BOOK REVIEWS
Edited by Inger Sigrun Brodey


Austen for All Ages

Catharine, or The Bower
by Jane Austen.
Edited by Juliet McMaster and others.
Juvenilia Press, 1996. xvi + 65 pages.
8 B/W illustrations. Paperback $7.00.

A Collection of letters
by Jane Austen.
Edited by Juliet McMaster and others.
Juvenilia Press, 1998. xix + 44 pages.
9 B/W illustrations. Paperback $8.00.

Henry and Eliza
by Jane Austen.
Edited by Karen L. Hartnick and others.
Juvenilia Press, 1997. xix + 23 pages.
9 B/W illustrations. Paperback $7.00.

Lesley Castle
by Jane Austen.
Edited by Jan Fergus and others.
Juvenilia Press, 1998. xx + 48 pages.
22 B/W illustrations. Paperback $8.00.

Love & Freindship
by Jane Austen.
Edited by Juliet McMaster and others.
Juvenilia Press, 1997. xii + 47 pages.
12 B/W illustrations. Paperback $7.00.

Reviewed by Jacqueline Reid-Walsh with Krista Walsh.

Virginia Woolf imagined the teenage Austen as "laughing in her corner of the world," and this spirit of intelligent laughter permeates the Juvenilia Press editions of Jane Austen's early writings. Juliet McMaster's innovative idea of combining scholarship with pedagogy through involving students in the editing of juvenile works by well-known authors has to date produced 16 volumes, of which half are devoted to Austen. Although women writers are not the express "province" of the project, at present most of the volumes are by women writers ranging from the 18th century to the 20th, including Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, and Margaret Atwood.

In the spirit of Dr. Johnson's common reader, the volumes are intended for a general audience, and would appeal to both a young adult and adult readership. The editorial material is succinct and thorough. In terms of scholarship, all editors consult Austen's manuscript notebooks, and most volumes include new material. Yet, the editorial apparatus is presented in such a way that readers impatient to read the stories can jump directly to the text. The accessibility is enhanced by the playful appearance of the slim volumes with their brightly- colored covers that feature a key comic scene drawn in pen and ink.

Inside, the volumes are "user friendly": all possess a good-sized font, clear type, appropriate and witty illustrations, and wide margins. A young reader can gain a sense of each fiction by looking solely at the cartoon-like illustrations and reading the captions. For example, the drawings of Laura and Sophia in Love and Freindship running mad and/or fainting is a favourite of my twelve-year-old daughter. As for myself, I used the margins almost as a workbook, jotting down notes besides the many particularly funny or evocative passages.

One volume expressly invites reader participation: Catharine, or The Bower includes not only a quiz on possible endings, and the editors' answers, but clean pages for the readers' last word on a possible ending. While the quiz is reminiscent of JASNA conferences, inviting reader participation in the construction of the plot is actually a time-honored technique employed by Samuel Richardson in writing his novels. It also recalls strategies used in present-day interactive books aimed at a youth market where the reader can "solve a mystery."

If the volumes are read sequentially in the chronological order of composition, the books provide an insight into Austen's development as a novelist, The differences between an early story such as Henry and Eliza, composed when she was about 13, and Catharine, or The Bower, composed when she was 16, are obvious in terms of the latter's sophistication of technique, yet always the wit and intelligence of Austen's mind is evident. Throughout, the conventions of 18th-century fiction, both narrative and epistolary, are treated as playthings to be manipulated in different ways. Austen's favorite rhetorical strategy is that of burlesque reductionism, so in A Collection of Letters there are heroines being carefully educated to enter a "society" which consists only of one family. At the same time, we recall that Fanny Price's first social engagement is a small party as well. By Catharine, or The Bower Austen is providing inside views of a heroine's thoughts, and there is a rudimentary "self-recognition" scene when Catharine realizes her folly at being beguiled by the charming Edward Stanley. Her stern, self-addressed lecture can be seen as a precursor of later internal monologues by heroines such as Elizabeth and Emma.

 Reading these little volumes through, savoring the illustrated texts, and consulting the notes and editorial commentary would provide sufficient material for a short course on Austen. Moreover, due to the mode of presentation, the joy of the engagement would make the exercise seem not work but play.


Jacqueline Reid-Walsh teaches Women's Studies at McGill University, Montreal and is a Co-coordinator of the Region. Krista Walsh is in grade seven at Villa Maria High School.

JASNA News v. 15, no. 2, Summer 1999

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