March 2021 meeting: Juvenilia, Volume the second

Last November, we discussed the first volume of Jane Austen’s Juvenilia, with a plan to discuss the next two volumes in 2021, interspersed with other meetings. Thus it was that we devoted our March meeting to the second volume. It contains pieces written, it is believed, between 1790 and 1793, when Austen was14 to 17 years old, but they were later transcribed by her into three notebooks. At this time she did some editing, some as she transcribed and so visible in the manuscripts. The original manuscripts are lost (as far as we know). The inscription in Latin at the top of the contents – ex donor mei Patris – tells us that the notebook was given to her by her father.

Volume 2 includes three longer pieces – Love and freindship, Lesley Castle and The history of England – that are often published separately or in other compilations, plus other pieces. The contents are:

  • Love and freindship (13 June 1790, dated by Austen)
  • Lesley Castle (3 Jan to 13 April 1792)
  • The history of England (26 November 1791, dated by Austen)
  • 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)

As always, members tackled the topic from different angles, which always makes for an interesting meeting.

Provenance

One member was particularly interested in its provenance, and distributed a summary she’d made that showed the hands it passed through before it was purchased in 1977 by the British Library from Jane Austen’s great-great nephew. In terms of public access to the Juvenilia, the interesting thing is that while good access was provided relatively early to volumes 1 and 3, resulting in edited editions by RW Chapman, there was more reticence about letting scholars see volume 2. Why? We didn’t have an answer, but wondered why Cassandra had held onto these works after Austen’s death. (See our meeting on Cassandra).

Our member shared that while dating of the pieces was reasonably straightforward, dating the transcriptions is more difficult. There is quite a bit of variation in Austen’s writing, suggesting it was done over a period of time. It is known from Volume the third that Austen was still making slight changes to it as late as 1809, and it is possible that corrections were also being made to the second volume.

Southam believes she may have been using the notebooks to collect writings that may otherwise have been lost. He also suggests that the careless writing in some of them is because they were intended to be heard not read.

Austen’s brother wrote in in 1818 Biographical Notice that Austen’s works

were never heard to so much advantage as from her own mouth; for she partook largely in all the best gifts of the comic muse.

Southam concurs that they were read aloud to the family circle, saying that “this is what the family historians tell us, and it is confirmed both in the natures of the pieces. and in the appearance of the manuscript”. This suggests that she put together these notebooks to make regular reading to family members easier?

The history of England

A couple of members focused particularly on The history of England, which we have discussed before.

One member reminded us of the fuss the Juvenilia Press’s publication of The history of England caused amongst Austen scholars, particularly here in Australia, because of its argument for an autobiographical reading of the work, that is, that the history could be read as a metaphor for her family’s history, and that it also conveys an anti-mother tone by Jane towards her mother.

Another member talked about David Starkey’s The history of England, which contains histories by Austen and Dickens, the latter of which was used at the time as a school text. She talked about Austen’s history being, at least in part, a parody of the history “young ladies” were studying at the time, and suggested that Austen was criticising the push for young women to read history rather than novels. That is, that Austen was making the point that novels are also valid reading. She commented on Austen’s “merciless cynicism”, and we were reminded of Catherine Morland’s comment in Northanger Abbey of there not being many women in history.

Lesley Castle

A few members were particularly interested in Lesley Castle, including ideas like whether any characters were used later. One member spoke particularly on this piece, enjoying how it upended social conventions. Charlotte Lutterell’s (ironic?) focus on food over caring for her sister’s bereavement being an example. This fascination with food could suggest Mr Woodhouse. Charlotte’s self-centred behaviour could also point to Mrs Elton. One critic has suggested, though most of us couldn’t really see it, that her garrulousness on minor topics also pointed to Miss Bates.

We talked about how many of the letters open affectionately, but contain or end with cutting remarks. For example, Margaret writes to her friend Charlotte complaining of being admired by too “many amiable Young Men” and expressing her “Aversion to being so celebrated both in Public, in Private, in Papers, & in Printshops”, and then says:

How often have I wished that I possessed as little personal Beauty as you do; that my figure were as inelegant; my face as unlovely; and my Appearance as unpleasing as yours!

So many of the interactions we agreed involved contradictions and people talking at cross-purposes with each other.

At this stage we talked about various other issues, with one member suggesting that Austen was practising conversation and dialogue in works like this. We also talked about topographical realism in Austen (as discussed by Gillian Ballinger, see below).

Lesley Castle is based in Scotland, and we wondered why as Austen doesn’t write much about Scotland. One member had read that she was spoofing the current vogue for Scotland. Lady Lesley hates “everything Scotch”, writing to Charlotte:

I wish my dear Charlotte that you could but behold these Scotch giants; I am sure they would frighten you out of your wits.

Her step-daughters, Margaret and Matilda enjoy Scotland:

But tho’ retired from almost all in the World, (for we visit no one but the M’Leods, the M’Kenzies, the M’Phersons, the M’Cartneys, the M’donalds, the M’Kinnons, the M’lellans, the M’Kays, the Macbeths and the Macduffs) we are neither dull not unhappy …

One member said that McMaster argues that Lesley Castle represented a “step forward” in epistolary novels because the writers correspond with each other, rather than to someone “off-stage”.

