Burney’s main male protagonist is Lord Orville. Before writing Evelina Burney had read the published letters of the Earl of Chesterfield’s advice to his son, referred to by Samuel Johnson as teaching “the morals of a whore and the manners of a dancing master.” They were viewed as advocating deceit and inconsistency, were meant to prepare the son for a diplomatic career, and were not meant for publication. They were published after the father’s death by his widow.

Polite behaviour flourished in the first part of the eighteenth century, when it was to replace political enthusiasm and religious prejudice with mutual tolerance and understanding. The idea that male society needed reform was prompted by a rebellion against the corruption of Restoration court life and the aristocratic idea of honour, which was seen to be outdated. The new standards of politeness aimed to teach people to regulate their passions through self-discipline and adopt refined sociability, thus cultivating good taste and promoting the general good. This view dominated the upper and middle classes of society, who sought upward mobility by imitating the lifestyles, morals, and manners of the gentry. Politeness was seen as the guarantor of political liberty and new moral standards in a commercial society. The natural focus was within society, where refinement could be displayed at social gatherings for people to see. Politeness consisted of propriety, decorum, the display of elegant and agreeable manners, and the generosity and accommodation of others. Both discipline and reflection were needed to obtain these qualities.

In the second half of the eighteenth century, a culture of sensibility was formed in literature from 1740 to 1770. This literature looked at friendship and life experience and prided itself on making readers weep. There was an assumption that life and literature were linked, not through a depiction of reality but in the way interactive experiences can affect the living. Sensibility presupposes an emotional susceptibility, a delicacy of feeling, refined emotions, and compassion for suffering.

Locke’s influential Thoughts on Education concentrated on methods and means by which youth could be taught to govern their actions through reason. Rationality was privileged over feeling, and good breeding involved sensitivity to social context, as appropriate behaviour was learned through observation and experience.

Sir Clement’s rudeness and persistence are demonstrated publicly at an assembly where he approaches Evelina and asks her to dance. As they have never been formally introduced, she declines, telling him she is otherwise engaged. Unfortunately, he will not let the matter rest and persists in his questioning to find out who the gentleman is, rudely inserting himself into her group without consent. He even appeals to the captain and Mrs. Mirvan to persuade Evelina to dance with him. At no time during this incident was he mindful of her obvious distress. The text even suggests that he is aware of his inappropriate behaviour, but he chooses to continue as he suggests her dance partner may be fictitious. He then tries to shame her into an admission by suggesting such a beautiful, sweet-tempered woman would not commit a falsehood.

In contrast, Evelina refers to Lord Orville as having manners that are elegant, gentle, unassuming, and engaging in self-esteem. The willingness and respect he shows to social inferiors sets him apart from people like his sister, Lady Louisa, and her fiancé, Lord Merton. When Madam Duval and the Branghtons seek to use Lord Orville’s coach to take them into town, they use Evelina’s name, as a lady he once danced with, as permission to use the coach. The servants and the coachman are dismissive of their requests, but Lord Orville’s response is that his coach is always at Evelina’s disposal. In contrast, when she first sees Lord Merton at the Pantheon, he openly observes her, making her feel uncomfortable. He then addresses Sir Clement in an audible whisper, asking who she is. Evelina is amazed when she learns he is an aristocrat, the suggestion being that this is discourteous and impolite.

Mr. Coverley tries to undermine Lord Orville’s masculinity by suggesting the way he drives a phantom is like that of an old woman. The implication is that Burney makes Orville effeminate by giving him traits such as propriety, sensitivity, and compassion. Effeminacy was seen as refinement taken to the extreme and was associated with softness, weakness, loss of self-control, and slavery to the passions. In contrast, maleness was defined by its courage, resolution, restraint, and self-control. To prevent this charge, Burney makes Orville a romantic lover with a jealous streak. When he goes looking for Evelina in Mrs. Beaumont’s gardens before breakfast, he finds her with Mr. Macartney, whom she arranges to meet the next day. Orville then becomes distant, and his smile is referred to as forced, suggesting he would not have disturbed her if he had known the circumstances. On the one hand, his inability to govern his passions suggests feminine irrationality, but his belief that he is competing for Evelina’s affection reinforces his masculinity.

Burney demonstrates masculine competition with the old lady's foot race organised by Merton and Coverley. Evelina notes that Orville is the only one who does not laugh when the old women arrive. When one of the ladies falls Orville is passive but Evelina seeks to intervene to which Lord Merton suggests foul play. Evelina’s naïve actions can be regarded as socially inappropriate but morally superior, as an artless response based on sympathy and compassion. When the lady said she was too unwell to continue Coverley swears at her and finds it hard not to strike her in a fit of temper. Through excessive drinking and gambling, both Merton and Coverley are exposed as libertines and outside polite society.

Captain Mirvan is equally at fault when conducting a cruel joke at the expense of Mr. Lovel, releasing a foppishly dressed monkey into the room. Lord Orville asks Captain Mirvan to remove the monkey, but he does nothing, and Mr. Lovel hits the monkey, who bites his ear in retaliation. Lord Orville then grabs the monkey by the collar and throws him out of the room, closing the door. It is suggested that such decisive action is possible, as Lord Orville has no obligation to be polite to the monkey.

Burney’s comic tale endorses the system of male polite behaviour as demonstrated by Lord Orville. Although politeness can apply to both males and females alike, gender differences and roles were emphasised in the conduct books. A man may be criticised for being a libertine, but a lady’s reputation would be completely ruined.