Saturday 5 June 2010


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.

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:
- The History of England written when Jane was fifteen (1791) . It is a parody which pokes fun at widely used schoolroom history books such as Oliver Goldsmith's 1771 The History of England from the Earliest Times to the Death of George II;

- 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".


Darlyn said...

I think Jane is graceful woman, very dedicated and pretty ambitious. Sometime I wish I'm more like her and less like me.I mean, come on, she is so dedicated with her works. =)

Eliza said...

Love and Freindship is clearly one of my favourites.
Her early works are so much fun to read, they are so funny and witty, it always makes me laugh out aloud.

Lúthien84 said...

I have only managed to read 'The History of England' so far and quotes from Juvenilia in another book called 'The Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen'. From the little that I have read, it has quite a number of laugh out loud moments which I enjoy. I hope to be able to read her other minor works in future.

Btw MG, do we need to include email address in our comments?

Maria Grazia said...

It'd be nice if any commenters left an e-mail address where to contact them in case they won. But since for this double giveaway I asked you to comment as many post as you can this month... it is important to include your address at least once!
Thanks for commenting!

Lúthien84 said...

Thanks MG for clarifying. My email is

Anonymous said...

I love hearing what you think about the juvenalia--I thought Love and Freindship was FUNNY and can't wait to read more of her very early work!

Claudia said...

Hi Maria Grazia! I found your blog while browsing the web, and think it's lovely! I'm a huge Jane fan so I can't get enough of her. I was wondering if reading Love And Freindship, and my desire incresed reading your review, but I'm afraid my English is not good enough. In 2009 La Repubblica Newspaper published an English-Italian edition but unfortunately I missed it. What's your idea about the language-level demanded for reading L&F?

Thank you,

Maria Grazia said...

Hello to you Claudia! I think B1.1 /B1.2 might be the level required to enjoy reading Jane Austen. But if you are patient and have got a good dictionary, even less could do!
If you want to try, you can find these juvenilia online. Before buying your printed copy, try to read some pages online. (You'll find the links to them in my post above) Thanks for passing by and commenting!

Claudia said...

Thank you very much, it's really helpful.

A presto,

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great review! I had never heard of this book before, but now I want to go out and read it! :)

I'm not sure if I ever left my email address here before or not, but since you mentioned the giveaway, here it is (just in case):

Alexa Adams said...

No need to include me in your giveaway, as I already am the proud owner of the two books on offer, and was once in possession of the volume you have so beautifully reviewed here as well. So glad you enjoyed her early scribblings! I was confident you would do them justice.

cheryl c said...

I just happened to find your website today, and I am glad that I did. You have a great blog here. I love Jane Austen's books and all the movies inspired by them. I also enjoy reading Austen-based novels. Thanks for informing me here about her earlier works.
Cheryl C.
castings at mindspring dot com

Maria Grazia said...

@Alexa Adams
And I'm very proud because I got this precious little volume directly from you with a lovely signed card inside!
Thanks for passing by.

Unknown said...

I'm glad to see a review of Janes early works. I love her novelette Lady Susan. I'm glad to have come across this blog and am now a proud follower!! I love that there are so many Jane adorers out there!!

Maria Grazia said...

@Shelley/Book Fanatic
Welcome, then, Shelley! I love Lady Susan, too.
I'm also astonished at how many Janeites are there, out in the world. Being in such good company can be so rewarding and gratifying. Thank you.

CaRiiToO said...

I am reading The History of England and am loving it!

It is amazing how Jane, with her wit and her satiric writing, makes fun of some of England's Sovergeins!

Unknown said...

Lady Susan and Love and Freindship are the only 2 Austen works I haven't read yet. Some people from my reading group said that Love and Freindship is absolutely delightful and a must read. Jane in her youth must be even more satiric and biting :-)

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