May 2021 meeting: Juvenilia, Volume the third

June 15, 2021

In May we completed our 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 17 years old:

  • Evelyn
  • Catharine, or The bower

As before, members tackled the topic from different angles, but we’ll start with the member who, as in previous meetings, looked at the history of the manuscript itself.

Provenance

Austen’s sister Cassandra inherited the manuscripts, and from her they went to nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh. The volume remained in the family, and in 1951 was owned by James’ grandson, Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh, when Chapman published the first edition. It remained in the family until 1976, though it had been deposited in the British Library in 1963. The family auctioned it, via Sotheby’s, on 14 December 1976, and it was bought by the British Rail Pension Fund. The British Library bought it from the Fund on 27 September 1988 for £120,000, with the help of a grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

Other interesting facts are that:

  • Neither of the pieces were finished in Austen’s hand, with material added later in two hands, believed to be James Edward Austen Leigh and his daughter Anna (or, Jane Anna Elizabeth Lefroy, or, J.A.E.L.).
  • Austen left blank pages between the end of “Evelyn” and “Catharine”.
  • Four loose sheets were found in the volume, containing an alternative ending to “Evelyn” signed by J.A.E.L.
  • There is evidence of revision, with Catharine, sometimes called Kitty, and Mrs Peterson sometimes Mrs Percival.
  • The “Effusions of fancy, by a very young lady, Consisting of tales, In a style entirely new” inscription is in a different hand, which has been attributed to Austen’s father, though authority for this is unknown.

The works

One member shared Margaret Anne Doody’s Introduction to Penguin’s Catharine and other writings. Doody provocatively suggests that Austen tamed down her writing after the Juvenilia, not because she was maturing, but to meet the marketplace, after suffering two rejections with Susan and First impressions. She discusses various ways in which the Juvenilia are approached, and their drawbacks. They can be seen as pointing to later writings (but then you miss their own effects). There are also the “biographical” and related “moral” approach. Our member felt she has a point but argued that it is valid to look for author’s worldviews in their work, that we can see ongoing Austen interests in these early works – women’s place, city versus country, education of young women vs accomplishments.

Also, Catharine is more realistic, which suggests that Austen was already “taming” her work in her youth.

Doody also argues for the subversiveness of this early work. This was not recognised by early critics like David Cecil, but it was by GK Chesterton who praised these early works, in 1922:

”she was original … naturally exuberant … she could have been a buffoon like the Wife of Bath if she chose. This is what gives an infallible force to her irony. This is what gives a stunning weight to her understatements.”

Doody concludes that “Austen in maturity made a choice … wrote the realistic novel of courtship … related to the style of novel that had frightened her, stimulated her, and made her laugh … She could not laugh so loud in the later works … She could not be wild … she had to become genteel, and act like a lady. She could draw characters like the Steeles and the Crawfords … without sending them to the poorhouse or the guillotine for their wickedness, but she had to pretend that the world was better and its general fictions more reliable than she knew them to be”.

Evelyn

Most of the group spent more time on the longer work, “Catharine”, but a couple did look specifically at Evelyn, which is a rather absurd, or preposterous story, about the idyllic town of Evelyn. A young man comes to town and wants to live there, but there are no homes. However, a family, when he asks for their house, immediately and willingly gives it up – and their daughter’s hand in marriage – to him. The story continues …

One of our members, a teacher, looked at it as she’d look at the writing of the 15-year-old students she used to teach. She felt the work revealed an increasing understanding in Austen of there being a bigger audience for her writing. Austen uses authorial intrusion, and moves beyond a simple plot structure. She also slows down the pace – which was fast and furious in most of the earlier Juvenilia – by using description, such as of setting.

Another member described it as an example of nonsense writing, and noted that some have not wanted to publish it because it doesn’t fit in with Austen’s style of writing.

Two members referred to Normandin’s paywalled article which explores “Evelyn” as being about “the gift”. Normandin argues that “Evelyn” is often overlooked, partly because it doesn’t suit the feminist project. Its protagonist is male and its females lack the refreshing assertiveness much of the juvenilia. But, he argues that “Evelyn” is worth considering because it attempts “with extreme and hilarious rigour to imagine a true gift”. He argues that Austen’s awareness of ‘how giving permeates literary language makes “Evelyn” one of the most formally self-conscious things she ever wrote”. He believes it could be western literature’s “keenest examination of the gift because not in spite of its its absurd frivolity.”

Meanwhile, we questioned whether this story reflected Austen’s attitude to how society worked or that she just wrote the silliest story imaginable.

