Jane Austen wrote Love and friendship in 1790, her 15th year. It is a short epistolary novel of around 30 pages – and it is, we pretty much all agreed, a hoot. We would love to have been part of the family circle hearing her reading it aloud – and wondered whether family members took turns to read parts, and whether they made suggestions. Who knows? But it’s fun to think about.
However, the members attending our July meeting did also discuss more serious things because we all recognised that Love and freindship, and her other juvenilia, show her precocity and contain the seeds of the Austen she was to become.
On the surface Love and freindship reads like hyperbolic nonsense. One member suggested that it has a Monty Python-ish flavour, using the following to support her claim:
My Father started — “What noise is that,” (said he). “It sounds like a loud rapping at the door” — (replied my Mother). “It does indeed,” (cried I). “I am of your opinion; (said my Father) it certainly does appear to proceed from some uncommon violence exerted against our unoffending door.” “Yes (exclaimed I) I cannot help thinking it must be somebody who knocks for admittance.”
“That is another point (replied he); We must not pretend to determine on what motive the person may knock — tho’ that someone does rap at the door, I am partly convinced.”
Here, a second tremendous rap interrupted my Father in his speech, and somewhat alarmed my Mother and me.
“Had we not better go and see who it is? (said she) The servants are out.” “I think we had,” (replied I).
“Certainly, (added my Father) by all means.” “Shall we go now?” (said my Mother). “The sooner the better,” (answered he). “Oh! let no time be lost” (cried I).
A third, more violent Rap than ever, again assaulted our ears. “I am certain there is somebody knocking at the Door,” (said my Mother). “I think there must,” (replied my Father). “I fancy the servants are returned; (said I) I think I hear Mary going to the Door.” “I’m glad of it (cried my Father) for I long to know who it is.”
This is laugh out loud funny, evoking the exuberance of youth, or so we found anyhow. The humour and parody might be broad and heavy-handed in the juvenilia, but it is there, and it is used to satirical purpose, something she honed in her adult novels.
Much of our discussion though focused on the fact that the subjects she explores (if explore is quite the right word!) in Love and friendship foreshadow some of the concerns in her first three novels, Northanger Abbey (published posthumously), Sense and sensibility, and, to a degree, Pride and prejudice. In Sense and sensibility‘s Marianne we see the effects of excessive sensibility and in Northanger Abbey‘s Catherine we see what happens when you let your imagination run wild. In these two novels though the heroines learn from their experience. Not so Laura in Love and freindship who, at the end, might have learnt the dangers of fainting, but not much else:
I took up my Residence in a romantic Village in the Highlands of Scotland where I have ever since continued, and where I can, uninterrupted by unmeaning Visits, indulge in a melancholy solitude my unceasing Lamentations for the Death of my Father, my Mother, my Husband, and my Freind.
A member suggested that there are very few statements of sense in the whole work. One occurs when Augusta suggests to her brother, Laura’s young husband, that he will need to support her with “victuals and drink”, to which our 15-year-old romantic hero replies that these are inconsequential because:
“… did you then never feel the pleasing Pangs of Love, Augusta? (replied my Edward) Does it appear impossible to your vile and corrupted Palate, to exist on Love? Can you not conceive the Luxury of living in every Distress that Poverty can inflict, with the object of your tenderest Affection?”
“You are too ridiculous … to argue with” she replies, but to little effect. The other sensible person, is Isabella, Laura’s friend and mother of the letters’ intended recipient. Laura writes:
Nay, faultless as my Conduct had certainly been during the whole course of my late Misfortunes and Adventures, she pretended to find fault with my Behaviour in many of the situations in which I had been placed.
Some of us also learnt a new word – or, more correctly – a new meaning for an old word. A member asked what “weltering” in “Two Gentlemen most elegantly attired, but weltering in their blood” meant. A quick search on an iPad brought back “to lie drenched in a liquid, esp blood”, which led to a discussion of the phrase “welter in gore”. From there, we were led, via Google, to Chopper Read. Who’da thought it – Jane Austen to Chopper Read!
Finally, a member noted that Virginia Woolf, in her essay on Austen, specifically discusses Love and freindship, arguing that “even at that early age Jane Austen was writing. One hears it in the rhythm and shapeliness and severity of the sentences”.
And so say all of us!
- It was suggested that our October meeting be devoted to “Gilpin, the Picturesque, and Jane Austen, with particular reference to Pride and Prejudice“. If members agree, some links to his works and articles about him will be posted on the blog closer to the time.
- Jane Austen’s Turquoise Ring was auctioned at Sotheby’s in early July. It was expected to raise around £30-40K but fetched, in the end, over £150K.