The Juvenilia Of Jane Austen And Charlotte Brontë, by Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë
Given the fame of Jane Austen’s writings as well as Jane Eyre, it is little surprise that the childhood works of the authors (hereafter abbreviated as JA and CB so that I don’t have to continually copy out the umlaut on Charlotte’s last name) have been collected here so that readers can trace the development of both authors from their earliest assays at writing to their mature work. The editor finds both similarities as well as differences in the path the two authors took, although I am (unsurprisingly) far more familiar with Austen’s writings personally . For the most part, reading both of the authors’ childhood work is at least somewhat annoying, for although I prefer JA’s work, even CB’s work has its charms and one can see that the path they took as young writers honing their craft demonstrated the sort of writers they would become. The practice that they took, in short, paved the way for their characteristic development as writers, and that is something useful for us to remember in our own reflection about the early writings we did where we mastered writing and demonstrated our emergent worldview.
The book as a whole is a bit more than 350 pages and is divided fairly equally into the writings of both JA and CB. JA’s juvenilia, or at least most of it, takes up the first part of the book. Her manuscripts are divided into the three volumes as they were in her writing and most of her efforts are included, excepting her history of England (greatly entertaining, but not a work of fiction) as well as Lesley Castle and Evelyn. In JA’s writing, we see a great deal of wit and toughness of character and witness the author’s growing mastery of characterization and the importance she places on characterization. We also see, especially in such works as Love and Friendship, The Three Sisters, and especially Catharine, we witness characters who are capable of growth and depth and a high degree of dissatisfaction that JA has with the shortcomings of the world and women’s place in it. Likewise, CB’s work demonstrates growth and increasing maturity as she deals with a romantic epic in true Victorian fashion, dealing with passions and love triangles and increasing moral complexity, which was to shape CB’s adult works as well, and we even see a farewell to Angria that marks a clear break between her juvenilia and her mature work.
It is interesting to see the editor’s work with the two authors. JA’s work, being witty and far less verbose, is treated with a very light editorial hand and is left more or less in place with brackets noting the author’s own corrections to her manuscript. On the other hand, as CB’s writing is rather diffuse in true Victorian fashion, there is a large amount of lopping and cropping to keep the text in line. Austen’s writing ends up being slightly more than half of the material, but CB’s writing is not short-changed and her poetry as well as the creaking, even epic plot with numerous resurrections of her Angria series of novels is treated with considerable respect. Both of these collections of juvenile works are indeed well worth reading, especially if you like the adult novels of both authors, which have become staples of classic literature and read by generations of readers. As is the case generally with Penguin Classics, this book is priced to sell and full of material that should be enjoyable to its target audience of readers of classic fiction. There is much to appreciate here in the childhood works of both authors as they work towards maturity and depth.
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