to join us for the formal unveiling of the memorial to Sarah Harriet Burney, which restores the Burney Family memorial to completion. Before the plaque was unveiled, Lorna Clark gave a brief talk about her research on Sarah Harriet and her discovery of the original wording.

The restored plaques were dedicated to the memory of Hester Davenport, historian, biographer, and Chairperson of the Burney Society (UK) from 2010 to 2013.


Photo credit: Tony Brown

Provisional programme for ‘Burney and Popular Entertainments’

Please find attached the provisional programme for the Burney Society conference, to be held in Durham in July 2016.

Final details of costs and timings for the conference dinner and outing will be forthcoming very soon. The performance of Love and Fashion is in the Assembly Rooms (a short walk from the college). It is included in the registration fee, but may also be open to the paying public.

Many thanks to Francesca Saggini, Gillian Skinner and Cassie Ulph for their hard work in putting this together. Thanks too to everyone who submitted an abstract: we look forward to meeting you in July.


Conference 2016 Programme FINAL

Call for Papers: ‘Burney and Politics’


Call for Papers, h/t Elaine Bander

The Burney Society (North America) Call for Papers
“Burney and Politics” Washington, DC, 20-21 October 2016

The Burney Society of North America, a group of scholars and serious lay readers interested in Frances Burney’s works and dedicated to furthering knowledge about Burney and her family, will hold its annual general meeting and conference in Washington, DC, on October 20-21, 2016, and invites proposals for papers on the conference theme: “Burney and Politics.”
Possessing what Margaret Anne Doody has called “a deeply political imagination,” Frances Burney displays a keen interest in the political in her writings. Her perspective was shaped by her society as well as by her time at court and her marriage to a French émigré general. With a nod to our host city, the conference organizers invite proposals for papers, panels, or roundtables that discuss any topic related to representations or explorations of the political in Burney’s novels, plays, letters, and journals, or in her own experiences. Possible papers could explore, among other topics:
Court politics
Gender politics
The politics of marriage
The politics of publishing French Revolutionary politics Class politics
Family politics
Burney’s tragedies
Please send one-page proposals for papers and panels to Catherine Keohane at by May 31, 2016. Please mention any audio/visual requirements in your proposal, explaining why they are essential to your presentation. (Note that it may not be possible to provide such services.) Submissions from graduate students are especially welcome. Participants will be notified by July 15, 2016.
The Burney Society’s conference will begin on Thursday, 20 October, at Trinity Washington University, 125 Michigan Ave NE, Washington, DC 20017, and will include three meals. The conference will resume on Friday morning, 21 October, at the JW Marriott Washington Hotel, 1331 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington D.C. 20004, before the official opening of the Jane Austen Society of North America AGM that afternoon. Details about costs and registration will be available in 2016.
It is not necessary to be a member of the Burney Society to submit a proposal, but presenters at the Conference must be members. For more information about the Burney Society and membership, please visit

New research: Professor Peter Sabor, ‘Frances Burney’s Passage to E.M. Forster’

At the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies conference 2016 (held at St. Hugh’s College, Oxford, 6-8 January), Professor Peter Sabor (Director of the Burney Centre, McGill University) delivered a paper tracing Frances Burney’s relationship in her later life with the Rev. Charles Forster, chaplain to Bishop of Limerick. In a panel called ‘Recollections, Representations, and Misrepresentations: Burney, Johnson and Malone’, Peter began by explaining how Burney and Forster exchanged books and both engaged in biographical projects in the early nineteenth century: Forster worked on a biography of his patron and close friend the Bishop, whereas Burney was engaged in laying the groundwork for her (ultimately poorly received) Memoirs of her father Dr. Charles Burney. Charles Forster was grandfather to E.M. Forster, who was responsible for preserving some of the letters between his relative and both Burney and her son Alex. (These letters, held at Cambridge University, have been only recently discovered , and will be published in Peter’s forthcoming Additional Journals and Letters of Frances Burney (vol. 2). ) The letters reveal much about Burney’s later life, and her attempts to procure patronage for her somewhat hapless son. It was interesting to see Burney critiquing Charles Forster’s manner of memorialising the Bishop, given the fact that her own Memoirs of her father were ultimately so poorly received. It was also fascinating to see Peter exposing some of the surprising networks of Burney’s old age; she corresponded with well-known figures including Wilberforce and Disraeli. Peter finished by discussing E.M. Forster’s critical appraisal of Burney’s works. His commonplace book, for example, contains the following review of her novel Camilla (1796) from Horace Walpole:
‘How [do] I like Camilla? I do not care to say how little. Alas! She has reversed experience, which I have long thought reverses its utility by coming at the wrong end of our life when we do not want it. This author knew the world and penetrated characters before she had stepped over the threshold; and now she has seen so much of it, she has little or no insight at all.’

