I purposefully held off reading this edition for over a year because I knew I wanted something special for my 500th book on The Oddness of Moving Things. Tim got me the whole boxed collection of Austen’s works in December of 2015. I didn’t think it would take quite this long to get to, but with my whirlwind year at my previous job I’m not really surprised at this point. I’m reading again and I’m glad I saved this one for my 500th book!
I know others in the book blogosphere have reviewed this collection of Austen’s juvenilia and they’ve probably done it better. I’m a bit blinded by Austen because I’m such a fan boy (read this or just click here if you don’t believe me – or if you haven’t been around a while). I’m going to talk a bit about this work and the collection and then I’m going to have a brief bitch session about the physical book itself so fair warning.
This collection compiles Jane Austen’s juvenilia (Wikipedia link) from age 11 to 18/21ish, which she conveniently laid out in three volumes. It contains approximately 21 independent stories or collections of snippets and the epistolary novel/novella Lady Susan, which Austen wrote at 19! I both thoroughly enjoyed this collection but was also disappointed in the collection.
Even though it took me a while to get through this collection, damn vacations, I would say I enjoyed most of the work immensely. I read 95% of the end notes (COME ON PEOPLE USE FOOTNOTES THEY’RE MORE CONVENIENT) which were enlightening especially on “archaic” use of words, and the helped tie a few of the stories together. And it explained the interesting spelling choices Austen made including “freindship” instead of “friendship.”
However, what was most enjoyable about the various stories in the collection, was seeing the themes and even the behaviors of future characters that have now been immortalized in the Western canon. You could see the sauciness of Elizabeth Bennett in a few of the works, you could see the haughtiness of Emma Woodhouse, the meekness (or is it?) of Fanny Price, the naiveté of Catherine Morland, the emotionalism/lack of discretion of Marianne Dashwood and you could even see hints of the bleakness turned happiness of Anne Elliott. Having this ability to see Austen flexing her writing muscles as a youth was an incredible experience.
I also really enjoyed getting to see a more informal side of Austen. Even though these volumes were edited and created by Austen, she doesn’t have as tight a control over her authorial voice or of her characters and little bits of her own personality seep in over the pages, especially in The History of England. She really had it out for Queen Elizabeth I, which had me smiling as I read about the Tudors and the Stuarts through her eyes.
What disappointed me about this collection is that so many felt unfinished and many were unfinished. They ended with the turn of a page and it was very depressing. To have this new wealth of Austen work to enjoy is great, but to know that many will never be finished and that a few were finished by her nephew/niece, is just sad. Imagine if she had lived long enough to complete The Watsons (not included here) or to revisit Lady Susan. I forgot how incredibly funny/over-the-top this novel was and when I saw the recent film adaptation Love and Friendship, I felt like they’d taken quite a lot of liberty with Susan Vernon’s character, but re-reading it they did not.
The BIGGEST disappointing thing about this book in particular though was the physical book. It is this gorgeous cream color with pink shoes on it. The publisher for some reason, even though it’s a box set, put individual price tags on the books (top photo) which when removed tore off some of the pink and left a dark spot. In addition as I read the book more and more of the pink shoes began to wear off (bottom two photos).
I did darken the first book to show the dark spot, my phone wasn’t really picking it up. It’s a shame really as they’re such a beautiful set and have such fascinating information included in the books, but I’m not sure I’ll read the others because I don’t want them to degrade like this.
Recommendation: I probably wouldn’t buy this set because of the wear and tear issue. That being said, this is a worthwhile read for any Austen lover. There are so many insights into her future beloved characters that you can’t help but smile randomly throughout the various stories. I only wish there were additional longer pieces and that we knew how Austen would’ve completed those she left incomplete. I definitely feel like I’ll need to read an Austen novel soon as I’ve only read fan-fiction for some time now and it’s always worth going back to the source, like this.