Jane Austen wrote the delightfully silly Love and Freindship and Other Early Works
in her middle teenage years (1790-1793) to entertain her large and literary family. As inconsequential as this little volume, with its endearingly misspelled title, might seem, the collection of brief experimental sketches reveals Austen's deliberate development of her writing talent. In the pair of riotous short stories, "Love and Freindship" and "Lesley Castle," Austen actively engages the sentimental and Gothic fictions of the day with outrageous parodies of the ridiculous overabundance in these novels of love at first sight, clandestine elopements, long-lost relatives, fainting, fatal riding accidents, adultery, and castles. In "The History of England," Austen mocks history textbooks for children by confirming the fears of history teachers everywhere that the only thing children learn in their history classrooms are a few-a very few-dates and some inconsequential, but usually scandalous, details about the personal lives of monarchs. "The Collection of Letters" and the final absurd "Scraps" reveal Austen consciously experimenting with writing techniques and character sketches. Readers can instantly recognize, for instance, the prototype for Lady Catherine de Bourgh from Pride and Prejudice
in Lady Greville of "Letter the Third." Fundamentally, though, the stories collected in this volume, complete with the natural spelling mistakes of an enterprising writer with less than three years of formal education, demonstrate the lively mind and ready wit of a teenage girl living in the late eighteenth century. They would be fascinating enough in their own right for what they revealabout life and literature, love and friendship, at that time. The fact that their creator has become one of the most famous, best-loved authors of British literature is, in some respects, merely an added bonus.
Jane Austen is best known as the author of six novels: Sense and Sensibility
(1811), Pride and Prejudice
(1813), Mansfield Park
(1817), and Northanger Abbey
(1817). Love and Freindship
shows that these novels did not spring fully formed from Austen's mind. She had a long literary apprenticeship that was both spurred and nurtured by her large, loving, and scholarly family. Austen was born in 1775, the seventh of eight children, the second of two daughters of the Reverend George Austen, rector of Steventon, a small town in Hampshire, England. Life at the Rectory was entertaining and educational, with the children often whiling away school vacations by staging plays or publishing magazines. During her teenage years, Austen wrote three volumes of absurd but inspired stories and skits to be read aloud for her family's amusement. The stories are dedicated to various relatives as creative keepsakes of shared evenings of laughter and familial companionship-Love and Freindship
is the second of these volumes.
During her early twenties, Austen progressed beyond the experimentation of her juvenilia and wrote three novels, but attempts to publish them failed. On their father's retirement in 1801, Jane and her older sister, Cassandra, both still unmarried, moved with their parents to Bath, where they lived for five years until Reverend Austen's death. The three women then lived in Southampton for three years and finally settled at Chawton, in a house on the estate of one of Jane's brothers, close to her childhood home. There Austen revised the manuscripts she had written ten years earlier: Elinor and Marianne
became Sense and Sensibility, First Impressions
became Pride and Prejudice,
and they were published in swift succession. The Austen women continued at Chawton, Jane happily writing and publishing Mansfield Park
, until an illness severe enough to prevent her from preparing Persuasion
for publication convinced Jane to seek medical attention in Winchester, where she died in July of 1817 at the age of forty-one. Persuasion
and Northanger Abbey
were published posthumously by one of her brothers in a combined volume in December of 1817.
From internal evidence, it is possible to date the creation of the various elements of Love and Freindship
between June 13, 1790, when Austen was fourteen, and January 1793, when Austen was seventeen and dedicated "Scraps" to an infant niece. The volume was not published, however, until 1922, when the grandniece who owned the manuscript finally gave permission for its release. The reason for this gap of one hundred and thirty years lies in the Austen family's vigilant safeguarding of the reputation of their favorite and increasingly famous aunt. Notoriously, Cassandra, who survived her sister by almost thirty years, destroyed, in whole or in part, letters from her sister that she did not think appropriately refined for the prudish Victorian era. A modern editor of the letters argues, "Close consideration shows that the destruction was probably because Jane had either described physical symptoms rather too fully. . .or else because she had made some comment about other members of the family which Cassandra did not wish posterity to read." Cassandra's treatment of her sister's letters, thankfully, was not repeated in the physical treatment of the manuscript of Love and Freindship,
but in his 1870 Memoir
of his aunt, James Austen-Leigh claims that the "family have, rightly, I think, declined to let these early works be published," because "it would be as unfair to expose this preliminary process to the world, as it would be to display all that goes on behind the curtain of the theatre before it is drawn up." One can imagine that the family didn't want to expose Austen's gleeful narrative employment of seduction, murder, theft, alcoholism, gluttony, and divorce, because an insouciant treatment of what at the time was devastatingly indecent behavior would not have fit the image of the innocent maiden aunt that the family had worked so hard to create and sustain.
