Speaking notes from Jane Austen Society of New Zealand meeting, Wellington, 7 November 2015
By Joanne Wilkes
History of juvenilia: three vols, written over late 1780s through early 1790s, when JA from 11 to 17. Some evidence of later work on them, by JA and some of the family. Work most like beginning of a novel of the kind she later published is ‘Catharine; or The Bower’, dated Aug 1792 (when JA was 17), but later revised (eg with ref to a ‘Regency Walking-Dress’). Possibly she returned to them and mined them for ideas? A little published by Austen-Leigh, but generally not valued much by family. History of MSS very chequered, but now Vol. 1 is in Bodleian Library, Oxford, and Vols 2 and 3 in the British Library. Were published in Chapman’s edns, and have been repubd in big Cambridge edn (ed. Peter Sabor); also paperback versions, of which I use the World’s Classics edn, ‘Catharine and Other Writings’. Have received more attention since late 80s.
Can’t cover all here, so will look at the following:
‘History of England’ (November 1791)
‘Love and Freindship’ (June 1790)
‘Jack and Alice’ (1790?)
‘The Three Sisters’ (December 1792?)
Not in order of publication, but in order of what I want to focus on.
Interest of juvenilia: JA’s sheer awareness of things, in both literature and life:
“One of those faeries who perch upon cradles must have taken her on a flight through the world directly she was born. When she was laid in the cradle again she knew not only what the world looked like, but she had already chosen her kingdom.”
Virginia Woolf on Jane Austen, The Common Reader (New York, 1953), p. 139.
Tendency to be outrageous, dealing with murder and general mayhem, and drunkenness, among other things. Can be more outrageous than in her published work – because of what was acceptable for publication, especially as early 1800s becoming more straitlaced than period she was writing juvenilia.
Her satire on literary conventions, plus those of history-writing. Was very well-read. Strongly aware of how both the writer of fiction and the historian were all-powerful in determining what happened / what was disclosed in their texts – arbitrariness.
Foreshadowings of motifs from novels
‘History of England’ – note Cassandra’s illustrations. All in C18 dress. Note joke about Edward IV (show).
Tradition of history-writing in Whig / progressive mode: two salient points here. One is that she knows that historians, with the benefit of hindsight, can highlight the events that seem to foreshadow significant later happenings, whereas of course people at the time couldn’t have been aware of future implications of their actions. And what is seen as important can depend too on the political orientation of the historian. JA identifying herself as a supporter of the Stuarts, especially of Mary, Queen of Scots – they were seen by opposing historians as representing forces to do with royal power, undemocratic forces, which were eventually overthrown by the more progressive Hanoverians. So one aspect of her subversiveness is to end with the execution of Charles I. [He was succeeded by Cromwell and then by his sons Charles II and James II, the latter of whom was defeated in 1688.]
Examples of comic foreshadowing:
Henry VIII abolishing religious houses (obviously modern perspective) – p. 138
Death of the Duke of Somerset (Protector in Edward VI’s reign) – p. 138
Writer’s many statements of overt bias: her priority is defending the Stuarts, and MQS in particular, so she’s going to assert her support for MQS, and her hatred for Elizabeth, repeatedly. [Show pictures] So she can’t be bothered with facts, either:
Opening of Henry VI, p 135
Opening of Charles I, p 143
Can seem sincere, as in extended discussion of Elizabeth and Mary, pp. 140-1. But very personal nature of advocacy exposed here too. Ends with compliment to her own brother Tendency to use creative works as sources or as parallels: eg Shakespeare’s plays, and Charlotte Smith’s ‘Emmeline’. So she’s aware of the provisional, textual nature of history: it’s only someone’s personal view, inflected by the dominant forces of the day (Shakespeare wrote some plays in Elizabeth’s reign), and characters from history can seem like characters
The brio of her writing – this is about the writer, not about events or historical personages.
As is all history, more or less.