Threads

Another member took a more thematic approach, being interested in threads that ran through the volume. One that she identified was the role of women, and children defying parents. She was inspired by the first letter in Love and freindship:

If a woman may ever be said to be in safety from the determined Perseverance of disagreeable Lovers and the cruel Persecutions of obstinate Fathers, surely it must be at such a time of Life.

Women are variously described in Love and freindship, she said, as needing money, wanting husbands, or fainting on sofas or the ground. They are also described by their looks and accomplishments, their beauty, sensibility, ability to sing and dance. Janetta, Macdonald’s daughter, is “only fifteen; naturally well disposed, endowed with a susceptible Heart, and a simpathetic Disposition”, while Lady Dorothea is “a very handsome young Woman” but of “that inferior order of Beings with regard to Delicate Feeling, tender Sentiments, and refined Sensibility”.

Laura in her letter to Marianne describes herself as once “beautiful”

lovely as I was the Graces of my Person were the least of my Perfections. [because she had all the “Accomplishments”]

[…]

In my mind, every Virtue that could adorn it was centred.

However, due to her adventures, she confesses that she’d lost many of her talents: “I can neither sing nor dance so gracefully as I once did – and I have entirely forgot the Minuet Dela Cour.”

Overall in this volume, Austen plays with the role of women, terrible parents, particularly ignorant fathers who make demands on their children. One member commented specifically on the emphasis on women being amiable, and suggested that Austen was lampooning novels about women, rather than commenting on women themselves. Indeed, satire and parody are much to the fore!

The other thread concerned the novel. She shared that favourite quote from Love and freindship, in which Edward’s father says to him:

“Where, Edward in the name of wonder (said he) did you pick up this unmeaning gibberish? You have been studying Novels I suspect.”

She referred to Lucy Worsley’s discussion of Austen dreaming of being a novelist and that it would be considerably easy considering she had “published writers among her family and friends. Worsley also referred to Mary Robinson’s calling for female novelists to stand together. Austen says the same in the Juvenilia. We agreed regarding Austen’s authorial ambitions. After all, she signs off her letter to her niece, in this volume, as “I am dear niece/Your affectionate aunt/The Author”.

Finally, our member argued that Austen’s calling this Volume a novel suggests she was interested in a new way of writing, something she raises again in Northanger Abbey.

Pointing to the novels

As in our discussion of the first volume we did discuss a little the relationship between the works here and Austen’s later novels. One member agreed with Southam’s suggestion that Austen may have transcribed these works in order to “keep” them safe, the way modern novelists write ideas in notebooks that they can draw on to use later. She suggested that A collection of letters could fall into this category.

This collection of five, she suggested, could be seen as character studies, some of which seem to point directly to her novels. Take the first three letters:

  1. From a mother to her friend: This letter is about a mother bringing out both her daughters at the same time, which is reminiscent of Pride and prejudice in which all the girls are out at once, much to Lady Catherine’s horror.
  2. From a disappointed love: In this letter a young woman suffers acute melancholy over a lost love, bringing to mind Marianne in Sense and sensibility. It can’t be a coincidence that the names Willoughby and Dashwood appear in this letter.
  3. From a young, poor girl: Here a poverty-stricken young girl is treated with “false”, supercilious kindness by the local lady, but manages to maintain her own sense of self, which recalls Pride and prejudice’s Lady Catherine and Elizabeth.

Finally, we discussed the fact that we didn’t really identify specific lessons or beliefs in these works which suggests a few things. One is that Austen was having fun writing stories to entertain her family, and, perhaps related to this, another is that she had a lot of ideas running around her head and was exploring them (and how to write about them).

Sources

  • Ballinger, Gillian. “Austen Writing Bristol: The City and Signification in Northanger Abbey and EmmaPersuasions On-line Vol 35 No. 1 (Winter 2015).
  • Heller, Zoë. “The trials of youth” The Guardian 12 March 2005.
  • McMaster, Juliet. ‘”Here’s looking at you kid!” The Visual in Jane Austen’s JuveniliaPersuasions On-line Vol. 41 No. 1 (Winter 2020).
  • Southam, Brian. “A life among the manuscripts: Following in the steps of Dr Chapman” in Susannah Carson (ed.) A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Reasons Why We Can’t Stop Reading Jane Austen. Camberwell, Vic: Particular Books (Penguin), 2009.
  • Worsley, Lucy. Jane Austen at home. Hodder & Stoughton, 2017.

Other business

Our next meeting will be on April 17 at 1.30pm, in the NLA Friends’ Lounge, on Jane Austen and Holidays. 

Present: 6 members, with two apologies.

One Response to March 2021 meeting: Juvenilia, Volume the second

  1. […] discussion of Jane Austen’s Juvenilia, having discussed Volume the first last November, and Volume the second in March. Volume the third contains just two pieces, both written in 1792 when Austen would have been 16 to […]

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