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Jane Austen, Juvenilia, Volume the second (#Review)

March 31, 2021

Last November, my Jane Austen group read the first volume (my review) of Jane Austen’s Juvenilia, with a plan to read the next two volumes during 2021. This month, we read the second volume, which contains pieces written, it is believed, between 1790 and 1793, when Austen was 14 to 17 years old. As with the other volumes, the pieces were later transcribed by her into three notebooks, with the original manuscripts now being lost (as far as we know). Interestingly, the notebook contents are not presented in perfect chronological order of her writing the pieces, so did she “curate” them in some way? Or did she just transcribe them, randomly, picking up pieces as she felt like it?

Anyhow, volume 2 includes three longer works – Love and freindshipLesley Castle and The history of England – plus other pieces. The contents are:

  • Love and freindship (13 June 1790, dated by Austen) (my separate post)
  • Lesley Castle (3 Jan to 13 April 1792)
  • The history of England (26 November 1791, dated by Austen) (my separate post)
  • A collection of letters (dedicated to a childhood friend, Miss Cooper, who was married on 11 December 1792)
  • Scraps (dedicated to niece Fanny Austen, who was born in Jan 1793)

For more intro, including why read the Juvenilia, please check my first post, linked above.

Thoughts

This volume contains fewer – but some longer – pieces than the first volume. As I’ve written separately on two of them (as linked above), I won’t focus on them here. Those two and, in fact, Lesley Castle, have been published in separate volumes and/or in other combinations, so they tend to be better known by Austen fans.

Austen scholar Brian Southam suggests that Austen transcribed these pieces (which, evidence suggests, she was still doing in 1809) in order to “keep” them? Why? One reason is that they were read aloud in family circles as a form of entertainment. We know this because her brother Henry said so in the biographical notice he (most probably, it was he) wrote for the posthumous edition of Northanger Abbey:

She read aloud with very great taste and effect. Her own works, probably, were never heard so much to advantage as from her own mouth; for she partook largely in all the best gifts of the comic muse. 

This is supported, say those who have seen them, by the fact that the notebooks look well used.

I’d like to ponder an additional reason for her wanting to “keep” them, the reason used by many novelists – Helen Garner, for example – which is for possible use in future works. This seems to me to be particularly relevant to the section called A collection of letters. These letters could be seen as character studies, she could turn to. The letters are:

  • From a mother to her friend: in this letter the mother writes of bringing “out” both her daughters at the same time, which reminds me of all the Bennet girls being out at once in Pride and prejudice (and Lady Catherine’s horror at such an idea!)
  • From a young lady crossed in love to her freind: this young lady suffers from acute “melancholy” after being disappointed in love, so much so that her friends are alarmed for her: “They fear my declining health; they lament my want of spirits; they dread the effects of both”. This is closely reminiscent of Sense and sensibility’s Marianne Dashwood and her falling apart after being rebuffed my Willoughy, and, interestingly, the names Willoughby and Dashwood appear in this letter.
  • From a young lady in distress’d circumstances to her freind: This young girl is treated with supercilious kindness by the local lady, which of course, calls to mind Lady Catherine in Pride and prejudice.
  • From a young lady rather impertinent to her freind: This young lady brazenly admits in a letter to her friend that “I am not wanting for impudence when I have any end in view”. She recounts being very nosy about a new acquaintance’s life “and what had befallen her”. I can’t bring to mind a direct match in the novels but authors don’t reuse all ideas they jot down, do they? And, there are plenty of impudent young women in Austen, including Lucy Steele in Sense and sensibility.
  • From a young lady very much in love to her freind: Again, Sense and sensibility comes to mind – and Marianne – with the young lady Henrietta’s comment on instant attraction “… for that is the only kind of love I would give a farthing for–There is some sense in being in being in love at first sight”. The romance, however, is impacted by the love object’s estate not being enough for “Henrietta who has had an offer from a Colonel and been toasted by a Baronet”!

Following this collection of letters is the final group in the volume, just labelled Scraps. It comprises a Dedication to her young niece, Fanny, in which she describes the pieces as comprising her “opinions and admonitions on the conduct of young women”. These are delightful pieces of absurdity and nonsense. I wonder if they are the young Austen’s response to the stuffy conduct books for women that were popular at the time, like Reverend James Fordyce’s conduct book, Sermons to young women (1777) from which Pride and prejudice‘s earnest but stuffy and unempathetic Mr Collins reads to his young cousins.

More themes/concerns

In my last post, I focused particularly on themes and styles in the first volume, and most of what I said there also applies to the second volume. However, I thought I’d mention here some of the issues that I picked up in the second volume that reminded me of her first three novels, in particular. So, in the second volume, she parodies:

  • Gothic (seen in Northanger Abbey); 
  • overactive imagination and sensibility (found particularly in Northanger Abbey and Sense and sensibility); 
  • snobbishness (pointing particularly to Pride and prejudice)
  • self-centredness (found in all the novels, really)

It seems petty clear that in these early writings she was making fun of Gothic and 18th century literature’s favouring of sensibility over sense. I’d argue that she took up these ideas again in the first novels she wrote, Northanger Abbey and Sense and sensibility (though the former was published much later), but, as I wrote in my previous post, her tone in the Juvenilia is one of exuberant exaggeration and parody rather than the more sophisticated wit and irony we have in her adult novels.

