Love and Freindship, Jane Austen

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Jane Austen (1775-1817) is everybody’s favourite novelist and certainly one of the most influential. As Walter Scott makes clear in his 1815 review of Emma which I posted last week (here), the publication of Austen’s novels from 1811 on marked a clear turning point in English Literature, through both her subject matter and the simplicity and clarity of her writing.

I have been reading Elizabeth Jenkins’ Jane Austen (1938) and wished to write on this occasion about Jane’s early years and in particular the reading that led her to taking the paths she did. Sue at Whispering Gums wrote a proper review of Love and Freindship (here) back in 2012 and if you want to know more you should read it, but I will give a brief overview now and then get down to Austen’s reading and writing until she was 35 (!), when her first book was finally published

Love and Freindship is meant to be a story in letters, and it is, sort of, but not in the way that Lady Susan is for instance, where we construct the story from an interchange of letters between a number of parties. Instead, a woman, Isabel, writes and asks her friend Laura to give Isabel’s daughter Marianne “a regular detail of the Misfortunes and Adventures of your life”. And so the story is told episodically, over a series of letters from Laura to Marianne.

The young Jane Austen’s purpose was to parody the cult of ‘Sensibility’, the idea, spread by Gothic novels, that young women should preference feeling over common sense. When you think about it, it is an idea which persisted throughout the nineteenth century – that women of breeding would swoon when confronted with shock, would fade away to a shadow for love lost, would go into hysterics and so on – and which Austen confronted in different ways in all her novels.

Of course Austen had two other purposes: to practice her writing which she did from a very young age, with the encouragement of her father; and to amuse her family who passed around the three bound, hand-written volumes of her final copies and had readings of her work, both by her and by others. By the time Jane was 19, these volumes of sketches and short stories, not including Lady Susan, totalled 74,000 words.

Briefly, a stranger comes to Laura’s parents’ house. The stranger, called variously Lindsay and Edward is a comely young man with whom Laura falls instantly in love, and her father “tho he had never taken orders” marries them.

One of the joys of the story is Austen playing pranks with geography as the protagonists dash from Wales through what seems like all the counties of England by a very roundabout route to London and finally, in a day!, to Scotland.

Edward first takes Laura to his aunt’s where he runs into his father whom he is constantly seeking new ways to defy; then to his friend Augustus with whose wife Sofia, Laura forms an instant bond. They throw their arms around each other, vow to be friends for ever, and share all their secrets.

From there it gets even more nonsensical as Augustus is arrested for unpaid debts and the other three do the only thing they can do, faint on the sofa. Edward sets out for London to find Augustus, the girls follow soon after though without success and end up as I said, in Scotland. There’s more to it than that but I’m sure you get the gist. A very clever young writer has taken all the tropes of Gothic fiction and made them ridiculous.

Jane Austen’s immediate family consisted of her parents, her older brothers James, George, Edward and Henry, her older sister Cassandra, another brother Francis and a younger brother Charles. George was intellectually impaired and was put into care; Edward at age 12 (when Jane was 5) was adopted by wealthy relatives, the Knights; Francis and Charles each went into the navy also at around 12 and both rose to be admirals.

Her wider family included her cousin Eliza Hancock, 14 years older, who married the French Comte de Feuillide in 1781. The Comte was executed in Paris in 1794, following the French Revolution. Eliza was a frequent visitor to the Austens, a regular correspondent, and provided a window for Jane into the rarefied world of high society. It is to Eliza that Love and Freindship is dedicated. Eliza and Jane became sisters in law when in 1797 Eliza married Jane’s brother Henry.

When Jane was 7, she and Cassandra went away to school, firstly with their cousin Jane Cooper to a Mrs Cawley (the relative of a relative) in Oxford, and then in Southampton, where they became ill (with diptheria?). Mrs Austen and her sister Mrs Cooper came down to rescue the girls and Mrs Cooper caught the infection and died. Nothing daunted, another school was found, the Abbey school at Reading which sounds very pleasant: “provided the girls appeared in the tutor’s study for a few hours each morning, they could spend the rest of the day gossiping in the turrets, lounging in the gardens …” They returned home after a year or so and “never left it”. The next seven years, until Jane was 16, formed her as a writer.

