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.

How to Make a Yearly Reading Plan


Aside from the grim weather and Christmas tree removal (so sad!), I love the start of a new year for its goal-setting, habit-making (or breaking) aspirations. Yes, I am guilty of setting unattainably high financial or health goals and failing less than a month later. But I’ve also set more “fun” goals that I have stuck to—and that have still made me feel amazing about myself. My favorite is setting reading goals at the beginning of each year.

Pew Research Center survey conducted last year found that about a quarter of U.S. adults did not read a single book (in whole or in part) in the last year, meaning that many people are missing out on not only the joys of reading, but also the health benefits.

It is certainly not always easy to find the time or motivation for reading books. However, it becomes significantly easier when you make a plan. It may take a little bit of trial and error, but I’ve found that the following steps make reading many books in a year more than possible:

01. Setting realistic reading goals for the year

Before ever putting pen to paper and getting carried away with lofty ideas concerning how much you want to read this year, it’s important to open your calendar and take a few things into consideration. Are there certain months or weeks during the year where you are particularly busy and would have little to no time for reading—for example, busy weeks of work, holidays, a wedding, or a major life event (such as having a baby)? Write those down—take each one into consideration.

There is nothing more discouraging than setting a goal and not reaching it; so, it’s essential that your reading goals be just as realistic as your health and fitness goals. Do you have time for a book a month? A book every other month? Two or three books a month? Take the time to thoughtfully consider the amount of books you’d realistically like to complete, and give yourself the permission to be flexible.

02. Breaking your list into different genres or seasons

After you determine how many books you’d like to read over the course of the year, it can be fun to break that number down into different genres or types of books you’d like to tackle.

Last year, I decided to vary my regular fiction reading (both classic literature and new-release fiction) with a mixture of parenting, health, and self-help/spiritual books. This helped me to read more books from unfamiliar genres without burning myself out, since I always read a fun fiction novel in between the sometimes “less fun” books.

It’s also important to note that if setting any number of books is stressing you out, then you don’t have to pick a number! You can choose to focus solely on different genres you want to explore—for example, deciding that you are going to read only American history nonfiction books and historical fiction novels this year. Another fun way to do this is to determine your book selection based on the season, or time of year—reading only Christmas-themed books during the holiday season or only books with a summer setting during the summer months, for example.

03. Setting up a method to track your books

In order to keep up with your reading plan over the course of the year, it’s essential to establish some method to track every book you read. Giving yourself that concrete sense of accomplishment will really help you keep up momentum throughout the year. There’s the old-fashioned pen and paper method. I once attempted to keep a separate reading journal, including my own summaries and reviews of the books I read, but it lasted only a few books. While this level of dedication may work for some people, I learned that I needed something simpler. So I made a “reading list” at the end of my paper planner in the notes section.

Creating a simple Google spreadsheet is another easy way to keep track of books—with the added bonus that it lives forever online, making it easy to reference past years (especially when you create a new tab for each year). Whether you use paper or an online spreadsheet, I recommend making separate columns for the title of the book, the author, the genre, the month you completed it, and a simple rating out of five stars.These five simple steps take only a minute to record, and they serve as a good reminder of the kinds of books you’ve read and whether or not you enjoyed them overall.

For those readers who want to step up their game and join a community of readers online, there is a plethora of different apps and websites that allow you to create and save your book list and goals, as well as discover other books based on your interests, rate and review books, and discuss them with other readers online. Goodreads is the largest platform for readers, but you can also check out sites like LibraryThingLibib, and Riffle and determine which platform is the best fit for you. Sharing your reading lists and goals with a whole community of readers can inspire and motivate you to complete your goals!

04. Making it fun by including incentives or joining a reading group

As is the case with all goal-setting, it is often helpful to create small incentives or rewards for yourself in order to help you stick to your reading plan. These can be as large or small as you want them to be. As someone who loves to collect 10 more books before I’ve finished the two in front of me, telling myself that I can buy a pretty new book after I’ve completed the books I’ve picked out for the next three months is a great incentive for me.

To make tackling your reading goals even more enjoyable, find a book club to join—or start one! Not only will reading alongside others motivate you to keep reading, but you will also benefit greatly from having people with whom you can discuss and dissect the book. If a book club sounds too intimidating or time consuming, you can also join different reading clubs or online forums for book discussion and other reader’s reviews of a book (Goodreads is, again, a good place to do this).

A yearly reading plan is more than another list of things to accomplish over the coming year. It is a way for you to challenge yourself as a reader, motivate yourself to explore new genres or books you don’t typically read, and have fun doing it! 

