Prepared by member Jenny.
For our last formal meeting of the year, we decided to read the first volume of Jane Austen’s Juvenilia, with plans to read the second and third volumes during 2021.
Jane Austen’s joyous and ebullient spirit shines through this early work. Her natural exuberance leads her to invent impossibly absurd situations for her ridiculously irresponsible characters in order to entertain her family and friends. The confidence she demonstrates has her listeners laughing raucously at the gender-defying fun. She, herself, would probably laugh just as much at our efforts to analyse these works.
She was clearly a teenage rebel who fantasised about what it would be like to break free of all the rules and conventions of society. Her nakedly selfish heroines get drunk, steal money, not to mention take lovers as they generally run amok but never get seriously punished. Her heroes either don’t appear at all, die of alcoholic poisoning, allow themselves to be led by the nose and rarely do anything noteworthy. In fact, many of them appear to be fools. Above all these writings are extravagantly funny and vastly enjoyable to most of us.
Austen uses burlesque, parody, nonsense and gross exaggeration and even disrespectful behaviour to achieve her ends. She experiments endlessly with the playful use of language, contexts, characters and plots.
In the process, she appears to show a remarkable depth of analysis of the society around her and its conventions for her age. While she may have gradually tempered the extremes of her approach, she retained the infallible force of her irony.
Those who study Austen’s Juvenilia are fascinated by the condition of the facsimile edition which shows the work to have been incredibly well used. However, it also shows differences in the corrections she made, first minor and then to large blocks of text. One part even appears not to be in her handwriting.
More importantly, the Juvenilia is relevant to students who want to understand how Austen developed her mature or public style, or to explore her development as a satirist, her linguistic skills and word play. Some found her early descriptions of human perversity weird and bizarre.
It is possible to find seeds of what happens in the novels amongst the extravagances of the Juvenilia. In “Jack and Alice”, Lady Williams bears some resemblances to Lady Russell – so proper but always making sure she gets her own way. Sukey Simpson perhaps foreshadows Miss Bingley or Miss Elliott. Even Mr Darcy’s self-regard has an echo in Charles Adams.
However, Austen’s basic approach of critiquing society’s foibles – the necessity for women to find a husband, the predilection of men to augment their wealth with an heiress, the ridiculousness of the popular romance novels of the time and the importance of appearance and status – remain her target.
Basically, her view of the world around her changed very little as the letters show. However, the style of her writing for the general public was entirely different to that which she presented to her family. Maturity brought subtlety and character development which was generally lacking in the early Juvenilia which tends to be concerned only with action (something teachers see as common in youthful writing). Her subversive humour never faltered but was far more skillful.
- Anna, “Reviews: More from Jane Austen’s Juvenilia“, Dec 27, 2011, Diary of an Eccentric (blog)
- Beer, Frances, “Introduction to the Juvenilia of Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte“, 1986, Penguin Classics, Middlesex, England.
- Chesterton, G.K. “Introduction to Jane Austen’s Love and Freindship” 1922, Chatto and Windus.
- Garcia, Juliet, “Jane Austen’s Juvenilia: Extravagantly Absurd and Outrageously Funny”, May 14, 2018 oxfordstudent.com
- Killalea, Geraldine, “Introduction to Jane Austen’s Love and Freindship” 1977, The Women’s Press Ltd. London.
- Looser, Devoney, “The Beautiful Proto-Feminist Snark of Jane Austen’s Juvenilia”, March 4, 2016, Literary Hub.
- Sutherland, Kathryn, “Jane Austen’s Juvenilia” Discovering Literature: Romantic and Victorians, May 15, 2014, The British Library.
- White, Donna R. “Nonsense Elements in Jane Austen’s Juvenilia” Persuasions On-Line Vol. 39 No. 1 (2017).
Our next meeting will be on December 5 at 12 noon, Pollen, Australian National Botanic Gardens.
Present: 6 members