It is a truth universally acknowledged that a devotee of Jane Austen fiction must be in want of more to read. Whether it is rereading her main novels for the hundredth time, finishing another author’s completion of Sanditon, or even reading the multitude of continuations and retellings (to which there are many), a true Janeite cannot be stopped. Then, there is the matter of her juvenilia, to which I recently indulged. Love and Freindship (sic) consists of several short works of Austen’s juvenilia that she wrote from around 1790 to 1793 as a means to entertain her family. Can I pause for a moment to express how endearing I find it that the family created stories to share with each other? While critics are divided on whether these attempts by a teenage Austen are worth publication, I believe they are worth reading as they showcase the author’s trademark humor and wit. From these early writings, one can see Austen working towards the literary masterpieces that will continue to be loved forever.
Love and Freindship perfectly demonstrates how young Jane adored writing epistolary works that mocked the sensational and Gothic fictions of the time. The opening letter of this short novel is from Isabel to her friend, Laura. Isabel figures that since Laura is getting older, she should discuss the exciting events of her life to Isabel’s daughter Marianne in order to impart some everlasting wisdom. From this point forward, we only witness Laura’s point of view as she documents her scandalous life to Marianne through a series of letters. Laura certainly takes Marianne and readers on an adventure into the misfortunes that have befallen her.
“Summon up all the fortitude you possess; for alas! In the perusal of the following Pages, your sensibility will be most tried.”
Austen is clearly having a lot of fun and is surprisingly adept of satire, considering how young she was when she composed Love and Freindship. This short novel is pure melodrama with its quick marriages, tragic deaths, and fainting spells (I cannot stress the amount of fainting that occurs). Laura’s misadventures are so ridiculous, but I was laughing out loud so many times. Had this work been a full-length novel, it would have overstayed its welcome, but at 40 pages, it works as a pleasure read.
To summarize some of the plot, Laura almost immediately marries Edward after he appears in her family home seeking shelter. He is the son of a baronet and was supposed to marry another, but Edward is strong-willed to do the opposite of what his father wants. The newlyweds soon find themselves in the home of Edward’s friends, Augustus and Sophia, who are quite scandalous as well. These two also married against their parents’ wishes, stole a bunch of money from Augustus’s father, and racked up so many debts that Augustus is now imprisoned. When Edward goes to see if he can free Augustus, he disappears and leaves the ladies to fend for themselves as they head to Scotland.
The ladies have quite the series of short misadventures that are so over-the-top, that you cannot take Laura seriously. It was so fascinating to see the seedlings of Northanger Abbey in this little work. It’s pure, unadulterated fun that only a true Jane Austen lover can appreciate.
The next short novel, Lesley Castle, is essentially an unfinished collection of correspondence between various “friends” who talk mostly of marriage as well as gossip about each other. It represents a development in Austen’s writing, as it features several characters writing to each other, rather than just the one primary voice in Love and Freindship. Like many of these juvenilia pieces, Lesley Castle demonstrates Austen’s love of scandalous writing, something she does to such marvelous effect in her later work, Lady Susan. It begins with Margaret writing of her brother’s adulterous wife running off, leaving not only her husband but her 2-year-old child, and of her widowed father, “fluttering about the streets of London, gay, dissipated and thoughtless at the age of 57” (didn’t expect that from an Austen work). Her correspondent, Charlotte, reports back about her tragedy, the death of her sister’s fiancé from falling off his horse, but she seems far more interested in food than the misfortunes of her sister. In fact, her insensitivity is quite cheeky and definitely the voice of a teenager.
This piece of fiction is another great example of Austen’s emerging gifts for developing characters you just love to hate. Margaret lacks complete self-awareness, as she sees herself in a completely different way than how she comes across in her correspondence. Charlotte serves as an impetus to a few characters that are more fully developed in the later Emma, such as Mr. Woodhouse’s focus on food and the self-centeredness of Mrs. Elton.
Austen’s The History of England is a short essay in which she reflects on the reigns of English monarchs through the centuries. The fifteen-year-old Austen unabashedly mimics the style of historians from her time and reads more like someone’s humorous notes from a history textbook. Austen wrote this work mostly to defend Mary, Queen of Scots, and to berate Elizabeth I for having her murdered. I also adored her defense of Anne Boleyn (spelled “Bullen”).
This collection concluded with A Collection of Letters, which serve more as character sketches than any type of completed work. The fun with reading this one is in how many names appear that would later become beloved (or a bit hated) characters in so many of our beloved Austen novels. Love and Freindship is a fun collection that serves as a history into the development of Jane Austen’s illustrious career.