I’ll finish here, but will be back with more Juvenilia later, including, perhaps, a separate post on Lesley Castle!

Jane Austen
“Juvenilia. Volume the second” (ed. R.W. Chapman & Brian Southam)
in The Oxford illustrated Jane Austen. Vol VI, Minor works
London: Oxford University Press, 1969 (revision)
pp. 76-178
ISBN: 19 254706 2

14 Comments leave one →
  1. March 31, 2021 22:10

    I thoroughly enjoyed read the Juvenilia too – seeing how many of the themes, characters and set pieces came from some of her earlier writing.

  2. March 31, 2021 23:30

    I have the Penguin Love and Freindship and other Youthful Writings which contains Volumes the First, Second and Third. The book itself is 6 years old and it looks as though I’ve never read it. Looking through the titles I may well have read no more than L and F (in some other copy maybe). I wrote briefly about L and F in 2018 in the course of discussing some of her (male) predecessor novelists.
    I must say, I enjoyed her early “exuberant exaggeration”. But English literature would have been different I think if JA had been published 10 years earlier when she was less polished.

    • April 1, 2021 07:49

      I’m not sure Bill. I think that if it hadn’t been for her father’s death in 1805 and the resultant lack of permanent residence for a few years, she could have published 5 years before she did and been like the JA we know. You can see it in The Watsons which she abandoned around then. She started her early novels soon after her Juvenilia, late 1790s and if it hadn’t been for all that distress, also moving after her father’s retirement, she would have done the editing etc that brought them up to scratch much earlier. I reckon that instead of 1811 for her first novel, five years earlier for it might have seen us having a few more polished Austens to read. Northanger Abbey was sold to a publisher in 1803. Admittedly, she did some work on it after her brother bought it back in 1816 but, while a more youthful work, it does reflect the more mature Austen. Still, who knows. It may not have been as well accepted as S&S, and who knows what might have happened if that had been the case?

      • April 1, 2021 10:21

        I’m nowhere near knowledgeable enough to argue with you (He says as he goes on, as usual, to argue). My impression is that the ‘performance’ of the early novels over more than a decade led both to some of JA’s experimentation with form and to ‘polishing’ – the loss of that early exuberance.

        • April 1, 2021 10:34

          Partly true I think but we also need to consider the delaying impact of her unsettled life in the first decade of the 1800s. Unfortunately no ms of her novels except some of Persuasion have survived so we don’t know the process of her development. Given the first drafts of the novels that became NA, S&S and P&P, were written in the 1790s, it would have been great to see. S&S for example was epistolary initially.

  3. April 1, 2021 06:06

    What fun! And oh the tings left open to what can only be hinted and speculated.

  4. April 1, 2021 06:24

    I have just now commenced to wonder if there is any possibility in the concept of Jane Austen’s entire body of work having been created with her tongue in her cheek ..

    • April 1, 2021 08:07

      I think there’s a distinct possibility it was there a lot of the time M-R, but not enough to stop her also having some important things to say . People – all of us, and our shenanigans – made her laugh, I think.

      • April 2, 2021 09:30

        It’s an awfully fun thought, eh ? 🙂

        • April 2, 2021 09:49

          It sure is … there’s that famous quote in P&P, which is sort of on this theme, where Mr Bennet says to Lizzie:

          “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

  5. George permalink
    April 2, 2021 23:39

    I am fairly sure that I have given away three copies of Austen’s juvenilia–or at least a volume or selection of them: one to a friend of my son’s, who had recently played Miss Bingley at a production of P&P at her high school; one to my father on a birthday; one to a co-worker, whose birthday I learned it was when I had a copy newly purchased. I wouldn’t mind having my own, but they don’t seem to stick.

    I have thought sometimes that one never hears of a mathematician or musician’s juvenilia, but I’m not sure that’s so. Mozart was an able performer when very young, but what was the earliest of his symphonies that is still played? And the discoveries that make a name for mathematicians seem to be made in their early or mid-twenties at the earliest. I think of Turing’s “On Computable Numbers” (published at 25) or the fellow (Neyman?) who one day in graduate school arrived late in class, mistook a famous unproved theorem on the board for a homework assignment, and turned in the proof some days later.

    • April 3, 2021 09:26

      I’m sorry they don’t stick George! There’s still time. I hope they recipients appreciate them!

      Good question re musicians and mathematicians. I’ve been to serious music concerts where early pieces – early teens – by Mozart have been played. Not so sure about mathematicians. Artists are another interesting one.

      My feeling is that we are more likely to hear music by young composers (and now I’m talking twenties, not juvenilia) than read novels by young writers.

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