The Rev Austen, who had been up to Oxford on a fellowship, took in pupils to supplement his income. It is not known if Jane sat in on any of his classes, but she had the benefit of his and Mrs Austen’s encouragement and of his considerable library, as well as the circulating library for light reading. All the family read and enjoyed popular fiction, though it is probable, from a modern viewpoint, that they read ironically – or at least so they pretended to themselves. Also, Jane’s juvenilia is in places quite bawdy and it is possible that Eliza de Feuillide introduced her to “scandalous” works such as Laclos’ Les Liasons Dangereuses (1782). But Jane’s considerable natural talents as a writer were reinforced by her more serious reading.

Austen of course read Shakespeare and Milton, but Jenkins writes that modern English writing begins with, and Austen’s writing is built on, Dryden, Addison, Fielding, Sterne and Richardson – at this point it becomes obvious I should read my long ignored copy of Dale Spender’s Mothers of the Novel: 100 good women writers before Jane Austen (1986), but I haven’t and I will – I will round up here by researching and writing a little about each of these men.

John Dryden (1631-1700) Jenkins writes of “his clarity and raciness” and “his inimitable blend of vigour and elegance”. Dryden’s first works were a restrained tribute on the death of Cromwell and a much more enthusiastic panegyric for the Restoration, Astraea Redux. “In this work the interregnum is illustrated as a time of anarchy, and Charles is seen as the restorer of peace and order” (wiki). Not to my taste but maybe to Austen’s. Dryden wrote poetry, literary criticism and plays, but is remembered above all as a satirist.

Joseph Addison (1672-1719) An essayist who, with Richard Steele, founded the Spectator,  a daily publication for people who “took literature seriously”, which ran from 1711-1712 and then thrice weekly in 1714. These issues were collected into eight volumes which were read widely well into the nineteenth century. Interestingly, one of the editors’ main objectives was to increase the number of women who were “of a more elevated life and conversation.”

Henry Fielding (1707-1754) was a playwright and political satirist so successful that that they passed a law against it (the Theatrical Licensing Act of 1737). He is best known now for The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749), 346,747 words divided into 18 smaller books, and among the first prose works to be classified as a novel.

Laurence Sterne (1713–1768). An Irishman, an Anglican clergyman and the author of The Life and Times of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759-1767). “As its title suggests, the book is ostensibly Tristram’s narration of his life story. But it is one of the central jokes of the novel that he cannot explain anything simply, that he must make explanatory diversions to add context and colour to his tale, to the extent that Tristram’s own birth is not even reached until Volume III.” (wiki). Maria Bertram in Mansfield Park is referencing Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey (1768) when she says, “I cannot get out, as the starling said.”

Samuel Richardson (1689-1761) who Jenkins says was Austen’s favourite, although now the least regarded, wrote three epistolary novels: Pamela: Or, Virtue Rewarded (1740), Clarissa: Or the History of a Young Lady (1748) and The History of Sir Charles Grandison (1753). Austen mentions Clarissa just the once, in Sanditon, but makes frequent references to Sir Charles Grandison. “The hold the story with its multitudinous figures took on Jane Austen’s imagination was extraordinary. Henry Austen said that she remembered and would speak of any date throughout the year on which any episode of the book was said to have taken place” (Jenkins).

I love that Clarissa is the story of a young woman fighting to preserve her independence as her family attempts to force her into marriage to secure their own prestige, and she is kidnapped and kept in a brothel. But as it is longer even than Tom Jones I probably won’t ever read it. Clarissa, Tristram Shandy and Sir Charles Grandison were apparently written at least partly each in response to its predecessor.

It is also notable from this brief round-up that the late eighteenth century fiction which Austen grew up on had nothing like the moralism of Victorian England 50 or 100 years later.

I have not got as far as I thought I might, and now will postpone to another occasion consideration of Fanny Burney whose Evelina was published in 1778, and of the writing of Austen’s first attempts at longer works, Lady Susan, First Impressions and Elinor and Marianne. Austen’s contemporary, Walter Scott, I will also get to ‘one day’.

 

Jane Austen, Love and Freindship and Other Youthful Writings, Penguin Classics, London, 2014

Elizabeth Jenkins, Jane Austen, first pub. Gollancz, 1938. This edition Cardinal, London, 1973

Previous Jane Austen posts –
Three Novels, Jane Austen here
Jane Austen: Independent Woman here
Jane’s Fame, Claire Harman here
Sue at Whispering Gums here

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Three Novels, Jane Austen

Sue of Whispering Gums, our resident expert on all things JA, recently commented she was insufficiently brave to write a review of Pride and Prejudice. And if she couldn’t then how could I? But luckily my guest reviewer has proved equal to the task, though a little carried away with the ‘state of the novel’. I have cut down what he wrote, but there is a link at the end if you wish to read his piece in full. Thankyou W. Scott.