Catharine

Members generally agreed – along with many critics – that Catharine indicates more serious writing, and that it shows a clear transition between the more exuberant earlier juvenilia and Lady Susan. We generally agreed that it is more structured, developing its ideas more slowly. We saw hints of Catherine Moreland in Kitty, and Austen’s exploration of money, beauty, power and prestige.

One member’s research revealed the fact that the Austen-Leighs suggested that the story of the elder Wynne girl (one of Catharine’s friends) was drawn from life because it describes, with some exaggeration, the fate of Jane Austen’s aunt, Philadelphia Austen, who was sent to India in 1752 and was married within 7 months.

Members responded in various ways to the work. One felt on first reading that it was a lovely romance but then came to think Catharine hollow, and taken in by Edward Stanley’s good looks. However, Catharine was, she said, good at “coming back” at her aunt Mrs Peterson/Percival.

One member shared the ideas of Juliet McMaster, who, with a team of students, edited Catharine for the Juvenilia Press. She looks at Catharine as an incomplete work, and, using the six published novels as her model, speculates on who the hero would have been, who, that is, Catharine would marry. She works carefully though Catharine, comparing narrative points with the novels, to produce her theory of where Austen might have taken the story.

Another member was interested in pointers to Austen’s later writing: the use of music, the theme of sensibility, the criticism of “fashionable” acquisition of accomplishments by young women, the effect of poverty on young women (which was taken up in the unfinished The Watsons). She was interested in the idea that Austen had done some later editing of the work, wondering why, given that, she left in reference to a harpsichord which was, by Austen’s adulthood, an old-fashioned instrument. She also noted Austen’s use of letters to move the narrative on.

Our member wondered whether it was sad that Catharine accepted that Edward “had nicked off”, and whether it meant that Austen was already accepting life as a spinster.

It was also suggested that “Catharine” is a spoof of conduct books.

Finally, we wondered who proofread her work, and how much influence the family had on her plotting. Catharine does, we thought, end abruptly.

Sources

Other business

Our next meeting is June 19 at 1.30pm, in the NLA Friends’ Lounge, on Children in Jane Austen’s novels. 


March 2021 meeting: Juvenilia, Volume the second

March 23, 2021

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.


November 2020 meeting: Juvenilia, Volume the first

November 28, 2020

Prepared by member Jenny.

Book cover

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.

Sources

  • 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 JuveniliaDiscovering 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).

Other business

Our next meeting will be on December 5 at 12 noon, Pollen, Australian National Botanic Gardens. 

Present: 6 members


February 2016 Meeting: The History of England

February 24, 2016

Discussion of Jane Austen’s juvenilia work, The history of England

The history of England from the reign of Henry IV to the death of Charles I is one of several pieces Jane Austen wrote as a young girl. It was completed in November 1791 when she was nearly 16 years old, and was illustrated by her sister, Cassandra, with “portraits” of the monarchs discussed.

As always, we had a lively discussion that ranged widely over a number of perspectives. The History of England, we decided, is probably the richest of her juvenilia for discussion. Critics have looked at it from such perspectives as:

  • parodying popular histories of the time, and thus being a study of historiography
  • reflecting Jane and Cassandra’s maternal line’s Jacobite/Stuart sympathies (not shared by the men of the family)
  • reflecting Jane and Cassandra’s anti-mother attitudes
  • supporting a feminist reading of Austen’s work
  • conveying Austen’s irreverence towards authority

We mostly focused on the first three perspectives, in our discussion.

We started by discussing the introduction to the Juvenilia Press edition of the History, which includes one of the popular arguments that the work represents a condemnation of her mother. This derives from the fact that in her History, Austen expresses unqualified support for Mary Queen of Scots, and condemns Queen Elizabeth I. Juvenilia Press argues that Cassandra’s model for her portrait of Mary is Jane, and for her portrait of Elizabeth is their mother. Scholars argue that this autobiographical reading – this interpretation of the history as a metaphor for her family’s history – evidences Austen’s love of hidden meanings.

(We talked a little more about the portraits, and Juvenilia Press’s research demonstrating that several portraits are modelled on family or friends. Given this evidence, we’re inclined to believe that all the portraits draw from people known to the family, even if their identity is lost to us now.)

Overall, we saw some evidence for an autobiographical reading – whether it was consciously done or not. The History’s focus on beheadings and overthrowings, and the sympathy it shows for vulnerable or marginalised women and for the poor princes (“wretches”) in the Tower, could be read metaphorically – either specifically in terms of Austen’s feelings about her mother and/or more generally on her lot in life.

Critic Bridget Trophy, for example, suggests that the History was written as Austen was coming out of her education (her youth) and was starting to understand the reality of her situation as a woman who had few prospects for a good marriage. Southam suggests that the History reflects her recognition that her independence is conditional on the support of the men in her life.

