The Austen-Curious Reader – “Edgar and Emma” and “Henry and Eliza”
By Eden Iazeolla
Happy Halloween to all my fellow Jane Austen Juvenilia Enthusiasts!
As the weeks continue, I am starting to be swayed over to the Jane Austen fan club, so feel I can honestly embrace the title "fellow" now. However, maintaining my commitment to honesty, I should confess that I am learning I am more of a fan of her Juvenilia than her later works. One could say her ridiculously humorous, imaginative, and satirical worlds are winning over my mind – and my heart.
I am curious about what you all have been up to this spooky halloweekend and if you are dressing up for tonight? Personally, most of my celebrating took place this weekend, but I am sure I will find myself participating in the festivities tonight. I even recommended to my friends that our group costume should be the zombie-killing Bennet sisters, but I received some big no’s. I mean, maybe it is just the nerd in me, but I found that idea award-winning. You all need to check out this costume inspiration I used to try to persuade them. I feel you would appreciate it as much as I did. It is simply – iconic.
@frockasaurus on Instagram
Also, if you are looking for some outfit inspiration or a place to purchase costumes for the JASP convention this summer, the artist of this outfit has some great options.
From reading through some of Austen’s juvenilia work, I can see her beginning to define her ideas on what it means to be a heroine. Specifically, Austen is doing this through her amazing use of mockery and satire. In our first book club post that focused on “Frederic and Elfrida,” I got the sense that amiability did not mean what I expected it to. This was because of her constant mockery of “the aimable Rebecca.” Now, after reading “Edgar and Emma,” I can see a pattern beginning to form.
Instead of giving us a strong female lead like she does in her later novel like Pride and Prejudice and Emma, Austen gives us Emma Marlow. Emma Marlow is SERVING boy crazy for a particular boy named Edgar. I mean, she is first introduced to the text as sitting “at her Dressing-room window in anxious Hopes of seeing Edgar” (Austen).
After finding out that Edgar went away to college, Emma after “retiring to her own room, continued in tears the remainder of her life.”
Through this exceptional over-exaggeration of emotions, Austen provides a satirical comment on the idea of a woman needing a man. She does this by showing how embarrassing Emma’s actions are, because who would feel such a way when they barely even knew the man? This leads us to add independence to our growing list of Jane Austen heroine attributes.
Due to the spookiness of this week, I was hoping to have some monsters jump out of the words of Jane Austen’s Juvenilia and scare me. One would think Austen’s Duchess and her 300 men and plans for torture in “Henry and Eliza” would get me; however, I believe the scariest thing I found in both stories was Eliza. As I sat down and thought about why I felt this way about Eliza, I was inspired by reading from one of my classes. Edmund Burke’s A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757), theorizes that the most sublime literary work is that which evokes the emotion of terror or fear. He suggests that terror and fear can be evoked using obscurity. I believe Austen works this idea of obscurity into Eliza, because she has constructed Eliza to be an incredibly morally grey character. I mean, we could either think of her as a feminist icon or a selfish and inconsiderate person. However, the fact that I question how to read her scares me and reminds me of Burke’s theory. With this being said, I felt the only right thing to do was to create an Eliza "pros" and "cons" list to figure out what Austen is attempting to say through this character.
1. Survived three months in a barn by herself as an infant and came out of the experience with “infantine tho’ sprightly answers” to her “adoptive” parents “many questions.”
(She was 3 months old… how crazy would it be to see a 3-month-old talk? Blows my mind each time I re-read)
2. “She was the delight of all who knew her” and “admired by all the World”
3. She possessed a “noble and exalted mind”
4. Basically, said “screw you all” and eloped with her friend’s fiancé (very Las Vegas of Austen)
5. Boss Lady’d her way into an escape from the Duchess’s Prison
6. She “walked 30 [miles] without stopping” (that’s some determination; you’d be lucky to convince me to do a four-mile hike)
7. “She raised an army, with which she entirely demolished the Duchess’s Newgate.” Again, Boss Lady.
1. Was “detected in stealing a banknote of 50£” from her sweet “adoptive” parents (50£ in the regency era is equivalent to about $4,454 now!)
2. Left a letter reading, “‘Madam’ We’re married and gone.’ ‘Henry and Eliza Cecil’” to notify her friend that she married said friend’s fiancé.
3. Spent a whopping 12,000£ per year for three years (18,000£ in later editions), with an income of approximately 600£ per annum. (12,000£ in the regency era is equivalent to about $1 million dollars. This woman spent 3 million dollars in three years; that is crazy!)
4. Instructed her children to not hurt themselves before she threw them out of a window
5. Bought a gold watch when her family was starving, meaning she had to beg for some “Charitable Gratuity”
6. Went back to her sweet “adoptive” parents that she stole from to “request their Charity”
Illustration by Sarah Wagner-McCoy (Juvenilia Press)
I have come to terms with the idea that maybe what Jane Austen is attempting to say through Eliza is that a morally grey character is what she expects out of her female heroines – imperfection and realness prevails. I am thinking more will be revealed as we work through some more of her Juvenilia. How do you all feel about Eliza? Any mixed emotions? Strong feelings? Let’s hear it in the comments below.