This stance might seem slightly perplexing considering the scandalous elopements of Wickham and Lydia in Pride and Prejudice,
or that of Henry Crawford and the married Maria Rushworth in Mansfield Park,
but the difference lies not in the presence of scandalous actions, but in Austen's treatment of them: Both elopements in the novels are condemned, but when a character in "Lesley Castle" abandons her husband and child to run off with two other men, not only isn't she punished, but at the end of the story her ex-husband reports that they have both converted to Roman Catholicism, obtained an annulment, married other people, and "are at present very good Friends, have quite forgiven all past errors and intend in future to be very good Neighbours." Despite the family's misgivings, however, it is precisely Austen's blasé use of scandal and sin that constructs the humor and the morality of the pieces that comprise Love and Freindship.
Austen's parodies of the most ridiculous excesses of the sentimental and Gothic novels of the late eighteenth century create what B. C. Southam labels an "aesthetic and moral criticism" that anticipates the sophisticated morality that forms the philosophical backbone of her published novels. Samuel Richardson and Fanny Burney, both much loved by Austen, wrote respected novels that, while defining the novel itself, unfortunately also spawned a rash of copycat novels that merely wallowed in unrestrained sentiment. The cult of sensibility-in which emotions are irresistible and overpowering and plots are far-fetched and convoluted-was at its height during Austen's teenage years and scenes in novels of fainting, raving heroines were inescapable. For example, a character in Mrs. Matthews' Simple Facts; or, The History of an Orphan
(1793) on hearing of the probable death of her husband cries, "'Oh! . . .he is then lost! he is gone for ever!' and dropt on the floor. Every means were used to recover her, which for some time, proved ineffectual, but at last coming a little to herself she exclaimed, 'is he then lost?' and again fainted." A character in Anna Maria Bennett's Agnes De-Courci
(1798) recalls her reactions to learning of her husband's infidelity: "many were the hours in which I was lost to a sense of my sorrow!-many, in which I gave myself up to rage, and madness;-and many, in which I besought the Almighty to strengthen me with patience." Austen needed little justification to lampoon these overindulgent females and their inflated emotions in "Love and Freindship":
Sophia shrieked and fainted on the ground-I screamed and instantly ran mad-. We remained thus mutually deprived of our senses, some minutes, and on regaining them were deprived of them again. For an Hour and a Quarter did we continue in this unfortunate situation-Sophia fainting every moment and I running mad as often.
Austen's exaggeration of the scandalous behavior that her family so deplored in fact condemned the meaninglessness of emotions from which one must escape by insensibility or madness. Here we see the first stirrings of the strict morality pervading Austen's published novels that insists that the heroes and heroines recognize and amend their faults before they can be rewarded with each other.
In fact, despite general critical agreement that Austen's creative maturation meant that she discarded the broad burlesque of her youth for a refined, understated satire, if one reads the corners and the edges of the published novels, it is possible to find in them versions of the deeply impossible characters of her youth, as it is possible to find in the juvenilia versions of the reasonable, responsible characters of her maturity. In "Letter the Third," Lady Greville critiques the dress of the letter writer, "a YOUNG LADY in distressed Circumstances":
"But I must own, for you know that I always speak my mind, that I think it was quite a needless piece of expense-Why could not you have worn your old striped one? It is not my way to find fault with people because they are poor, for I always think that they are more to be despised and pitied than blamed for it, especially if they cannot help it, but at the same time I must say that in my opinion your old striped Gown would have been quite fine enough for its Wearer."
Who is this if not Lady Catherine of Pride and Prejudice,
of whom Elizabeth observes "that nothing was beneath this great Lady's attention, which could furnish her with an occasion of dictating to others," who even goes to the lengths of determining "what weather they were to have on the morrow"? In "Letter the Fourth," the "YOUNG LADY rather impertinent," despite being repulsed from her gossip-gathering mission by her victim, "had not given up my point. I found that by the appearance of sentiment and Freindship nothing was to be gained and determined therefore to renew my attacks by Questions and suppositions." Who is this but Lucy Steele from Sense and Sensibility,
grilling Elinor about her connection with Edward Ferrars, or Mrs. Elton from Emma,
grilling Jane Fairfax about her impecunious situation and officiously deciding to help her find a governess position?
The difference in the published novels, however, is not that Austen relinquished the broad critical strokes of caricature, but that the caricatures no longer hold center stage as they do in Love and Freindship.
Rather, the reasonable, realistic characters that can be found in the extreme margins of the juvenilia now act as the organizing consciousnesses of the published novels: Elinor Dashwood of Sense and Sensibility,
Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice,
and Anne Elliott of Persuasion
are fully-developed versions of the shadowy figures of the rational Augusta in "Love and Freindship," accused by her over-emotional sister-in-law of having an "insensible" heart, and of her father, Sir Edward, who admonishes his ridiculous son, "Where, Edward in the name of wonder (said he) did you pick up this unmeaning gibberish?" In her teenage writing, Austen warns against the potential immorality of characters controlled by over-stylized sentiment by making them the principal focus of the stories. In her published novels, they slink to the margins, remarkably unchanged, and somehow become more real and more threatening as a result.
