The Birthday Present, By Fanny Burney

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The first story with a main female character in The Parent’s Assistant, Rosamond, is the “The Birthday Present” and invites readers to draw a comparison to Fanny Burney’s epistolary novel, Evelina. Both stories revolve around the education of women in their morals, and a warning to be aware of their reputation. Reputation while not what Wollstonecraft wanted women to be focused on, still played a critical role in how women were treated, and both Burney and Edgeworth knew that even with an education they still needed to be aware of what society commands. In “The Birthday Present,” Rosamond is concerned about her mother not making her birthday more special, because her cousin Bell’s is always an event. Rosamond wants to make Bell a present, but finds that her cousin’s behavior is horrid. Bell is materialistic and selfish, a trait that is appalling to Rosamond’s family. At the party, Rosamond brings her cousin a hand-made basket, which her cousin breaks as she snoops through her presents. Bell then blames it on the maid. Rosamond’s parents teach Rosamond about generosity, and about keeping to moral compulsions, like Villars does with Evelina: “But the time draws on for experience and observation to take place of instruction: if I have, in some measure, rendered her capable of using the one with discretion, and making the other with improvement, I shall rejoice myself” (Burney 18). Villars is aware of Evelina’s country attitude, but agrees that “observation” – meaning analytical thinking – and “experience” are an important aspects of her education. In Burney’s cautionary tale about a woman’s reputation, Evelina’s ignorance puts her in danger with men and in situations that could question her virtue while Edgeworth gives Rosamond an ed... ... middle of paper ... ...” enlightens her readers to Wollstonecraft’s ideals. Her insistence on exercising one’s knowledge and body is one of her key strategies to educate woman, and here Edgeworth follows in Wollstonecraft’s footsteps, Susan and Barbara had different educations, drawing on Miss Milner and her daughter Matilda in Inchbald’s A Simple Story. Inchbald’s Miss Milner and her daughter Matilda receive vastly different educations growing up, which influences their actions later in life. Wollstonecraft’s would have considered Matilda more properly educated than her mother, and the same could be said in Edgeworth’s. In Miss Milner’s case, while intelligent and full of wit, she is reactive and acts impulsively, relying on her emotions to guide her. Her daughter, however, is more rational, and while she still experiences anger, she thinks through her actions and doesn’t act on instinct.

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