King’s Lynn is a small town on the coast of Norfolk in England, about 45 miles North of Cambridge. It used to be one of the four major English harbours, and it has a Hanseatic connection as well as several houses with Dutch gables. But my real reason for a visit last week was the fact that the novelist and famous diarist and letter-writer Fanny Burney (1752-1840) had been born there.
So we asked at the Tourist Information centre where in King’s Lynn we could find the Burney house. They directed us to a house opposite St Margaret’s Church along the Tuesday market. This was a house with a crooked window from which it was believed that Fanny Burney would look at the church, at least according to several references in her journal letters. “It was believed” indeed, for though it was a lovely house, the original Burney mansion no longer exists, according to a plaque on a house a few doors away. A lovely house, crooked window and all, but NOT Fanny Burney’s house after all. But the Church (very crooked too!) she would have frequently seen, and she would have frequented the streets and markets of the lovely town King’s Lynn.
Fanny Burney’s collected letters present a wealth of material, including conversations she reported on in what was recognised at the time as a very naturalistic style, real speech perhaps, in other words. An overview of the published volumes of the early as well as the later letters, and also those of her father, the Music historian Charles Burney (1726-1814), may be found on the website of the Burney Centre at McGill University.