In spite of the relative sophistication of Love and Freindship
and its importance to Austen's development as a writer, once the volume was published in 1922, critics tended to dismiss it. In 1954, Austen's most important editor, R. W. Chapman, claimed that these "immature or fragmentary fictions call for hardly any comment." B. C. Southam claimed in 1964 that much of the juvenilia "are amusing but many of them are mere trifles, their humour dependent on the private jokes of a close family circle." Until the 1970s, criticism of Austen focused on the exquisiteness of her art, on her self-described "little bit (two Inches wide) of Ivory on which I work with so fine a Brush, as produces little effect after much labour." The stories of the juvenilia, then, were not delicate enough to deserve the attention her novels garnered. Austen was the maiden aunt of her family's creation, and the exuberant writings of her youth were distinctly out of place in that picture. At the end of the preface included in this volume, G. K. Chesterton echoes an old view of Austen that deepens the dismissal of Love and Freindship
among Austen's published novels: "there is not a shadow of indication anywhere that this independent intellect and laughing spirit was other than contented with a narrow domestic routine, in which she wrote a story as domestic as a diary in the intervals of pies and puddings, without so much as looking out of the window to notice the French Revolution." Feminist scholarship since the 1970s has dispelled the myth that Austen was not concerned with the historical changes of her time. They have demonstrated that the profound social repercussions of the rise of companionate marriage and of the middle class that Austen does chronicle are as important to an historical understanding of the time and of modern life as the more easily categorized historical "events" of the French Revolution or the rise and defeat of Napoleon.
In fact, Austen's "The History of England," in which she describes herself as "a partial, prejudiced, and ignorant historian" who uses "very few Dates," critiques the very idea of the historical importance of monarchs, dates, and wars. "The History of England," illustrated in the manuscript by Cassandra, parodies the over-stylized children's history books-Oliver Goldsmith's The History of England from the Earliest Times to the Death of George II
(1771) in particular-that do not actually teach anything beyond those very few dates and supposedly vital details about individual monarchs. Austen demolishes the fictions of history books by creating kings and queens of English history very similar to the characters who so boldly and shockingly thieve, lie, and cheat their way through the other stories in Love and Freindship.
But, once again, the broad parody of the juvenilia lurks in the margins of the novels, more dangerously rebellious because more realistically expressed when the heroine of Northanger Abbey
"But history, real solemn history, I cannot be interested in. . .I read it as a duty, but it tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me. The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences, in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all-it is very tiresome: and yet I often think it odd that it should be so dull, for a great deal of it must be invention. The speeches that are put into the heroes' mouths, their thoughts and designs-the chief of all this must be invention, and invention is what delights me in other books."
Austen's dissatisfaction with the bare recitals of history books demonstrates that she is indeed concerned with the revolutionary events of the time. Even at the age of sixteen, Austen is mature enough to question why social changes in the way people felt emotions and in class, family, or love relationships are deemed less important than the French Revolution or Napoleon.
In fact, Austen's supposedly immature critiques are so modern and revolutionary that Patricia Rozema incorporates excerpts from "The History" and "Love and Freindship" into her overtly political film version of Mansfield Park
(1999). In fact, a phrase from "Love and Freindship"-"Run mad as often as you chuse; but do not faint"-is the de facto motto for the movie, championing the underlying anger Austen expresses in her juvenilia, emphasizing what Margaret Doody labels the "alternate Austen" of her early writing-the writer as yet unfettered by constraints of propriety, the writer who did not actually write about either love or friendship as she does in her later novels, the writer who experimented wildly with the genre she was to solidify so completely. Despite-but one might just as easily say, because of-this anger, Austen is one of the best-loved authors of the English language. Although her novels influenced the direction of the marriage plot of the nineteenth-century domestic novel, her fame truly exploded in the twentieth century. Austen and her novels are now the center of dedicated academic societies and conferences (The Jane Austen Society of North America), vibrant internet communities (the largest being The Republic of Pemberley-www.pemberley.com-named for the hero's estate in Pride and Prejudice
), and a whole sub-genre of popular romance novels called Regency romance, the hero of which owes his existence to Austen's heroes. "Janeites" avidly consume sequels to and retellings of the original novels by modern authors (Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones' Diary,
for example), while screenwriters eagerly translate them to film, with eight different movie ve of five Austen novels in the late 1990s and three in 2004.
This Austen-mania-the sheer enjoyment of her writing-reminds us that, while it is important to understand the political, historical, social, and biographical context of Love and Freindship,
it is also important to revel in the utter surrealism of, for example, the confessions of a young lady: "I murdered my father at a very early period of my Life, I have since murdered my Mother, and I am now going to murder my Sister." After all, we must "Beware of fainting fits. . .Beware of swoons." It is much better to run mad with love for Austen's exquisite writing than to allow our appreciation of her genius to fade away. Sarah S. G. Frantz
is an assistant professor in English literature at Fayetteville State University and a lieutenant in the North Carolina Army National Guard, but hails originally from South Africa. She holds a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she focused on Romantic-era British women novelists, and she has published articles on Jane Austen's novels and the modern popular romance novel.