Thursday, 17 November 2016

Jan Austen's 'Love and Freindship'

The first of Jane's 'novels' which most people have heard of is Love and Freindship (yes, she spelled it like that), which she appears to have started writing at the age of fourteen. The jokes are in the customary vein. She makes fun of the way novelists wallowed in sentiment and she imitates their technique of making a novel entirely out of people's correspondence. Overwrought emotion, insipidly perfect heroes and heroines, extraordinary coincidences, exotic names, sentimental philosophizing in romantic settings, much swooning, deathbed scenes – all are here.

In run-of-the-mill novels, sensitive young heroes resist being forced by their fathers into marriage with repulsive but wealthy ladies. Jane Austen's reversal of this has her hero absurdly resisting a perfectly good marriage. Never would Lindsay let it be said that he 'obliged' a parent! He explains that he defied his father, who wanted him to marry the 'lovely and Engaging' Lady Dorothea. Laura comments: 'We all admired the noble Manliness' of this!

Laura herself claims to be perfect. She has a mind adorned by every virtue. Her friend Isabel, however, had 'seen the world', having 'spent a fortnight in Bath'  and 'supped one night in Southampton'! So, like all mentors in sentimental novels, Isabel warns our heroine of 'insipid Vanities and idle Dissipation'. She advises her especially to beware of Southampton's 'Stinking fish'!

Edward Lindsay the hero drifts into Wales while losing his way on a journey from Bedfordshire to Middlesex! Seeking refuge in a cottage, he meets Laura and almost immediately proposes to her:

'..I hesitated not to ask admittance which at length I have gained; and now, my Adorable Laura' (continued he taking my Hand) 'when may I hope to receive that reward of all the painfull sufferings I have undergone during the course of my Attachment to you, to which I have ever aspired? Oh! when will you reward me with Yourself?'
    'This instant, Dear and Amiable Edward,' (replied I)...

Their married life continues in this vein. While conventional heroes and heroines drift around expecting to survive on love and the generosity of others, Laura and Lindsay come up against reality. They try to live off the generosity of his friend Augustus, who steals from his own father (the money is 'gracefully purloined from his Unworthy father's Escritoire').

The ladies in the tale constantly faint from excessive emotion, and try to live off Macdonald, a relative in Scotland. They infuriate him by persuading his daughter to break off her engagement to Graham: she cannot really love him since 'his Hair bore not the slightest resemblance to Auburn'. They make her transfer her affection to Captain McKenzie (in truth a fortune-hunter) and succeed in getting the couple to elope to Gretna Green (an early hint of the Lydia Bennet episode). Our ladies are 'impertinently interrupted' by Macdonald as they steal bank notes from his secret drawer.

They meet an old gentleman. Making fun of those incredible meetings with long-lost relatives so common in fiction, Jane Austen says Laura feels that he is her grandfather! He instantly acknowledges as his grandchildren both Laura and three other people who happen to come in at the time!

'But tell me' (continued he looking fearfully towards the Door) 'tell me, have I any other Grand-Children in the House?'

He gives them £50 each and makes his escape.

When a coach overturns, injuring its passengers, our ladies see this only as an invitation to philosophize on the uncertainties of life. The injured turn out to be their own husbands. For over an hour, the ladies keep fainting at the shock and so fail to save their husbands' lives. The ladies shelter for the night in an old woman's cottage. She has a daughter they consider 'an Object of Contempt' because her name is Bridget.

What a delightfully crazy novel!