First of all, I can’t tell you how excited I am to see the movie adaptation of Jane Austen’s Love and Freindship. If it is playing in a city near you, please go see it. It may come to a movie theater near me in 6 months if it does at all, so hopefully it goes to DVD or Netflix. Although, does it bother anyone else that “Friendship” is spelled correctly in the movie title? Usually, a spelling correction would bring me extreme delight, but here, it rubs me slightly the wrong way. While I continue to turn that over in my mind, I’ll share with you my thoughts and impressions of the written work.
These letters were written by Jane Austen, as Sarah S.G. Frantz introduces, as forms of entertainment for family, when Jane was “in her middle teenage years,” or more specifically, around 17 years old. If you’re a lover of Jane Austen, you will adore this collection. And, if you haven’t yet read Jane Austen, this is an excellent place to start. I will happily welcome you to, as Frantz writes, “This Austen-mania.”
The first part of this collection, “Love and Freindship,” is an almost sole account of “the Misfortunes and Adventures of” the character Laura’s life. She is writing, at the request of a friend, to the friend’s daughter, who is coming into society as a young woman. Laura’s letters are meant to be a form of advice, to be wary of “the determined Perseverance of disagreeable Lovers and the cruel Persecutions of obstinate Fathers.” The genius of these letters, the genius of Jane Austen, more specifically, is the use, no doubt purposely, of exaggeration and parody.
Furthermore, those devices are implemented in a way that makes use of the flowery language of romance novels and fiction of the 18th century, but are just a step or two beyond what would be expected – not too overly exaggerated – to make the story whimsical and a little more comical. For instance, the moment Laura meets a new friend, Sophia: “She was all sensibility and Feeling. We flew into each others arms and after having exchanged vows of mutual Freindship for the rest of our Lives, instantly unfolded to each other the most inward secrets of our Hearts–.” One reason I have vowed to love Jane Austen forever is because these types of exaggerations don’t make my eyes roll, they make me laugh.
“Lesley Castle: An Unfinished Novel in Letters” comes next, and is a series of letters between a Miss Margaret Lesley (who resides in Lesley Castle) and Miss Charlotte Lutterell, as well as Miss Lutterell and Mrs. Marlowe. Scandal is the subject here: Miss Lesley’s sister-in-law has run off leaving her husband and child behind. Frantz draws an interesting connection between this and scandalous elopements in Austen’s published novels: although morality and sin are in question, Austen chose to make everything just fine for the woman who has run off in “Lesley Castle,” rather than have her damaging choice be punished by condemnation. This choice makes these letters slightly more entertaining; there isn’t a rigid lesson to be learned (running off and eloping against your family’s wishes is wrong), just entertainment to be enjoyed (she did run off and marry, but they have since separated and are living normal lives as friends).
“The History of England” is the most blatantly entertaining, as Jane Austen tells us (her family) what really needs to be known about the rulers and important individuals of England’s history. For example, she explains, “During [Henry the 5th’s] reign, Lord Cobham was burnt alive, but I forget what for,” and offers sound advice like “One of Edward [the 4th’s] Mistresses was Jane Shore, who has had a play written about her, but it is a tragedy and therefore not worth reading.” She skips details she assumes are already well documented in history books and lessons, and for the better; we get to know interesting events (burned alive?!) what these people were really like, and get to know who Jane Austen favors: “…my principal reason for undertaking the ‘History of England’ being to prove the innocence of the Queen of Scotland…and to abuse Elizabeth.” Brilliant!
The final section, “A Collection of Letters,” is dedicated to Jane Austen’s cousin, a Miss Cooper, and its happy ending comes beyond the words spoken and written down; Henrietta’s Uncle and Aunt must die (she is their ward) in order for her to be advantaged by their inheritance which will make her life with her suitor and love, Musgrove, much more comfortable. “Words cannot express how happy your letter made me; I thought I should have cried for joy, for I love you better than anybody in the World. […] Oh! My dear Musgrove you cannot think how impatiently I wait for the death of my Uncle and Aunt.” Ah, love.
The nonchalance Jane Austen entertains with, especially in this last section, makes her humor more intelligent, and more attractive because through her writing we can tell that she does not succumb to fainting on the sofa after a dreaded swoon (“Love and Freindship”), or take superfluous expectations of her time period so seriously, even though her family may have thought her scandalous creations were signs of distress or doom. It is exemplary to point out that in her published novels, her protagonists, or Bildungsroman characters are unlike those in this collection: they are rather the sister, friend, or acquaintance. And although she sticks to the time period’s lines of right and wrong, she also steps over them to form more full, moral characters who may or may not get all the attention of society around them.
So again, see the movie if you can; it’s been getting rave reviews that have filled my news and social media feeds and filled me with jealousy and longing. Also, I urge you to read or revisit Northanger Abbey. A parody of Gothic novels, it was the work that I thought of the most as I read this collection. As always, share your own thoughts below in the comments. Happy reading!
Oh! What a sweet way replied I, of declaring his Passion! To make such a couple of charming lines about me! What a pity it is that they are not in rhime!
– A Collection of Letters
Jane Austen, Love and Freindship and Other Works (New York, Barnes & Noble Inc., 2005)