“Unconventional Romance Novels That Remind Us of Another Side of Love

Austen, we love you, but we’re looking for something a little messier this time


This week, I am preparing to leave on a week-long beach trip with my family, which for me means one thing: I will have a full week dedicated to reading. (That is, aside from chasing my toddler around the sand.) As I eagerly scour my bookshelves for the perfect beach reads, I hear my husband’s joking snort behind me: “Let me guess, you are going to bring another horribly depressing romance.” I wrestle with the idea of getting defensive as I slip the copy of Gone with the Wind back on my shelf.

I’ll admit it: I enjoy a good (and that sometimes means depressing or imperfect) love story. After all, I have arguably learned more about the true nature of love from “fallen” literary characters and their messy relationships than from idealized, clean-cut happy endings.

Now don’t get me wrong: I love a sensible, lovely Jane Austen ending as much as anyone. However, I tend to intersperse traditional love stories with more unconventional ones. Some of my favorites in this informal genre, the following classic and contemporary romance novels help me see what genuine, sacrificial love looks like from another angle. They afford valuable lessons on what can be learned from the more “messy” moments in a relationship. (Warning: some mild spoilers ahead.)

1. Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Love is a choice, not a feeling.

It took F. Scott Fitzgerald almost a decade to write his fourth and final finished novel after the publication of The Great Gatsby, and what he came up with is a tragic love story loosely based on his own. On the surface, the main characters, Dick and Nicole Diver, appear to live blissfully idyllic lives. They have beauty, charm, wealth, and the time to enjoy it.

However, it soon grows clear that their luxurious lifestyle is not enough to keep them happy—or to keep their marriage thriving. When a lovely young movie star named Rosemary Hoyt meets the couple while on vacation on the French Riviera and falls in love with Dick, he has to make a choice.

Through Fitzgerald’s inimitable prose, the reader grows confident that Dick sincerely does love his wife. He has taken care of her and devoted his life to her. But now he has to chooseto continue loving her or decide whether he will allow his new passionate feelings for the young actress to crumble his marriage. He has to choose to remain faithful to his wife. He has to choose to love: this story makes a powerful point about love as a choice, rather than a feeling.

If you know anything about Fitzgerald’s own marriage, then I’m not spoiling the whole story when I reveal that there is no happy ending for Dick Diver. Dick has to learn his lesson the hard way, as he succumbs to his selfish feelings and his personal demons of insecurity and alcoholism. Fitzgerald, too, had these demons, and I like to imagine that he wrote Tender is the Night as a way of revealing the hard-learned lesson that love is a daily choice—and an often extremely difficult one at that—and that not making that choice can have devastating consequences.

2. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Desire is not the same thing as love.

Many people who have never even picked up a copy of Anna Karenina can tell you that it’s a story about an adulterous affair. And they aren’t wrong. It may be considered one of the greatest books ever written—but it is certainly not the greatest love story. If anything, Anna and her lover, Count Vronsky, are an example of how not to treat the people you love (even though the foil characters, Levin and Kitty, do a pretty nice job counteracting them with their own real love story).

As Anna and Vronsky find out the hard way, desire is not the same thing as love. Their perverted desire cannot lead to genuine and lasting love because it is just that—perverted, self-seeking, and fleeting. Their “love” for each other is tragically doomed to fail because they each neglect to put the other’s best interests first. And the unhappy couple quickly finds themselves asking whether their short-lived affair was worth all of the emotional and physical wreckage it caused.

Even with all the darkness, though, there are still countless moments of true beauty in this book—from tender moments between the selfless Levin and his new bride to the awakening of Anna’s conscience when she spends time with the one person in her life whom she truly does love: her son. All is not misery, and the misery is not for naught, as the famed novel serves as an important warning against blind desire—a lesson that is every bit as necessary today as it was when it was published in 1873.

3. Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers

Authentic love is unconditional.

I have a confession: I am definitely guilty of judging a book by its cover, and I judged this book hard. When my sister handed me her copy of Redeeming Love, I was certain that I was about to read a painfully cheesy, grocery-store romance novel. And while it did have its fair share of exaggerated, improbable moments, I was nonetheless pleasantly surprised by this beautiful romance novel. Set against the backdrop of the California Gold Rush in 1850, it tells the story of a woman named Angel who was sold into horrific prostitution as a child and now knows no other life than that of being used and abused by other people, especially men. She does not know what to think when she is suddenly treated with love and compassion by a truly good man named Michael, a man who wants to not only show her what genuine love looks like but to marry her.

Understandably, Angel is more than a little cautious and cold towards Michael, as she’s never been shown such love before. How could he possibly want a “fallen” woman like her, knowing what she is? But Michael knows who she is and how she really deserves to be treated, and he is fiercely determined to prove to her that real, authentic love is unconditional.