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(c) BBC. 1995. Colin Firth, Jennifer Ehle

The novel in 1815

There are some vices in civilized society so common that they are hardly acknowledged as stains upon the moral character, the propensity to which is nevertheless carefully concealed, even by those who most frequently give way to them; since no man of pleasure would willingly assume the gross epithet of a debauchee or a drunkard. One would almost think that novel-reading fell under this class of frailties, since among the crowds who read little else, it is not common to find an individual of hardihood sufficient to avow his taste for these frivolous studies. A novel, therefore, is frequently “bread eaten in secret”…

The judicious reader will see at once that we have been pleading our own cause while stating the universal practice, and preparing him for a display of more general acquaintance with this fascinating department of literature, than at first sight may seem consistent with the graver studies to which we are compelled by duty: but in truth, when we consider how many hours of languor and anxiety, of deserted age and solitary celibacy, of pain even and poverty, are beguiled by the perusal of these light volumes, we cannot austerely condemn the source from which is drawn the alleviation of such a portion of human misery, or consider the regulation of this department as beneath the sober consideration of the critic.

If such apologies may be admitted in judging the labours of ordinary novelists, it becomes doubly the duty of the critic to treat with kindness as well as candour works which, like this before us, proclaim a knowledge of the human heart, with the power and resolution to bring that knowledge to the service of honour and virtue.

The author [of Emma] is already known to the public by the two novels announced in her title-page, and both, the last especially, attracted, with justice, an attention from the public far superior to what is granted to the ephemeral productions which supply the regular demand of watering-places and circulating libraries. They belong to a class of fictions which has arisen almost in our own times, and which draws the characters and incidents introduced more immediately from the current of ordinary life than was permitted by the former rules of the novel.

In its first appearance, the novel was the legitimate child of the romance; and
though the manners and general turn of the composition were altered so as to suit modern times, the author remained fettered by many peculiarities derived from the original style of romantic fiction. [However] social life, in our civilized days, affords few instances capable of being painted in the strong dark colours which excite surprise and horror; and robbers, smugglers, bailiffs, caverns, dungeons, and mad-houses, have been all introduced until they ceased to interest. And thus in the novel, as in every style of composition which appeals to the public taste, the more rich and easily worked mines being exhausted, the adventurous author must, if he is desirous of success, have recourse to those which were disdained by his predecessors as unproductive, or avoided as only capable of being turned to profit by great skill and labour.

Accordingly a style of novel has arisen, within the last fifteen or twenty years, differing from the former in the points upon which the interest hinges; neither alarming our credulity nor amusing our imagination by wild variety of incident, or by those pictures of romantic affection and sensibility, which were formerly as certain attributes of fictitious characters as they are of rare occurrence among
those who actually live and die. The substitute for these excitements, which had lost much of their poignancy by the repeated and injudicious use of them, was the art of copying from nature as she really exists in the common walks of life, and presenting to the reader, instead of the splendid scenes of an imaginary world, a correct and striking representation of that which is daily taking place around him.

But the author of Emma confines herself chiefly to the middling classes of society; her most distinguished characters do not rise greatly above well-bred country
gentlemen and ladies; and those which are sketched with most originality
and precision, belong to a class rather below that standard. The narrative of all her novels is composed of such common occurrences as may have fallen under the observation of most folks; and her dramatis personae conduct themselves upon the motives and principles which the readers may recognize as ruling their own and that of most of their acquaintances.

The kind of moral, also, which these novels inculcate, applies equally to the paths of common life, as will best appear from a short notice of the author’s former works, with a more full abstract of that which we at present have under consideration.

Sense and Sensibility

Sense and Sensibility, the first of these compositions, contains the history of two sisters. The elder, a young lady of prudence and regulated feelings, becomes gradually attached to a man of an excellent heart and limited talents, who happens unfortunately to be fettered by a rash and ill-assorted engagement. In the younger sister, the influence of sensibility and imagination predominates; and she, as was to be expected, also falls in love, but with more unbridled and wilful passion. Her lover, gifted with all the qualities of exterior polish and vivacity, proves faithless, and marries a woman of large fortune. The interest and merit of the piece depend altogether upon the behaviour of the elder sister, while obliged at once to sustain her own disappointment with fortitude, and to support her sister, who abandons
herself, with unsuppressed feelings, to the indulgence of grief. The marriage of the unworthy rival at length relieves her own lover from his imprudent engagement, while her sister, turned wise by precept, example, and experience, transfers her affection to a very respectable and somewhat too serious admirer, who had nourished an unsuccessful passion through the three volumes.