Outrageousness: p. 142:
…Truth being I think very excusable in an Historian, I am necessitated to say that in this reign the roman Catholics of England did not behave like Gentlemen to the protestants. Their Behaviour indeed to the Royal Family and both Houses of Parliament might justly be considered by them as very uncivil, and even Sir Henry Percy tho’ certainly the best bred Man of the party, had none of that general politeness which is so universally leasing, as his Attentions were entirely confined to Lord Mounteagle.
‘Love and Freindship’ – probably best-known of juvenilia.
Historian in HE is very self-consciously egotistical – it’s all about her. LF deals in part with the consequences of complete self-absorption and self-obsession. As such, it foreshadows the portrayal of some of the characters in the later fiction, such as Isabella Thorpe and Lucy
Steele. They pretend to be creatures of strong feeling, while being entirely self-seeking and
mercenary. In Laura and Sophia, the female protagonists of LF, however, there’s an element
of self-deception: they really believe they have powerful feelings directed towards others, are
capable of devotion. As it’s mostly a first-person narrative on Laura’s part, JA has to make
Laura disclose her self-seeking, of which she’s unaware, through what she lets fall to the
Note novel-in-letters format: being deployed here, I think, to emphasise the sheer one-
sidedness of most of this narrative. [cf early versions of ‘S & S’ and ‘P & P]
Eg when she talks of leaving the house of her husband’s Aunt Philippa (Letter the 9th). Motif
later of stealing in order to support themselves, while pretending to be high-minded.
Laura and Sophia have a tendency for self-dramatisation that belies real feeling – most
obvious in their behaviour when Sophia’s husband Augustus is arrested for debt and Laura’s
husband Edward goes off after him. Laura suggests seeking Aug. in Newgate prison, but
Sophia declares (see Letter 10th). Later, Laura tries to console Sophia, but this is what ensues
This is all very entertaining, and fairly broad comedy. But it is pointing to genuine human
traits: what about Cptn Benwick in ‘Persuasion’?
What this text is also doing is parodying popular fiction of the day. Laura introduces herself
as a typical novel heroine:
Tho’ my Charms are now considerably softened and somewhat impaired by the Misfortunes I
have undergone, I was once beautiful. But lovely as I was the Graces of my Person were the
least of my Perfections. Of every accomplishment accustomary to my sex, I was Mistress.
When in the Convent, my progress had always succeeded my instructions, my Acquirements
had been wonderfull for my Age, and I had shortly surpassed my Masters.
Ridiculousness partly from its being self-description. (Recall opening of NA here.)
There’s also love at first sight (once Edward is admitted to Laura’s family home, they are
pretty much immediately united, supposedly in marriage, by her father, although he’s not
actually a clergyman).
He’s also defying his father, who wants him to marry Lady Dorothea, but although (before
meeting Laura), there was no-one he preferred to LD, he was determined not to obey his
father. (Augustus and Sophia follow the same plot.) When he confronts his father Sir Edward,
the latter replies: ‘Where, Edward, in the name of wonder … did you pick up this unmeaning
Gibberish? You have been studying Novels, I suspect.’
Friendship at first sight between Laura and Sophia:
She was all Sensibility and Feeling. We flew into each others arms and after having
exchanged vows of mutual Friendship for the rest of our Lives, instantly unfolded to each
other the most inward Secrets of our Hearts. (Letter 8th)
Discovery of long-lost relations: Lord St Clair, grandfather of Laura, Sophia, Philander and
Gustavus, by four different illegitimate daughters – all meet at inn, get 50 pounds each from
him, and then they separate, him being relieved that there aren’t further relatives in the offing
[money theme again]
Characters all coming together at the end: surviving characters all find themselves in the
same stagecoach, including Laura’s friend Isabel from the beginning of the story.
As with history-writing, JA knows that the novelist can do what she likes, however artificial
and crazy everything turns out to be. But she is exaggerating real conventions.
