Author: Jane Austen
Written: Roughly 1790 (Wikipedia is blocked out courtesy of the SOPA boycott -- what's a girl to do?)
Source: Personal copy
Read for: Advent with Austen
This is a little (in my case, electronic) packet of juvenile writings by Jane Austen. My copy was comprised of "Love and Friendship," "An Unfinished Novel in Letters," "The History of England," and "A Collection of Letters."
"Love and Friendship" was an epistolary tale of star-crossed love. All of the letters were maudlin and mawkish, at times so ridiculous I couldn't tell if they were meant humorously or in deadly seriousness. They called to mind an episode from the Anne of Green Gables books, when Anne and her friends form a story-making club and write tales so pathetic and sentimental that they are all in tears when they read them to each other, and are rendered completely baffled when their more mature confidantes are reduced to helpless laughter. At every turn, the two heroines face loss of love, mysterious run-ins with estranged family members, and numerous grammatical and spelling errors. At first I was in severe pain from the story, but somehow in the process things took on such a ridiculous turn that I found it completely entertaining.
"An Unfinished Novel in Letters" shows a bit more of the sophistication and wit that Austen found in her novels. While it certainly had its silly moments, it seemed as if these were intentional, a game of playing with the ridiculous, awkward characters like Mr. Collins and Mrs. Bennett that populate the pages of more developed works. It wasn't as dramatic, and hence not nearly as entertaining as "Love and Friendship," but I enjoyed this work in that it showed Austen's genius in embryo. Here is a little sample for you that made me laugh -
We are handsome my dear Charlotte, very handsome and the greatest of our Perfections is, that we are entirely insensible of them ourselves.All I really recollect from "A History of England" is that, for whatever reason, Jane Austen really, really hated Queen Elizabeth. I am not knowledgeable enough about her life to understand the reasons why, but it is filed away in my mental cabinet to compare notes with once I do know something.
As for the other assorted letters and pieces, they were all very short and disconnected and simply showed more elements of the same -- some were exceedingly dramatic while others were playing with wit and manners.
This is a mixed bag -- it is mostly interesting only in that it is a piece of a beloved author that we have only in limited amounts, but it does have a few moments that are enjoyable for their own sake. If you are a fan of Jane Austen, you will probably read this at some point; if not, I probably wouldn't come here.
2 stars based on readability and narrative enjoyment alone; obviously the author connection is worth more than that.