The Austen novels most Janeites never read

The Austen novels most Janeites never read

31 days of cult classics | Modern Mrs Darcy

Jane Austen a cult classic author? Absolutely. She is justly famous for her six completed novels, but the general public hasn’t a clue about her earlier writings–known as the juvenilia–and only the most devoted Janeites have actually read them.

I love Jane Austen, but even I have only read one of these early works: Love and Friendship: Deceived in Friendship and Betrayed in Love, written when Jane was just 15. 

Jane wrote the epistolary novel Love and Friendship for a family audience, probably reading new chapters nightly to her inner circle. It’s clearly a parody of the sentimental and overly romanticized novels Jane read as a girl. (As William Deresiewicz humorously points out in A Jane Austen Education, Austen was able to lampoon this style so effectively because she was reading the trashy gothic novels of the day by the bucketful.)

Love and Friendship is chock full of fainting spells, arranged marriages, jealous stepmothers, and dead bodies. It’s hysterical and strange and completely over-the-top.

It’s not very good, and poor Jane would roll over in her grave if she knew modern readers were comparing it to her classic novels. But even in these early works, readers can spot the seed of what made Austen’s six novels great: her biting wit, her ear for dialogue, and her ability to create high drama out of everyday occurrences.

(Readers can also spot early versions of Marianne Dashwood, Elizabeth Bennet, and the Bingley sisters.)

Oddly, Love and Friendship doesn’t remind me nearly as much of Austen’s novels as it does another heroine: teenage Jane sounds exactly like young Anne Shirley at play with her bosom friend Diana Barry:

Sophia shrieked and fainted on the ground–I screamed and instantly ran mad–. We remained thus mutually deprived or our senses, some minutes, and on regaining them were deprived of them again. 

It seems teenage Jane and young Anne had very similar ideas of what “romance” looked like.

Devoted Janeites owe it to themselves to at least sample Austen’s juvenilia. But if you’ve never read an Austen novel, by all means, don’t start here!

Are you an Austen fan? Tell us if you’ve read any of her juvenilia, and why–or why not. 

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This is the seventh post in a series, 31 Days of Cult Classics. You can click here to see a list of all the posts, updated everyday in the month of October.

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22 comments | Comment

22 comments

  1. Amanda says:

    I’m a big fan of her published work but I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of HER. By that I mean, I haven’t bothered to do much research on her life, etc. I’ve never read that but will definitely be adding it to the list. Love the Anne comparison – girls will be girls no matter the century 🙂

    • Anne says:

      “I’m a big fan of her published work but I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of HER.”

      Oh, interesting way to put it. I might just be the same way–will have to think on that one.

  2. Tim says:

    I’ve read all the juvenalia i can find on-line, Anne. Love and Freindship [sic, not Friendship] is a hoot and a half. Her History of England is very selective, as she blatantly wrote favorably of the rulers she approved of and skewered those she didn’t, and it’s also very funny. For a deliciously wicked early novella, try Lady Susan.

    You can find links to her juvenalia on this page.

    Happy reading,
    Tim

    • Anne says:

      I know it’s freindship, but I just can’t make myself spell it that way–it looks wrong, wrong, wrong!

      Maybe I’ll give Lady Susan a go.

  3. I own her “The History of England by a partial, prejudiced, & ignorant Historian”, which is always good for a few chuckles.

    I feel like I owned another of her juvenile fiction books too (I went a bit crazy in the gift shop at the Austen museum in Bath…) but I can’t seem to find it. I bet they’re online somewhere though!

  4. Lee Ann says:

    I’ll second Tim’s recommendations. Love and Freindship and the History of England are hysterical. It’s been a while since I read Lady Susan, but it deserves rereading.

    I’m slowly working my way through The Watsons right now (part of a complete Austen set I bought for my Kindle). It’s hasn’t exactly grabbed my attention, but I will most likely finish it.

  5. I didn’t even know this Austen juvenilia existed, but now I’m intrigued! In the same vein, I’ve always meant to get my hands on the novels Anne and her friends read in Anne of Green Gables, but I’ve never done it. Have you read any of the books Montgomery mentions? This might be a good excuse for me to re-read Anne! 😉

  6. Nicole says:

    I heard about the juvenilia recently and have been wanting to read them. I also want to read through her prayers. And, the last thing I need is more books for my to-read list ;), but A Jane Austen Education looks great!

  7. Liza Lee Grace says:

    I’ve never been able to finish an Austen book. The furthest I’ve gone is Emma, but I think I only got a quarter of the way in. I don’t know why it’s so hard for me. I love the movie adaptions of her novels, so I know her stories are good. Just for some reason, I can’t get into her writing.

  8. Erika says:

    I am a fan of her work to an extent. Not an obssessed crazy fan or anything, haha! I did read Love and Friendship and her other minor works because I wanted to see if they carried the same charm and beauty as her well-known novels. Unfortunately, they werent as captivating and timeless.

  9. amber says:

    I’ve only dabbled in Jane, but your comparison of her voice in Love and Friendship with that of Anne Shirley makes me want to jump right in!

  10. Aurelas says:

    I am a bit obsessed with Miss Austen’s work. I even went to Bath to the Jane Austen Centre on my one free day in England (it’s a tourist trap–don’t go unless it’s for the gift shop) and spent much of the day tracking down locations from Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. I have read all of her books and stories and get a big kick out of the juvenilia–Love and Friendship is so funny! Very apt likeness, comparing it to something young Anne Shirley would’ve come up with. Definitely much coarser than her later work, but as you said, the seeds are so obviously there. The other stories, though not all are finished, are well worth reading too. So many great lines too–one of my favourites is “Her heart was as tender as a whipt syllabub.” And oh goodness, the story that involves a heroine who is continually drunk…can’t remember the name of it but it has some really nice weird parts (in case that whole drunkenness thing wasn’t already a hint).
    I still have not read all of her letters though–have not had access to a copy of those in years and had to turn the book in unfinished.

    • Anne says:

      Thanks for the tip on the Jane Austen Centre! Although I’m sure I could happily while away some team in the gift shop if I ever make it to Bath. 🙂

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