Wednesday, 4 January 2017
JANE AUSTEN'S JUVENILIA; INCLUDING 'THE GENEROUS CURATE'
When she was 17, Jane wrote (for her six-week-old niece!) A beautiful description of the different effects of Sensibility on different Minds and The generous Curate. They are intended to 'inculcate the practise of Virtue' – another little joke.
In the first, the story-teller has just come from the bedside of the dying Melissa and of course 'never saw so affecting an object'. The dying woman is surrounded by family and friends adopting exaggeratedly emotional poses or behaving in other ridiculous ways: 'Sir William is constantly at her bedside. The only repose he takes is on the Sopha in the Drawing room, where for five minutes every fortnight he remains in an imperfect Slumber, starting up every Moment and exclaiming "Oh! Melissa, Ah! Melissa"...'.
And the doctor is no help - he does nothing but make puns!
The narrator herself is 'usually at the fire cooking some little delicacy for the unhappy invalid – Perhaps hashing up the remains of an old Duck, toasting some cheese or making a Curry...'.
The second piece, The generous Curate, is sub-titled 'a moral tale, setting forth the Advantages of being Generous and a Curate', but of course it is nothing of the kind. It is a deliberately inconsequential little tale with an abrupt end. A poor Warwickshire clergyman has six children. The eldest son joins the Navy and sends home from Newfoundland to his family 'a large Newfoundland Dog every month'! The second son is adopted by a curate who cannot afford to educate him. At the age of 18, the lad's greatest accomplishments are to throw stones at ducks or put bricks in the curate's bed, but the curate regards 'these innocent efforts at wit' as 'the effects of a lively imagination'.