The town of Joigny, Burgundy

An image of buildings and trees in Joigny, Burgundy

Contributor: Gillian Dow

Location: Private collection

Description: The town of Joigny sits on the banks of the river Yonne, in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté. An hour and a half south of Paris, Joigny is a pretty town, which markets itself modestly as one of a hundred ‘plus beaux detours de France.’ The town’s interest, for a scholar of Romanticism, lies in its connections to Frances Burney (1752-1840), author of Evelina (1778), Cecilia (1782) and Camilla (1796). Her husband General d’Arblay was born in Joigny (1). In late 1800, seven years after he married Burney, d’Arblay learned that he had been removed from the proscribed list of French emigrés. He was hopeful that he would be able to recover £1,000 from his French property near Joigny, as well as secure a military pension. He left England – where he had been living in exile since 1792 – for Paris. Somewhat against her better judgement, on the 14 April 1802, Burney followed. She was accompanied by their son Alex, then seven, and by six-year-old Adrienne de Chavagnac, a ward of the Lockes of Norbury Park, who was returning to France to be reunited with her émigré parents. Burney did not return to England for over a decade, but when she did, in August 1812, she had the manuscript of what was to become her last, markedly European, novel The Wanderer (1814) in her possession.

Burney seems not to have enjoyed her visits to Joigny despite d’Arblay’s attachment to his extended family. On spending just two weeks in the town in June 1802, she found the visit exhausting. Writing to her sister Esther, Burney describes finding the Joigny clan “all awaiting us with the most enthusiastic determination to receive with open arms & open heart the choice & the offspring of their returned Exile”. The family of three initially settled in Passy, then a quiet suburb of Paris. Their home was the rue Basse, renamed the rue Raynouard in 1867 – making them the spatial, if not temporal, neighbours of Benjamin Franklin, Antoine Lavoisier, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Honoré de Balzac. They moved to the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in September 1806. Although General d’Arblay made return visits to Joigny, his wife often stayed behind in Paris.

Why, then, insist on the importance of this Burgundy town to a proper understanding of Frances Burney’s evolving authorial identity? First, it challenges a tendency to locate Burney and her work solely in England. The scholarly naming of Burney neglects the French identity she assumed for over half of her life. Quite correctly, Frances Burney now dominates over the domestic, cosy “Fanny Burney” found more frequently when the scholarly recovery project started to interest itself in her in the 1970s and 1980s. But what of Madame d’Arblay, wife of an exiled French national, mother of a child who spent his formative years at school in France, and who was – by the end of their stay – truly bilingual, even if Burney herself was not? It makes no sense merely to locate Burney in King’s Lynn (where she was born) or in Streatham Park (with Johnson and the Thrales) or at the court of Queen Charlotte (which she hated) or even at Norbury Park or Juniper Hall (where she met her husband). In emphasising an additional location for Burney in provincial France, in the town of her husband’s ancestors, I am deliberately locating her as a cross-channel wanderer and stressing the cross-channel aspects of her final novel. Tales of dislocation and displacement in the France of the 1790s are at the heart of The Wanderer. The manuscript was written in France and England, and it was influenced by the literature of both countries. The heroine is displaced, in exile, living between languages.

Nevertheless, by the time of the publication of The Wanderer in 1814, Burney’s ‘Frenchness’ was commented on negatively by most British reviewers, and the novel still sits uneasily within the canon of Burney’s fiction. On the other side of the Channel, despite considerable fame in France during her own lifetime, Burney is now an obscure writer, known only by specialists. Joigny has chosen instead to dedicate the mediathèque situated in the eighteenth-century Hôtel de Ville to the memory of Olympe de Gouges, the author of the Déclaration des droits de la Femme et de la Citoyenne (1791), born four years before Frances Burney in 1748, in Montauban, 650km south west of Joigny, and guillotined in Paris in November 1793 (a few short months after the D’Arblays married), a victim of the Terror.

Olympe de Gouges’s virtual presence in Joigny is oddly appropriate for a twenty-first century literary tourist in search of Burney’s fictional émigrée, and it is no less so for being entirely coincidental. Romantic pilgrimages are sometimes most pleasing when they create such unexpected and suggestive transEuropean connections.

Date: A photograph of Joigny taken from the banks of the river Yonne. Taken August 2019

Subject: Frances Burney

Media rights: Photograph taken by Gillian Dow

Object type: photography

Format: digital photo

Publisher: Gillian Dow


  1. Perhaps, Joyce Hemlow speculates, he was born in le Chateau Comtal at the top of the town, constructed between 1569 and 1613. A similar photograph, used as the frontispiece to volume VI of Hemlow’s edition of The Journals and Letters of Fanny Burney, is captioned ‘A view of Joigny showing the chateau d’Arblay’, although there is no documentary evidence that the Chateau Comtal ever held that name.