By Deborah Yaffe, Mar 5 2015 02:00PM
Jane Austen’s juvenilia, the clever and hilarious short pieces she wrote between the ages of roughly eleven and eighteen, are far less well-known than her six mature masterpieces. But they’re well worth a read . . . and especially when that read costs about $1.22.
Or so the great British public seems to have concluded: according to the Guardian newspaper, a selection of Austen’s juvenilia, priced at 80 pence as part of a Penguin anniversary promotion, is the second-highest seller among the eighty Little Black Classics titles on offer, coming in right behind The Communist Manifesto.
(Let other pens dwell on the irony of Marx and Engels’ clarion call to the workers of the world barely edging out stories by a sharp-eyed chronicler of the leisured classes.)
With the aid of Amazon’s Look Inside the Book feature, I’ve determined that the Penguin edition, titled The Beautifull Cassandra, includes six items of Austen juvenilia: three stories, including the titular one, from Volume the First; and three comic letters from Volume the Second’s “Collection of Letters” and “Scraps.”
Austen’s juvenilia are vastly entertaining satires of the sentimental stories of her day, and her targets have barely dated, as any reader of romance novels can attest. I’m especially partial to a line from “Jack and Alice,” one of the stories in the Penguin volume, describing a protagonist so alluring that he practically begs for one of those cheesy, shirt-unbuttoned-to-the-navel covers: “Charles Adams was an amiable, accomplished and bewitching young Man; of so dazzling a beauty that none but Eagles could look him in the face.”
I love that Austen's juvenilia is having a moment, what with the Love & Freindship/Lady Susan movie, the publication of the facsimile of Austen's three handwritten books of juvenilia, and now the success of this little book. I think my favorite bit is from Love & Freindship, when Sophia gives her dying warning against fainting fits: 'Run mad as often as you chuse; but do not faint -'
Ah, yes -- words to live by! Love & Freindship (the JA version, not the Whit Stillman version, though I'm looking forward to that movie) is priceless from beginning to end.