Note how later on, she draws on novel conventions in ‘Emma’: E. has some delusions based
on fiction – that Harriet Smith’s father will turn out to be a gentleman; that Mr Dixon’s
rescuing Jane Fairfax when she’s almost blown out of a boat has fostered love between them;
that Frank Churchill’s rescuing of Harriet from the gypsies will be a catalyst for love between
them, whereas the real ‘rescuing’ H is grateful for is Mr K’s dancing with her at the ball, after
she’s been rejected by Mr Elton (partly because of her illegitimacy).
‘Jack and Alice’
This text, less known than LF, also parodies novel conventions. If Laura represents herself as
a novel-heroine to the reader, the heart-throb figure in JA, Charles Adams, is first described
thus by the first-person narrator – and when Mr Johnson offers his daughter Alice as a bride
to Adams, this is the response:
‘I look upon myself Sir to be a perfect Beauty – where would you see a finer figure or a more
charming face. Then, sir I imagine my Manners and Address to be of the most polished kind;
there is a certain elegance a peculiar sweetness in them that I never saw equalled and cannot
describe. – Partiality aside I am certainly more accomplished in every Language, every
Science, any Art and every thing than any other person in Europe. My temper is even, my
virtues innumerable, my self unparalelled.’ (Chapter the Seventh)
Note gender-reversal of convention here – also source in Samuel Richardson’s portrayal of a
male paragon in Sir Charles Grandison.
The ‘Jack’of the title has hardly any role in the story, despite being the apparent hero: he
‘never did anything worth mentioning’ because his addiction to alcohol made him die young.
Only significance is that his sister Alice becomes sole heir to their parents’ estate.
Great play with language in this story: eg description of Lady Williams (Chapter the First).
Lady Williams actually turns out to be a very catty and emotionally manipulative figure –
pretending to admire Alice Johnson while casting aspersions on her, and encouraging another
young woman, Lucy, to leave her (LW’s) house, and then to marry a Duke, while claiming
not to be able to live without her. Eventually Lucy is murdered by the jealous Sukey
Simpson, while Sukey’s sister Caroline marries the Duke. So here’s some more word-play:
Caroline Simpson is ‘raised to the rank of a Dutchess’, while Sukey ‘was speedily raised to
the Gallows’ (p 26).
Alice Johnson: one of the things LW says about her is that ‘She has many rare and charming
qualities, but Sobriety is not one of them’ (p 21).
Much focus on the drunkenness of Alice and her family in this story – drunkenness in a
fictional heroine, even more than in a woman in real life, would have been very startling trait.
But the narrator relishes drawing attention to it. Part too of the way characters in this story
always behave consistently with how they’re described at the beginning – so we can
pigeonhole them – they don’t develop. Sukey Simpson is envious from the get-go, hence the
murder of Lucy is the culmination of this tendency. Another characteristic Austen picking up
on in contemporary fiction?
‘The Three Sisters’
Like ‘P & P’, a very comic story, but with serious undercurrents. These not just to do with
three Stanhope girls’ poverty (although they’re not well off), but with female competition for
husbands, and the status attached to being married. Mary Stanhope’s focus is on being
married before her two younger sisters, Sophy and Georgiana, and before the neighbouring
girls, the two Duttons – cf Lydia in P & P. She fears that if she doesn’t accept Mr Watts, then
one of her sisters will. Cf ‘P & P’ and Mr Collins – tho’ he does persuade himself that he’s
really in love.
One striking aspect of the story is that people bring their motivations out in the open: Mr
Watts is determined to marry one of the Stanhope girls, while Mary is determined not just to
marry, but to get certain items and privileges via marriage. Her mother is a less extreme
manifestation of similar priorities. So there’s a lot of comedy in Watts’ and Mary’s tussle
over the carriage. Clearly no real feeling between them, whereas Sophy Stanhope has a very
different ideal of marriage.
Story seems to expose underlying egoism and mercenariness in some marital transactions. JA
more subtle in P & P, in the case of Charlotte Lucas.