Pride and Prejudice

In Pride and Prejudice the author presents us with a family of young women, bred up under a foolish and vulgar mother, and a father whose good abilities lay hid under such a load of indolence and insensibility, that he had become contented to make the foibles and follies of his wife and daughters the subject of dry and humorous sarcasm, rather than of admonition, or restraint.

This is one of the portraits from ordinary life which shews our author’s talents in a very strong point of view. A friend of ours, whom the author never saw or heard of, was at once recognized by his own family as the original of Mr. Bennet, and we do
not know if he has yet got rid of the nickname. A Mr. Collins, too, a formal, conceited, yet servile young sprig of divinity, is drawn with the same force and precision.

The story of the piece consists chiefly in the fates of the second sister, to whom a man of high birth, large fortune, but haughty and reserved manners, becomes attached, in spite of the discredit thrown upon the object of his affection by the vulgarity and ill-conduct of her relations. The lady, on the contrary, hurt at the contempt of her connections, which the lover does not even attempt to suppress, and prejudiced against him on other accounts, refuses the hand which he ungraciously offers, and does not perceive that she has done a foolish thing until she accidentally visits a very handsome seat and grounds belonging to her admirer. They chance to meet exactly as her prudence had begun to subdue her prejudice; and after some essential services rendered to her family, the lover becomes encouraged to renew his addresses, and the novel ends happily.

Emma

Emma has even less story than either of the preceding novels. Miss Emma Woodhouse, from whom the book takes its name, is the daughter of a gentleman of wealth and consequence residing at his seat in the immediate vicinage of a country village called Highbury. The father, a good-natured, silly valetudinary, abandons the management of his household to Emma, he himself being only occupied by his summer and winter walk, his apothecary, his gruel, and his whist table. The latter
is supplied from the neighbouring village of Highbury with precisely the sort of persons who occupy the vacant corners of a regular whist table, when a village is in the neighbourhood, and better cannot be found within the family.

[Scott proceeds to enumerate all the principal inhabitants of the village and to give us a detailed, and unneccessary, synopsis of the plot].

The author’s knowledge of the world, and the peculiar tact with which she presents characters that the reader cannot fail to recognize, reminds us something of the merits of the Flemish school of painting. The subjects are not often elegant, and certainly never grand; but they are finished up to nature, and with a precision which delights the reader…

The [merits of the author] consists much in the force of a narrative conducted with much neatness and point, and a quiet yet comic dialogue, in which the characters of the speakers evolve themselves with dramatic effect. The faults, on the contrary, arise from the minute detail which the author’s plan comprehends. Characters of
folly or simplicity, such as those of old Woodhouse and Miss Bates, are ridiculous when first presented, but if too often brought forward or too long dwelt upon, their prosing is apt to become as tiresome in fiction as in real society. Upon the whole, the turn of this author’s novels bears the same relation to that of the sentimental and romantic cast, that cornfields and cottages and meadows bear to the highly adorned grounds of a show mansion, or the rugged sublimities of a mountain landscape. It is neither so captivating as the one, nor so grand as the other, but it affords to those who frequent it a pleasure nearly allied with the experience of their own social habits; and what is of some importance, the youthful wanderer may return from his promenade to the ordinary business of life, without any chance of having his head turned by the recollection of the scene through which he has been wandering…

SIR WALTER SCOTT ON JANE AUSTEN

[From. The Quarterly Review, October, 1815]

Emma; a Novel. By the Author of Sense and Sensibility, Pride and
Prejudice
, etc. 3 vols. 12mo. London. 1815


Scott was by 1815 a famous poet but he, like Austen, published his novels anonymously. Waverley (1814) was his first, but apparently his authorship was known to Austen, as she wrote:

Walter Scott has no business to write novels, especially good ones. – It is not fair. – He has Fame & Profit enough as a Poet, and should not be taking the bread out of other people’s mouths. – I do not like him, & do not mean to like Waverley if I can help it – but fear I must…

[ Letter 108, 28 September 1814, to Anna Austen (Le Faye)]


My source for the review above was the blog Onlyanovel (here).

[Blogger’s note: This review was extracted in full from the book Famous Reviews, selected and edited by R. Brimley Johnson (London, 1914). An eBook copy of Famous Reviews can be obtained from Project Gutenberg. A free pdf copy is also available from Google Books.]