Love and Freindship (sic)
Of juvenilia I am not a fan, but, in a desire to improve my mind by reading what I do not like, I picked up yet another volume of opuscula published by Hesperus. It should not be surprising that Jane Austen possessed, at the age of fourteen, all the sharpness of observation which would later make her famous. She punctures the conventions of eighteenth century ‘chick-lit’ (see, e.g., the works of Charlotte Smith, Ann Radcliffe, or Mary Hays). She mocks the romantic sensibility and its affectations both physical (‘it was too pathetic for the feelings of Sophia and myself – We fainted alternately on a sofa…’) and emotional:
She staid but half an hour and neither, in the Course of her Visit, confided to me any of her secret thoughts, nor requested me to confide in her any of Mine. You will easily imagine, therefore, my Dear Marianne, that I could not feel any ardent affection or very sincere Attachment for Lady Dorothea.
This would be of little interest, were it not for the transparency with which Austen punctures the narrator’s pretensions and reveals her self-absorption:
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. As I was sensible myself that I had always behaved in a manner which reflected Honour on my Feelings and Refinement, I paid little attention to what she said…
As might be expected, Austen’s sense of the ridiculous allows her to avoid such silliness as the ‘African Olympic Games’ but, as with most juvenilia, it is of interest primarily in the light of what comes after. The presence of names such as Dashwood, Willoughby, and Musgrove in this collection rather emphasize than dispel that unfortunate association.