Wishing the Juvenilia Away
Jane Austen's Advice to Caroline
Keywords:Jane Austen, Juvenilia, Caroline Austen, Memoirs
Caroline Austen wrote in 1867 that her aunt Jane, at the end of her life, had discouraged her from writing until she was 16, and had said that she herself wished that she had waited until she was older. She advised Caroline to spend her teenage years reading, rather than writing (“My Aunt Jane Austen”, Memoir ed. Kathryn Sutherland, 174). It is likely that Volumes the First, the Second and the Third of her teenage writings date from between 1787 and 1793, the years when Austen was aged between eleven and fifteen (Teenage Writings, ed. Kathryn Sutherland).
Caroline was twelve when Austen died in 1817. Austen did not destroy the volumes and they were inherited by Cassandra who bequeathed them in turn to various male relatives, including Caroline’s brother James Edward, who received Volume the Third. These works are now admired for their vivacious audacity, and the idea that Austen wished that she had not written these brilliant and outrageous fragments is unsettling to the twenty-first century reader. We value them for many reasons: for the evidence of Austen’s experiments with contemporary literary forms, for the insight they provide into the teenage Austen’s attitudes and tastes, and for their sheer hilarity. We can also see, in the juvenilia, the mature Austen learning her craft. However, it is possible that she might, in later life, have looked back on the flagrant amorality of stories like “Jack and Alice” and “The Beautifull Cassandra” with mixed feelings, particularly, perhaps, as she faced her imminent death.
In this paper I will suggest some reasons for her advice to her niece, in the context of writing advice she gave to her other young relatives and various circumstances of her later life.
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