Fanny Burney


I got interested in Burney, as many people do, through Jane Austen, who admired her enormously. Burney had a wonderfully eventful life and was a true pioneer in fiction, writing humorously and thoughtfully about female experience at a time when most women writers restricted themselves to sensationalism. She found it extremely hard, however, to be acknowledged publicly as a ‘scribbler’ and the conflict between her sense of propriety and her work became difficult to resolve.

Burney’s extreme self-consciousness, though a bane to her, has proved useful to biographers, as she became a very full and fascinating monitor of her own life and opinions and hoarded thousands of family papers. Her little-known biography of her father, Memoir of Dr Burney, is one of the strangest life-histories ever written, and gave me the key to my approach, which was to look really carefully at how Burney used and abused her own archive.

Fanny Burney was published by HarperCollins in the UK and Alfred A Knopf in the US. It was shortlisted for the Whitbread Biography Prize in 2001.

Click here to read an extract from Fanny Burney: A Biography

Click here to buy this book at

Claire talks about Fanny Burney and a girl’s-eye view of courtship with Lucy Worsley on ‘A Very British Romance’, October 2015: Go to website.


“This scholarly, judicious and entertaining book is all that a biography should be”
Ian McIntyre, Times

“A great achievement … It is rare for a reviewer these days to complain that a biography is too short, but for once I could have done with a couple of hundred pages more”
Andrew Marr, Observer

“if a biography can claim perfect pitch, this one can … It is a lively, unsentimental book; it is also a good story difficult to put down and replete with colourful characters … As a vivid portrait of a singular personality, this excellent, assured study is about as close as it is possible to get to the raw, energetic satiric genius of Fanny Burney”
Eileen Battersby, Irish Times

“A beautifully executed biography, giving an object lesson in bringing a life into the right proportion for the reader”
David Sexton, Books of the Year

“Written with a marvellous mix of historical clarity and warm affection”
Charles Nicholl, Books of the Year