Frances Burney’s Adventure at Ilfracombe

Frances Burney’s Adventure at Ilfracombe

Deborah Kennedy, Saint Mary’s University

Author Biography

Deborah Kennedy is Professor of English at Saint Mary’s University, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. She is the author of Helen Maria Williams and the Age of Revolution (Bucknell 2002) and has published on a variety of subjects, including women’s literary history, women and popular music, the poetry of William Wordsworth, and eighteenth-century art. Her book Poetic Sisters: Early Eighteenth-Century Women Poets (Bucknell 2013) was a Choice Outstanding Academic Title.


This article concerns an incident, recounted in Frances Burney’s Journals, about a visit to the Devon coast in 1817. While staying in the seaside town of Ilfracombe, Burney was caught by the tides on a solitary walk and had to climb onto a high rock for safety, where she remained for several hours in tempestuous conditions in serious danger of drowning. She was accompanied only by her small dog Diane, who plays a significant role in the story. Ever since it was published, her “Ilfracombe Journal” has been popular amongst readers, and new layers of meaning are added when it is read alongside artistic representations of women at the seashore. The unique features of Burney’s account include a sense of suspense and danger that draws on narrative elements from the Gothic tradition, in combination with a realistic rendering of a woman’s confrontation with the elements.


Burney, Frances, 1752–1840; Ilfracombe, Devon; seashore; adventure; dog; Gothic; tide; journals

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