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Monday, October 10, 2016

Jane Austen: Madness Versus Dampness

Several years ago, a saleswoman in a bookstore tried to arouse my interest in Love And Freindship, a short novel by Jane Austen. But the price of the slim hardcover volume seemed steep, and the print was small, so I decided to buy one of the novels that was published during Jane Austen's lifetime instead. 

Reading Love And Freindship now, as part of an ebook collection on Kindle, I think I made the right choice. The story is structured as a series of letters, in which an older woman recounts the major experiences of her life to the daughter of a friend. This story was written by Austen in her early teens, and lacks much in the way of causality. One event happens, then another, with no real reason why one should follow another, and no later recounting of how those events occurred. This may follow the random chaos of life, but a well-crafted novel attempts to make sense out of the chaos. That's the appeal of fiction: it helps us better understand reality.

The story itself, in many ways, reminds me of a farce. Here's one little bit I found memorable. The protagonist and her friend are going here and there (for various reasons) in a horse-drawn carriage. At some stage (I forget why) they leave the carriage and are walking along the road. Then they hear a crash, and rush back along the road to the scene of an accident. There they find their husbands lying amid the wreckage of another horse-drawn carriage. While the protagonist goes mad, and runs about screaming, her friend suffers a serious of fainting spells in the damp grass. By the time the protagonist awakens from her madness, her friend has caught a cold from lying in the damp grass in the chill of the evening. They make their way to a cottage, where the protagonist nurses her friend. Before her friend dies, she extolls the protagonist's wisdom in giving way to madness instead of fainting. This, she asserts, is the best way for a young woman to handle a traumatic event. Then she dies.

Love And Freindship is wacky and hilarious. It reminds me of some of the hysterical and trivial women that populate Jane Austen's novels, such as Elizabeth Bennett's mother in Pride And Prejudice. It's easy to see that kind of character relating the high points of her life in such a fashion. I'm not sure I love it enough to have bought a bound and printed edition, but it was a pleasant diversion, and provides an insight into the young Jane Austen, as she experimented with fiction, and gradually learned her craft.

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