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Submitted Literature

Cecilia or Memoirs of an Heiress

By Frances Burney


The courtship novel Cecilia; or Memoirs of an Heiress (1782) follows the title character as she negotiates the vices of the ton under economic inheritance restrictions while trying to find a suitable husband. Cecilia is an orphan who inherits a vast fortune with the stipulation that she must retain her last name upon marriage.  Although she is nearly of age, she lives briefly with three appointed guardians but is unable to remain due to her guardians’ embodiment of varying Enlightenment tropes of unreasonable excess.  Cecilia finds a suitor in Mortimer Delville, the son of one of her guardians and is in turn wooed and rebuffed by him due to gossip and misapprehensions. It is at this time that Cecilia experiences manic psychosis when she runs wild through London searching for the phantom Delville whom she thinks has been fatally wounded in a duel.  The insensible Cecilia is kept confined by strangers until Delville collects her then spends the subsequent days in a delirious fever prompted by madness.  Cecilia recovers and sacrifices her fortune so that Delville can retain his family name, after which they conveniently receive an inheritance from one of his relatives. 


Cecilia references the developing madhouse trade, the development of hysterical symptomatology from the splenetic, and the gendered-trauma afflicted upon 18th century women.

Key Themes:

  • Psychosis

Significant Quotes / Pages

 “As she was not of that inflammable nature which is always ready to take fire, as her passions were under control of her reason, and she suffered not her affections to triumph over her principles, she stated at her danger the moment she perceived it, and instantly determined to give no weak encouragement to a prepossession which neither time not intimacy had justified.”   251

 “No one will save me now! I am married, and now no one will listen to me.”  903

Reference: Frances, Burney. 1782. Cecilia or Memoirs of an Heiress. Oxford University Press, 1999


Dr Michelle E Iwen
Date Review Submitted: Tuesday 16th February 2010