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The Austen-Curious Reader

By Eden Iazeolla



Hello My fellow Jane Austen Enthusiasts!


Ah! There I go already… I told myself I would not lie to you all, so I must force myself to start this relationship off with honesty. Although you all might consider yourselves Jane Austen enthusiasts, I, myself, cannot claim that title. It is not that I dislike Jane Austen and her work, I am just unfamiliar and therefore diffident. My career with Jane Austen looks a little something like this: Read half of Pride and Prejudice, switched to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Read Sense and Sensibility, retained approximately one forth if it - The End. That’s impressive right? (Go ahead, tell the truth: it’s not. If I am going to be honest, you should be too)


By now, you must be asking yourself, who is this Jane Austen neophyte? And why are they writing to us?


Allow me to introduce myself; my name is Eden, and I am a senior English literature major at the University of Redlands. This year I will be working alongside some of your beloved JASP blog voices to bring you an online book club, or even better – an online Jane Austen’s Juvenilia Book Club for readers at every level of familiarity. Every other week I will be posting my thoughts and questions as I make my way through Austen’s Juvenilia. My hope is that you will read alongside me and lead me into an appreciation for Austen. I am excited for you all to sway me to Austen through your energy and love of her work.


Beginning at the beginning, this week I am considering the first “novel” in the Juvenilia, “Frederic and Elfrida.”


Wow.




Illustrations by: Aliisa Lee


That was the only thought that ran through my head after I finished the story. When I was told Austen’s Juvenilia was wild and untamed, I did not believe it was to this extent.




Illustrations by: Aliisa Lee


My favorite part of the story is the scene where Elfrida says to the “amiable” Rebecca:






I do not believe I have ever seen a more iconic back-handed compliment. It made me laugh out loud while I read it.


Humor aside, I think what is most interesting from this story is that we get a good gauge right away of what interests Austen at the age of 12. I can tell you that being amiable does not. We can see this through her constant reference to Rebecca as being “the amiable Rebecca,” which conveys a mocking tone on the quality. We can also consider Elfrida’s constant poking fun at Rebecca, saying her hair is greasy and she has a threatening squint. I almost feel bad for poor Rebecca because she is always at the butt of Austen’s jokes.


However, seeing amiability laughed at so clearly here can help us understand later characters Austen writes. As stated in a previous blog written by Heather King, Margaret Anne Doody and others believe that Austen’s mature works “demonstrate not refinement, but restraint of her initial art.” The negative view on amiability that we see in this first writing of Austen’s has me agreeing with this stance. I find that her resistance to adopting the friendly and pleasant manner expected of women in the 18th century is echoed in her later writings. However, it is just skillfully embedded in her later characters, such as Elizabeth Bennet. As you all remember, Elizabeth is fond of unladylike exercise, dirtying her stockings and hems, and speaking her mind. These attributes were known to push up against (and sometimes past) the boundary of what’s considered “amiable.”


Feel free to share your thoughts on “Frederic and Elfrida” in the comments below. What was your favorite part of the story? What do you think about Austen’s teenage writing in relation to her mature works?


I cannot wait to meet all of you in the comments, and in the meantime, I invite you to read or refamiliarize yourself with Austen’s “Jack and Alice” for the next book club, which will be two weeks from now!


Ta-ta!

Eden