Meet Fanny Burney, the Author Every Austenite Has Been Looking For


It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen left us far too little to read.

If you’ve re-read her novels so many times that your copies have split spines and pages so dog-eared that they’re falling apart, you’re in good company. Austen is still one of the most beloved writers of all time, even two centuries after her death. Her books are continually sought-after, and the movie and television adaptations just keep coming—PBS Masterpiece just aired a Sanditon miniseries, and a new Emma film is set to premiere tonight.

There’s something irresistible about her works—perhaps because they’re equal parts witty and whimsical, they’re somehow satirical and romantic at the same time, and they manage to be deeply insightful and effortlessly enjoyable.

But, before there was Jane Austen, there was Frances (Fanny) Burney, an eighteenth-century author who inspired the next generation of women writers. In fact, when Burney released her novel Camilla in subscription format in 1796, among the list of subscribers was one Miss J. Austen.

When I stumbled upon Burney for the first time, I was instantly smitten. Reading her novels made me feel like I was in a familiar place—they are witty, intelligent, and lovely, just like Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, and Mansfield Park.

So, who was Fanny Burney?

Burney was born in 1752 in the English county of Norfolk, the daughter of musician Charles Burney. She was supposedly a slow learner, only beginning to read at 10 years old, but from that point on she devoured everything she could get her hands on.

As a young girl, words poured out of her, and she produced piles of juvenilia, including plays, songs, and poems. At 15 years old, she tossed it all into a bonfire—perhaps due to her stepmother’s disapproval, who did not consider writing a ladylike pursuit.

But she couldn’t keep her pen down, and soon she was back at it. She began writing a journal, which she would keep for more than 70 years, commenting on the everyday happenings of London society from the Georgian era into the early years of Victoria’s reign.

A lady of letters

Her social observations inspired her professional work, and in her mid-twenties, she released her first novel: Evelina, or, The History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World(1778). Told in epistolary fashion, this satirical book follows the foibles of a young inexperienced girl when she enters fashionable society.

She published it anonymously, but it was so well-received that everyone wanted to know the identity of its mysterious author. Once her identity was announced, her success persuaded her father to reconsider his disapproval of her profession.

Her next novel was Cecilia, or, Memoirs of an Heiress(1782), which tells the story of a spirited young heiress who can only keep her fortune if her husband agrees to take her name in marriage. It was likewise successful, and Burney’s name became even more recognized.

In contrast to Austen’s charming country life, Burney lived right in the center of things—frequenting the theatres and operas of London and even serving Queen Charlotte (wife of George III) for a time. She regularly encountered important men of the time like Edmund Burke and Samuel Johnson.

Later life and legacy

After her stint at court, Burney visited family friends and her sister Susan at Norbury Park, where she met a group of French émigrés settled nearby. A man named Alexandre-Jean-Baptiste Piochard d’Arblay began to court her, and the two married in 1793.

She resumed her writing and published Camilla, or, A Picture of Youthin 1796. Her husband was supportive of her work and acted as her copyist. Camilla was another widely successful book, beloved for its romance, sharp insight into human nature, and endearing characters.

In 1802, they moved to France in hopes of recovering property that d’Arblay lost in the French Revolution. There, Burney continued to write and publish, and her husband took a job in the Napoleonic government. After her husband died, she returned to London and edited her father’s memoirs for publication. She died in 1840 at 87 years old.

Though much-neglected by readers today, her legacy is lasting and important. Virginia Woolf dubbed her the “mother of English fiction.” Her influence can be traced through the next century, carrying us right through Jane Austen’s comedies of manners, Charles Dickens’ insightful realism, and the social satires of William Makepeace Thackeray—not to mention that her reputation as a respected lady of letters also paved the way for female writers like the Brontës and Elizabeth Gaskell.

So, before you pick up that battered copy of Pride and Prejudice for the hundred-seventy-third time, give one of Burney’s novels a try instead. Don’t worry, Austen’s novels will still be there when you’re done.

Three Books to Help You Simplify Your Life


As champagne toasts and countdowns ushered in the New Year, many of us jumped to add new habits, workouts, diets, routines, and rituals to our already-busy lives. There is nothing wrong with this—as a self-professed planner junkie and goal-setting veteran, I love me some New Year’s resolutions.

However, adding to an already-full plate often leaves us bailing on our goals before we even hit the end of January. To avoid burnout this February, here are three books to help you simplify your life, live more intentionally, make room for what matters, and set attainable and meaningful goals that you’ll actually stick with.

Grace, Not Perfection: Embracing Simplicity, Celebrating Joy by Emily Ley

I first encountered Emily Ley on Instagram, when I stumbled on photos of her beautifully designed line of planners. The Simplified planners encourage women to find balance in their days and leave white in their schedules for what really matters in life (like the dance parties, tickle fights, and crafting sessions that pop out of nowhere). After catching the Simplified Planner bug, I tried to get my hands on all things Emily Ley, including her various books.

Her first book, Grace, Not Perfection, is all about embracing simplicity in all aspects of life in order to beat perfectionism. The book recounts her own journey as a mom and business owner who got to the point where she was so overwhelmed by her bursting calendar that she knew something in her had to shift. Instead of adding more to her schedule, Ley made a resolution to prioritize and make time for what mattered. She began striving for grace rather than perfection, and her life was transformed. This book walks readers through this process and offers helpful tools, such as tips on effective to-do list writing and slowing down your schedule.

The Next Right Thing: A Simple, Soulful Practice for Making Life Decisionsby Emily P. Freeman

As someone whose ultimate kryptonite is decision making, when I heard Emily P. Freeman talk about learning to say “no” on this podcast episode, I was hooked. If you’re like me and you RSVP to social invitations out of FOMO and agree to do things out of guilt—or worse, you don’t do anything, because you suffer from chronic hesitation and never make up your mind about it either way—then her book is for you.

Freeman explains how unmade decisions become mental clutter, which in turn causes anxiety that leaks into other areas of our lives. She lays out a step-by-step process that turns decision-making into a simple, soulful practice, in terms of both major life choices and the little decisions that fill our everyday lives. She encourages readers to let go of the fear of making the wrong decision and the guilt of saying “no.” For everything we say “no” to, we make room for something else!

Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Lifeby Lara Casey

This book, from the creator of the ever-popular Powersheets (and the host of the podcast that introduced me to Freeman!), is all about cultivating the right goals and routines for the season of life you’re in. Lara Casey recounts her own story of leaving behind a life of overwhelm for one of intentionality by coming to terms with an important truth: “We can’t do it all, and do it all well.” The book does a deep dive into the philosophy behind the goal-setting system that her company, Cultivate What Matters, is known for.

Casey explains that if our goals are connected with what matters to us in the big picture and lead us to where we want to be when we’re 80 years old, we’ll actually stick to them. She encourages women to abandon meaningless goals like “lose 10 pounds” for meaningful ones like “love my body so I can see my grandchildren grow up.” By following the journal prompts she includes throughout each chapter, readers reflect on their own goals and learn how to embrace an imperfect, joy-filled life.