EM Forster’s memorialisation of his own grandfather provides an intriguing parallel to the numerous attempts by younger Burneys to commemorate their elder relatives (e.g. Charlotte Barrett’s edition of Frances Burney’s Journals and Letters, or Frances Burney’s Memoirs of her father) and can help to place these attempts in a wider context of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century ideas about kinship and commemoration.

Report by Sophie Coulombeau, Cardiff University

New research: upcoming Burney papers

A digest of upcoming papers and conferences concerning Frances Burney and her family in 2016. Please drop us an email on if you would like to publicise a Burney-related event, conference, or paper.


Dr. Aleksondra Holtquist (Melbourne) will be delivering a paper called ‘Burn(ey)ing the Amatory: What Behn Taught Burney’ on 22nd February in Oxford. This is part of Oxford University Faculty of English Language and Literature’s Restoration to Reform Seminar. Please see here for further details.


Numerous papers on Frances Burney are due to be delivered at the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (ASECS) Annual Conference in Pittsburgh, March 31-April 1 2016. (Please see here for the full programme). These include:

  • A panel sponsored by the Burney Society (North America): “Frances Burney and Other Women Writers” (The Burney Society) chaired by Dr. Hilary Havens, University of Tennessee.1. Sophie Coulombeau, Cardiff University, “Mrs. Delvile and Mrs. Montagu: The ‘point of the name’ in Frances Burney’s Cecilia” 2. Jessica Evans, University of Kentucky, “The ‘Revised’ Legacy of Frances Burney: Edgeworth’s Belinda and Burney’s Evelina” 3. Elaine Bander, Dawson College, “‘Cecilia, or Camilla, or …?’ Austen’s Evolving Revisions of Burney” 4. Jocelyn Harris, University of Otago, “Fanny Burney and Jane Austen” Respondent: Katie Gemmill, Columbia University.
  • Katie Gemmill, Columbia University, “What Shame Does to Form in Burney and Boswell”
  • Melanie Zynel, Wayne State University, “Queer Aging in Frances Burney’s Evelina”
  • Erik Bond, University of Michigan – Dearborn, “Rehearsing the Unspeakable: Burney’s Mastectomy and the Otherness of Pre-Romantic Trauma”
  • Henna Messina, University of Georgia, “Domestic Liminality and Dislocation in Frances Burney’s The Wanderer”
  • Katherine Richards, West Virginia University, “‘To meet the coming blow’: The Surgical Procedure and Cultural Significance of Frances Burney’s Mastectomy”
  • Candace Cunard, Columbia University, “‘Compelled to Be Patient’: Patience as a Woman’s Burden in Frances Burney’s Cecilia”
  • Tara Ghoshal Wallace, George Washington University, “Crossing England’s Wilderness in Burney’s The Wanderer and Scott’s The Heart of Midlothian”


The 2016 Conference of the Burney Society (UK) will take place in Durham on 4-6 July 2016. The theme is ‘Burney and Popular Entertainments: the business of pleasure in Late-Georgian Britain’. Please see here for further details. A programme will be posted here in due course.



The 2016 Conference of the Burney Society (North America) will take place in Washington, DC on 20-21 October 2016. The theme is ‘Burney and Politics’. Please see here for further details. A programme will be posted here in due course.