Saturday, 15 February 2014

Jane Austen - Volume the First

Probably the best thing that has happened to me while working at the Bodleian Library - besides meeting some very good friends - happened in my first week.  I got to hold a letter written by Jane Austen.  WRITTEN BY HER HAND AND HELD BY HER HAND AND MAYBE BY BOTH HER HANDS. Ahem.


Well, now the Bodleian have published a book which isn't too far away from that.  I imagine many of you are familiar with Jane Austen's Volume the First - one of the books in which she transcribed her juvenilia, which she wrote between the ages of twelve and fifteen.  It contains all sorts of playlets, verse, and stories which (along with the two other volumes of her juvenilia) reveal an author who was self-confident and accomplished at an astonishingly early age.

I don't think her juvenilia has all too obvious a connection with the style and genre of her novels (I don't know whether experts agree with that) - Volume the First etc. have rather more verve and excitable, surreal silliness than you'll find elsewhere.  In that way, it is perhaps closer to the books she was reading at the time than the form she made her own.



Even if you've already read the juvenilia, though, you won't have anything like this edition on your shelves.  This is a facsimile edition - which means I can flip through and see Jane Austen's handwriting.  It isn't her teenage handwriting (those manuscripts were lost or destroyed) but it's the pieces she transcribed later.  And it's her flipping handwriting.  It's a very exciting thing to have on my bookcase. Perhaps it's just for Austen fanatics - but I suspect there are a few of those among you.

More info here...

10 comments:

  1. Ooooooh, Simon! When are you bringing it home? I mean, when can we next enjoy the pleasure of your company? (cough)

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    1. I'll bring it next time I come home :)

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  2. Beautiful! I would love edition. I love my restored version of the Ariel poems because it has Plath's handwriting and corrections. Fascinating stuff!

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  3. OH. MY. GOSH!!! You held one of her letters?!?!? I'm in shock over here! You actually held one! Ok, I'm just... wow!

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    1. I KNOW!! It was quite an emotional moment...

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  4. I work in archives, and I've never gotten to hold anything that thrilling! I have a serious case of envy over here. I hope someday just to see one of her letters - let alone handle it.

    I love the Juvenalia, I think they're hilarious. I will be very tempted by this book.

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    1. I was very lucky!
      Her early stuff is great fun, isn't it? I still love her humorous side over her poignant side.

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  5. Simon, please take this question in the spirit I intend as it may come across as churlish (or some such word that I cannot quite capture at the moment).

    Please tell me why it is particularly interesting to see Austen's handwriting (unless you are searching for transcription errors and/or corrections of course)? I have never understood this aspect per se nor would holding her original MS hold any particular thrill for me. I hasten to say that I would feel the same about the writing of James Clerk Maxwell or Richard Feyman. Is it because you are interested in the process of writing (i.e. you wish to see how many crossings out she made for example)? I've always been genuinely puzzled by this enthusiasm for the "original" work of an author; very occasionally I have looked at the original score for a piece of music, but only where I have suspected a transcription error on the part of a later publisher.

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    1. Sorry it's taken me an age to reply to this, Peter - I'll do my best to explain. Since it's an emotional response, rather than a logical or educational one, I suppose I can't really explain it - except in the fuzziness that it makes me feel closer to the author. The researcher part of me would be interested in seeing the development of a work etc., but the reader in me thrills to the idea of being closer to the process and to the creator, somehow.

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