I want to start out this post by saying, “There is no reason for Evelina to be an epistolary novel.” But I know that’s not true. There are reasons. I just don’t think it should have been one, or, if it is, it should have been done better.
So, what role do the letters play? The vast majority of them are from Evelina, and the vast majority of those are to her guardian, Mr. Villars. There are also several letters from Mr. Villars, and a few from Lady Howard, a false one from Lord Orville (really from Sir Clement), a real one from Sir Clement, and even one from Evelina’s long-dead mother. The letters from Evelina to Villars recount in great detail the time she spends away from him, in London and later in Clifton. And I consider these letters absurd.
In many ways the letters in Pamela are similarly absurd, and the amount of time Pamela must have spent writing them a bit much. But I feel it goes even farther in Evelina, not so much because of time but because of what the letters say. Letters in an epistolary novel must be believable as letters, and these are not. While you can get away with relaying brief conversations in a letter, the discussions Evelina writes about to Mr. Villars make her correspondence incredible. An enormous portion of her letters is given over to recounting conversations between many parties and in great detail. You can pretty much flip to any part of the novel and it will be Evelina going on for at least a page of direct quotations. I think this is a real flaw in the letters as letters. Couple that with the fact that, over and over, each letter is from “Evelina, in continuation” and the
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