Evelina takes place in during the time period around the eighteenth century, in which public manners among social classes was highly emphasized. These social classes consisted of the working class (lower class; servant), middle class (shopkeepers, etc.), and upper class (aristocrats, etc.).
While being in one of these social classes you were expected to act in a fashion that corresponds to your class. Throughout this book there are displays of the comedy of manners which is a comedy that satirizes behavior in a particular social group, especially the upper classes. This is shown throughout the novel in various ways, but more specifically with the main character, being Evelina.
One example of this comedy of manners within the novel had taken place in Letter XII, during which Evelina was attending a dance. She had declined the first dance that was invited to her by a “ “ man. She is then caught the attention of a more admirable gentleman who she would rather get an invitation from. But once the “ “ man returns to ask for a second time, she cannot contain herself and begins to laugh uncontrollably at the man.
Stating, “I interrupted him—I blush for my folly,—with laughing; yet I could not help it” (p.36) This is the first example of her comedy of manners within this particular area of the book, though she begins laughing, it was not a “lady-like” thing to do for people within her class.
Furthermore she begins to explain, “a confused idea now for the first time entered my head, of something I had heard of the rules of an assembly, but I was never at one before,—I have only danced at school,—and so giddy and heedless I was, that I had not once considered the impropriety of refusing one partner, and afterwards accepting another” (p.36). She then begins to rebuke herself for her actions and behavior in the dance. Evelina is then teased and criticized by these actions by Mr. Lovel who discusses her “ill-breeding” (P.36). In turn she begins to be defended by Lord Orville who came to scold Mr. Lovel for his actions.
During this letter in the novel Evelina is seen to be confused on how she is supposed to act while others who are witnessing her actions are seeing it as comedic. The reader however, may seem to view her situation as sad or feel sympathetic towards Evelina considering the embarrassment she has under gone. Although, as the book proceeds this can be said to induce Lord Orvilles feelings toward Evelina, in the sense that he feels as if he is protecting her from now on.
The second example of this takes place during a play which took place in a theatre. During this letter Evelina explains that she is sitting in the front row of a side box and is approached by Mr. Lovel, Lord Orville, and Sir Clemont. Throughout the duration of this encounter Mr. Lovel begins teasing and begins to “make-fun” of Evelina.
The comedy of manners and even manners in general makes an important role within the novel. The what is comical about how Evelina carries herself is the fact that she is unsure on how to act in certain areas and around specific people. Due to the fact that most people and more specifically women acted in a particular fashion and especially those of a higher class, which Evelina had not been accustomed too.
Although she grew up a gentlewoman, she was not used to the way most of the people within the upper class carried themselves. Furthermore she is ridiculed and teased in certain ways based upon her actions. But because of this, as I mentioned within my first example, this sets up a future relationship with Evelina and Lord Orville. This happens because Lord Orville throughout the novel seems to “save” Evelina in certain situations and come to defend her.
As an example, in Letter BLAHH Evelina is in an outing with the Branghtons and she is separated from them by the explosion of a firework. She then goes on to explain that a man came up to her and grabbed her in an aggressive fashion, in turn she runs up to two other females and asks for help. While being with these women she describes them asking many questions until she sees Lord Orville in which she is then happy to see this familiar face to be at her rescue.