We then moved on to Spongberg’s interpretation presented in JASA’s journal Sensibilities (No. 51, December 2015). She argues that the History demonstrates Austen’s support of the Stuarts, a support which Spongberg says came from Austen’s maternal line. Spongberg, in other words, disagrees with the anti-mother reading of the History. However, we were not totally convinced by her argument, partly because Spongberg doesn’t address the satiric aspect of the work.

With some differences around the edges, and accepting some aspects of other arguments, we agreed that we see the work primarily as a satire, a parody, a romp, which interpretation the Juvenilia Press also explores. We liked, therefore, the arguments that this is Austen ridiculing the prevailing “histories”, in particular Oliver Goldsmith’s, that were being used in schools at the time. One member argued that the proof for reading the History as satire or parody lies in the fact that Austen, a Church of England minister’s daughter, writes “as I am myself partial to the roman catholic religion …”. Of course, given that we saw most of the History as tongue-in-cheek, it’s hard to argue anything categorically! Where lies “the truth”? Even this idea – that of “truth” – Austen takes a shot at, saying “Truth being I think very excusable in an Historian”. How naughty – or, more – how cynical she was! We couldn’t resist noting Catherine Morland’s comment in Northanger Abbey that a great deal of history must be “invention”.

Further supporting the parody theme, members shared research which argues that there was a trend at the time to reducing history to palatable “factlets”. Goldsmith’s history, History of England from the Earliest Times to the Death of George II (1771), included, we understand, few dates. Austen parodies this on her title page:

N.B. There will be very few Dates in this History

Also on the title page, Austen declares herself to be a “partial, prejudiced and ignorant Historian”, referencing the dry, so-called objective, school histories, and particularly Goldsmith’s claims of being unbiased. So, throughout her History she expresses opinion. Juvenilia Press’s editor, Annette Upfal, writes that “her narrator is intrusive, authoritarian and belligerent, demanding the total support of the reader for her blatantly biased views”. These views are naughtily, members suggested, the opposite of the prevailing views of the day.

Starkey, History of EnglandFurther to these ideas of “truth” and “partiality”, Austen, again with tongue surely planted firmly in cheek, refers her readers to fictional writing, such Shakespeare and Sheridan, for historical authority (“whereupon, the King made a long speech, for which I must refer the Reader to Shakespear’s Plays”) and includes references to her family and friends.

David Starkey, who introduced a book containing both Austen’s history and one by Charles Dickens, comments on her cynicism, detachment, satire and mischief. He describes Austen’s work as not brilliant prose but as having a penetrating irony.

One member was interested in the rather defined period of history Austen chose. She begins with the Lancastrian Kings and the ensuing war with the Yorkists, and ends with the reign of Charles 1 and the beginning of another civil war.

And finally, we couldn’t resist mentioning her risqué references to homosexuality, such as in her repeating the “Carpet” charade about James I’s “pet” Robert Carr. Austen, as we know, was no shy violet – as her History so vividly demonstrates in more ways than one.

Business

As always the meeting started with a show and tell of books, magazines and videos we’d read and/or watched since our previous meeting, and a sharing of other Jane Austen related news. And it ended with a quiz (an Emma revision) and our secret quotes. having read Emma only last year we managed to do a little better than usual with the quiz!
Our Jane Austen Festival Australia volunteer advised that the relevant information is all on the website now. The Festival will run from Thursday 14 April to Sunday 17 April. She particularly pointed us to:
  • The Chawton Years symposium, Saturday 16 April
  • Regency School for Young Ladies and Gentlemen, offering a variety of hands-on activities, Friday 15 April
  • Writing Regency Romances workshop, Sunday 17 April
  • Croquet Classes, available on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 15-17 April

February 2014 meeting: Catharine, or The Bower

March 1, 2014

Prepared by Marilyn, with contribution from Jessie

The time has come – after a few false starts the meeting discussed Catharine, or The Bower. The work has been dated most likely at 1792, and was written at Steventon when she was aged 17. It appeals as the item in the Juvenilia that had most potential.

It is inevitable that readers would look for predictions of the style we have become accustomed to in Austen’s work. Catharine is a work on the threshold of becoming a mature novel. There is evidence of revision as the final paragraph was in a different hand, suggesting it was transcribed in the 1800s perhaps in part by nieces or nephews, and may have been edited at Chawton (Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen, 2009). Changes that suggest a later transcription include references to the ‘regency walking dress’ as the text was updated to conform to details that would appeal to Regency readers.

The first sentence is a memorable piece of Jane Austen’s writing. It recalls the expectation that heroines are often orphans (cf Northanger Abbey’s opening paragraph describing Catherine Morland and her mother’s not dying, and the motherless Emma Woodhouse).

