When I studied Jane Austen at university I imagined her a middle-aged, strong -willed , intelligent woman who happened to live in the wrong age to fulfil her wish for independence and was , for that reason, quite angry for her unlucky fate. I thought her as proud as Elizabeth, as sensible and good mannered as Elinore, quite reserved and very generous like Anne Elliot. Anyhow, I got the image of the serious, reserved spinster feeling rather superior to many other women who had to come to a compromise with marriage.
Reading her minor works, Lady Susan last summer and these Juvenilia this weekend gave me a new image of Jane Austen. That of a lively, open-minded, humorous young woman who loved laughing, reading, gossiping and being under the spotlight.
Love and Freindship (Austen wrote freind and freindship all the story through!) is the demonstration that her six major novels did not spring fully formed from Austen’s mind. She had a long literary apprenticeship supported and nurtured by her large, loving and scholarly family. Jane was born in 1775, the 7th of 8 children. Life at the Rectory at Steventon was entertaining and educational, the children were often staging plays or publishing magazines. During her teenage Jane wrote 3 volumes (the notebooks still exist – one in the Bodleian Library; the other two in the British Museum) of absurd but amusing stories and skits to be read aloud to entertain her family. Love and Freindship is the second of these volumes. She wrote Love and Freindship and Other Early Works between 1790-93 , when she was 15/17. This volume contains two short stories Love and Freindship and Lesley Castle .
In the pair of delightfully silly short stories Austen lampoons sentimental and Gothic fictions of the day with disrespectful parodies of the ridiculous overabundance in this novels of clichès such as love at first sight, elopements, long-lost relatives, fainting, fatal riding accidents, adultery and castles.
LOVE AND FREINDSHIP
In the first story, written in the epistolary form , the heroine Laura writes to Marianne, the daughter of her friend, Isabel. Here’s a detailed summary of the content or you can even read the whole story as Austen wrote it here.
It was lovely to imagine young Jane reading it aloud and all her dear laughing around her. There are several hilarious silly passages ,featuring an improbable series of faints, which made me laugh too:
(from letter 8)
"She (Sophia) was all Sensibility and Feeling. We flew into each other's arms and after having exchanged vows of mutual Freindship for the rest of our Lives, instantly unfolded to each other the most inward secrets of our Hearts. -- We were interrupted in the delightfull Employment by the entrance of Augustus (Edward's freind), who was just returned from a solitary ramble.Never did I see such an affecting Scene as was the meeting of Edward and Augustus.
"My Life! my Soul!" (exclaimed the former) "My Adorable Angel!" (replied the latter), as they flew into each other's arms. It was too pathetic for the feelings of Sophia and myself -- We fainted alternately on a sofa".
(from letter 9)
The beautifull Augustus was arrested and we were all undone. Such perfidious Treachery in the merciless perpetrators of the Deed will shock your gentle nature, Dearest Marianne, as much as it then affected the Delicate Sensibility of Edward, Sophia, your Laura, and of Augustus himself. To compleat such unparalelled Barbarity, we were informed that an Execution in the House would shortly take place. Ah! what could we do but what we did! We sighed and fainted on the sofa.
(from letter 13)
“I screamed and instantly ran mad. -- We remained thus mutually deprived of our Senses some minutes, and on regaining them were deprived of them again. For an Hour and a Quarter did we continue in this unfortunate Situation -- Sophia fainting every moment and I running Mad as often”.
The cult of sensibility – in which emotions are irresistible and overpowering and plots far-fetched and convoluted- was at its heights during Austen’s teenage years and scenes of fainting, raving heroines were inescapable.
To convey her satirical view of love and friendship, Jane Austen makes these themes oversimplified and stereotypical. They become paradoxical and make us laugh.
The device she uses to make sentimental clichés comical is exaggeration. For instance, the hasty decision to get married make Edward and Laura’s love at first sight rather improbable .This also shows that Jane Austen considered the romantic notion of sensibility as a myth. An improbable one.
So reading this short story can be just fun but it can also give us an insight to understand and appreciate Austen’s method of pointing out the flaws of previous romantic views of love and friendship through satirical representations of anecdotes.
Lesley Castle was probably written in early 1792 (when Jane was 16). It contains some amusing bits, a number of separate sub-plots and supporting characters. Peculiar is Jane Austen’s gleeful narrative employment of scandalous actions like seduction, elopement and divorce. She would tell about them in her major novels too, of course. We all remember the scandalous elopements of Whickham and Lydia in P&P or of Henry Crawford and married Maria Rushworth in Mansfield Park . But we can notice a big difference in Austen’s treatment of scandalous actions : both elopements in the novels are condemned while, here, in Lesley Castle when Louisa abandons her husband and child to run off with two other men, not only she isn’t punished but at the end of the story her ex- husband reports that they have both converted to Roman Catholicism, obtained an annulment, married other people and “are at present very good friends, have quite forgiven all past errors and intend in the future to be very good neighbours”.
This gleeful dealing with scandalous facts may be the reason why her family resisted the temptation to publish these Early Works until 1922. Notoriously, Jane’s sister Cassandra, who survived her by almost 30 years, destroyed in part her letters because she did not think them appropriately refined for the prudish Victorian era.
You can read Lesley Castle, An Unfinished Novel in Letters online clicking here
My lovely edition of this early works by Austen contains also:
- A Collection of Letters, which reveals Austen consciously experimenting with writing techniques and characters sketches. It is commonly said that Lady Greville of “Letter the Third” is the prototype for Lady Catherine De Burgh from P&P.
You can read Jane Austen’s The History of England online
Sarah S. G. Frantz, assistant professor in English Literature at Fayetteville State University, stated that “the stories collected in this volume, complete with the natural spelling mistakes of an enterprising writer with less than three years of formal education, demonstrate the lively mind and ready wit of a teenage girl living in the late 18th century. They would be fascinating enough in their own right for what they reveal about life and literature, love and friendship, at that time. The fact that their creator has become one of the most famous, best loved authors of British literature is, in some respects, merely an added bonus”.
N.B. Since this post is part of the Jane in June event hosted by Misty at BookRat, leaving your comment you will be entered in the double giveaway announced here and running all through the month. You'll find it also in the right sidebar, "Two Books, One Winner".