By Eden Iazeolla
Hello to all my Brilliant Jane Austen Juvenilia Enthusiasts!
I am sad to realize that we are slowly approaching the end of the “Austen-Curious Reader” Blogs. This week, we are finishing up Austen’s Volume’s one, two, and three by taking a dive into the final juvenilia piece, “Evelyn.”
This Juvenilia piece follows the adventures of a man, whose name is Mr. Gower. It is one of few pieces in her Juvenilia that Austen writes about a man. In the narration, we come to find that Mr. Gower is quite the “lucky” man, stumbling upon the imaginary town of Evelyn. It is not every day you find yourself with some new money, a new house, a new wife, and living a perfect life in a matter of hours.
In honor of the “Austen-Curious Reader” coming to a close, I want to throw it back to the first “Austen-Curious Reader.” In that inaugural blog, we explored Austen’s youthful resistance to the “status-quo” through her mockery of amiability and how that skepticism extends to some of Austen’s later characters. In this first blog, I was working with a definition of amiable that is somewhat based on the first definition Samuel Johnson offers, which defines amiable as meaning “lovely.” However, Heather King’s blog, “Austen’s ‘Dear Dr. Johnson’” brings attention to a second definition Johnson gives “amiable,” which is “pretending love.” As King puts it, “when we look back to ‘pretend’ above and notice how many of the definitions invoke hypocrisy, amiability seems a little less amiable.”
I could not help bringing this second understanding of amiability into “Evelyn.” Similar to “Frederic and Eliza,” Austen brings in the quality of amiability right at the beginning of “Evelyn.” After Mr. Gower stumbles upon “Evelyn,” he meets the landlady of an Alehouse. In describing her, the narrator proclaims,
The Landlady, who as well as every one else in Evelyn was remarkably
Now, we are shown just how remarkable everyone in Evelyn is when we are introduced to the Webbs. The Webbs happen to be the family that owns the house that Mr. Gower would like to buy. In welcoming Mr. Gower into their home, Mrs. Webb orders her servant to
‘Bring up some Chocolate immediately, Spread a Cloth in the dining Parlour,
and carry in the venison pastry –’ …. Then turning to Mr. Gower, and taking
out her purse, ‘Accept this my good sir, - Believe me you are welcome to
everything that is in my power to bestow.’
From expensive and luxurious foods to money out of her own wallet, Mrs. Webb is exceeding any reasonable expectations of an amiable host. In fact, the amiability in this scene can be construed as being more like the second definition of Johnson’s amiable. This is because it seems a bit unrealistic to be giving a stranger money for just gracing you with their presence, thus making it seem more like an act rather than genuine. There is a performative quality to this excessive amiability.
As we move through the text, Austen ramps up the exaggeration of the Webbs’ hospitality and amiability. For instance, when Mr. Gower's pockets and belly are stuffed, he finally asks the Webbs for their house.
‘It is yours, exclaimed the both of them at once; from this moment it is
Throughout the juvenilia, we have seen young Austen take different virtues to the extreme, proving that too much of one quality or virtue can be a bad thing. In a way, this is Austen navigating the tricky happy medium of virtue, which was a common trope seen in the 18th century. In the case of “Evelyn,” Austen opposes the Webbs and Mr. Gower to demonstrate what both sides of the coin look like. On one side, we have the Webbs, whose aimable qualities are taken to the extreme, making them seem more ingenuine than not. On the other side, we have Mr. Gower, who shows a considerable lack of amiability in his “more, more, more” attitude. In the scene right after he is given their home, Mr. Gower turns to Mrs. Webb and says,
‘You are too obliging Ma’am - I assure you that I like the house extremely –
and if they would complete their generosity by giving me their elder
daughter in marriage with a handsome portion, I should have nothing more
to wish for.’
Now, not only at this point has Mr. Gower already received food, money, and a home, but he is still asking for more – their daughter and MORE money! It is quite ironic of the narrator to characterize Mr. Gower as “the amiable Man” when he is so greedy, the extreme opposite of someone who is amiable.
We can read young Austen’s exaggeration of virtue as her practicing for her later novels, in which she repeatedly returns to the importance of moral balance.
We see this in Pride and Prejudice when Mr. Darcy asks Mr. Bennet for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage. Elizabeth made it no secret that she detested Mr. Darcy for the bulk of the novel, so after approving Mr. Darcy’s proposal, Mr. Bennet speaks to Elizabeth. He worries that she is not thinking clearly about her decision, remarking
‘We all know him to be a proud, unpleasant sort of man; but this would be
nothing if you really liked him.’
To which Elizabeth replies
I love him. Indeed he has no improper pride. He is perfectly amiable.
Austen suggests through Mr. Darcy’s character that there is a middle ground when pride is not improper. In her painting Mr. Darcy as being amiable, we see Austen find a definition of the quality she likes, which is a great full circle moment when we consider the work she had done with this quality in the juvenilia.
For our final two “Austen-Curious Reader” book clubs, we will be getting into “Lady Susan.” We will be discussing the first half on April 24th and the second half on May 6th, so if you do not have your copy, you have plenty of time. I cannot wait to see you there!
If you have any questions about the upcoming book clubs, please feel free to comment down below or dm us on any Jane Austen Summer Program social media. And, as always if you have any “Evelyn” related thoughts or tid-bits, please share!
I also wanted to let everyone know that the registration for JASP is still open BUT the dorm accommodations are limited, so snag your spot ASAP, so you can be involved in all the fun.
As always, we will be posting updates and reminders on the book club and all things JASP on here. You can find us on Instagram (@Janeaustensummer), twitter (@jaustensummer), and Facebook (@janeaustensummerprogram). AND, we just started a JASP TikTok, so if you are in need more JA and more JASP, please check that out (@janeaustensummerprogram)!