I may have cried an embarrassing number of times throughout the entirety of this book, but I’m convinced that it would be nearly impossible not to. Not only is Redeeming Loveeasy to read, ridiculously romantic, and a definite page-turner, but it’s an unbelievable story of true healing and overcoming one’s fears and feelings of unworthiness with nothing other than complete, boundless love. As a warning, it does contain some pretty graphic, violent scenes and some outdated views on a woman’s duties in marriage, and it will also probably tear your heart out—more than once. But I found that it ultimately carries a beautiful message of hope, redemption, and love without conditions.

4. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

Genuine love cannot be governed by jealousy or hatred.

Like Anna KareninaThe End of the Affair is a story about an adulterous relationship and all of its disappointments, unhappiness, and disastrous effects. It differs, however, in having a slightly more hopeful ending. A married man named Maurice Bendrix is overcome with passion for a married woman named Sarah Miles, and his severe jealousy for her and her life with her husband leads to an affair. It is written from Maurice’s perspective after the affair and its aftermath have taken place, as he examines the whole ordeal with fresh eyes to determine how he moved from a blind obsession with Sarah, to paranoid jealousy, and finally to outright hatred.

He finally comes to a realization: he never truly loved Sarah, as genuine love cannot be dominated by jealousy or blind hatred. As he looks back over his life and tries to find where he went wrong, he realizes that he could not give himself to her completely when he had already given himself to another woman.

Greene lays his characters bare; the book evoked deep emotions for me that I had never felt before. If for no other reason, I recommend reading this book just to get a taste of his completely enchanting writing style.

There is always beauty to be discovered in flawed human relationships, and there is always hope for the discovery of truth and true joy when humans open themselves up to authentic love. I love how each of these books conveys this theme of hope in some unique way—classic or contemporary, long or short. As Greene puts it in one of my favorite quotes from The End of the Affair: “It’s a strange thing to discover and to believe that you are loved when you know that there is nothing in you for anybody but a parent or a God to love.” 

Madeleine is a stay-at-home mom and freelance writer with an affinity for anything concerning the written word. If she’s not writing, reading, or teaching herself calligraphy, you can find her taking adult Irish dancing lessons at her favorite Irish pub or exploring Cleveland with her husband and toddler. “

Reignite Your Love for Reading with These ‘Bookstagram’ Accounts

One of the bright spots in social media . . .


I’ve always been a reader. But I’ve only recently discovered Bookstagrammers.

Instagram is a popular platform for people who love books, and there’s an entire community on the social media site of people simply sharing books that they’re loving. But these aren’t simple snapshots of covers. These are artfully designed portraits of true works of art—books. Whereas I used to depend on magazines to give me book recommendations, I can now turn to Instagram whenever the mood strikes and come up with a library list in a flash.

Reading isn’t just a leisure activity. It’s something that helps us grow as people, understand the world around us, and connect with others. When you think of it that way, it becomes even more important to make sure what you’re reading is worth your time. In fact, publishers now prioritize Bookstagram as a way to promote books and get the word out about their authors.

Here are four Bookstagrammers any bookworm should be following. Check out these gorgeous feeds and have a pen and paper ready—your to-read list is about to get a whole lot longer.

01. @acciobooksandsunshine

Clean and cozy, this feed is run by librarian Erica Esther, who has a passion for Harry Potter. But even if you’re not into masterfully styled photos of the Marauder’s Map and the illustrated works of Rowling, Erica also shares numerous recommendations that range from classic to current bestsellers. Her photos aren’t cluttered; their beauty is in their simplicity.

02. @nayareadsandsmile

Love YA, even though you graduated high school years ago? Naya won’t judge—in fact, she constantly shares her favorite YA reads on her brightly-lit feed. Her adorable little sister is often her companion in photos, and just like her name suggests, she doesn’t just read, she happily poses alongside her books. If you’ve been wanting to dip your toe into nostalgic waters and travel back to high school for a bit, this feed is a must. Naya is also a popular Booktuber, so if you like her personality on the ’gram, consider heading over to YouTube to check out her content there.

03. @bookmusings

Michelle shares beautiful shots of books alongside flowers, tea, and her supremely comfy looking living room. One of the best parts of her feed is her love of classic books that have modern covers. She’s frequently displaying books you read in high school in a way that will make you want to re-read them immediately. It’s pretty, inspiring, and will have you racing to the bookstore to find that exact copy of Pride and Prejudice.

04. @book_girl_magic

Looking to diversify your reading list? Renée is a lifestyle blogger with a passion for helping marginalized authors get more visibility. Her feed shares all kinds of books but particularly likes to highlight books by and featuring people of diverse backgrounds. If you feel like your bedside table features predominantly one kind of author, Renée’s feed may help you break out of your mold.