The concept of the bower or a retreat is revisited in later works such Richardson’s Clarissa and Charlotte Collins’ private space used as a retreat from Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice.

As a work indicating a developing style, the characterisation is more impressive than the plot creation. Catharine’s desire for independence, despite the restricted upbringing imposed by her Aunt who insisted, for instance, that she avoid the company of officers who were not sought-after companions in 18th century fiction. Perhaps Catharine is an independent thinker, despite her upbringing, and may be an early Elizabeth Bennet in her questioning and satirising the behaviours of the day – commenting that Stanley took half an hour to get ready. Catharine loved dancing, was intelligent and was given the key to her aunt’s library so that she had read Charlotte Turner Smith whose novels Emmaline and Ethelinde were a favourite of Austen and may have influenced her writing. As a character, Camilla, by comparison does not sparkle and foreshadows Isabella Thorpe in her ignorance of geography and reading, her focus on fashion and her empty-headedness. Mr Percival and Stanley are perhaps precursors of Mr Woodhouse and Willoughby or Henry Crawford.

Predictions of the outcome of this unfinished work were that Catharine may retreat to the Bower, or be swept off her feet by Stanley, or perhaps she would be rejected by his family because of her poverty and face a lonely future.

The work is suggestive of a conduct book for women. The Indian journey reflects that taken by Jane Austen’s cousin Philadelphia Hancock who was orphaned and sent to India where she entered an unsatisfactory marriage as a result.

Catharine’s aunt provided further unsuitable modelling in her conservative political views of the French Revolution and the Jacobin threat and criticism of Queen Elizabeth I. Such references to politics appear here but political comments are absent from future works.

The setting in a village with four families suggests the focus of future works.

We noted the evolving writing style with use of assonance and alliteration that is already highly developed such as ‘Who from her solitary situation’ (p. 209), ‘To pity and persecute her friend’ (p. 222) and ‘His father’s forgiveness of faults’ (p. 252).

The lengthy conversations between Catharine and Camilla could have been read aloud to provide evening entertainments for the family.

This was an enjoyable read and valuable discussion that was followed by quotations and a quiz prepared by Jessie.

Next meeting

Our next meeting on 15 March will focus on servants in Jane Austen’s novels, and will include discussion of Longbourn by Jo Baker.


July 2012 meeting: Love and freindship

July 22, 2012

Love & Freindship Covers

Love & Freindship versions

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!

Note: You can read the “novel” online at Project Gutenberg or obtain a summary of the plot at Wikipedia. Virginia Woolf’s essay on “Jane Austen” is also online at Project Gutenberg.

Business

  • 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.

Susannah Fullerton at Paperchain Bookstore, Manuka

February 14, 2010

Susannah Fullerton, the President of JASA, spoke this afternoon at the Paperchain Bookstore in Manuka. Her topic was:

Jane Austen: Her life and works

Susannah Fullerton and JASACT

Susannah (L) dines with some JASACT members

Since most of us know our Jane’s biography, I won’t summarise Susannah’s talk here, but just make a few observations. The talk seemed well attended for an inclement Canberra Sunday afternoon. Apparently about 100 people had booked, but it was hard to count numbers: people were scattered around the bookshop, many hidden between bookshelves. There was of course a preponderance of women, but men were definitely in attendance, and I don’t think the only reason for that was Valentine’s Day!

Susannah included three readings in her talk – all appropriately chosen for Valentine’s Day. The readings were:

  • the scene in Pride and prejudice between Mr and Mrs Bennet and Elizabeth over Mr Collins’ proposal;
  • the first letter in the delightful juvenilia work, The three sisters; and
  • the proposal scene from Emma.

Towards the end of her talk, Susannah gave her reasons for Jane Austen’s longevity:

  • the marvellous language to which you never want to take a red pen like you might, for example, with Dickens!
  • the humour – she’s genuinely funny
  • the romance – she’s “incredibly romantic”
  • her understanding of human nature.

She elaborated on this last point by suggesting that we’ve all known a chatterbox like Miss Bates (Emma), a stingy person like Mrs Norris (Mansfield Park), a party animal like Sir John Middleton (Sense and sensibility), a youthful bore like John Thorpe (Northanger Abbey) and/or a hypochondriac like Mr Woodhouse (Emma).

Susannah’s experience as a speaker shows. The talk was just right for an audience that ranged from true afficionados, who still managed to glean something new from the readings though they’d read the novels many times before, to some who, I discovered, had not yet read Jane Austen but went away determined to start now! What better proofs can there be that your talk has hit the mark?