the violent jane austen

Cb1501ea-b777-11e4_1130088hPaula Byrne at the Times Literary Supplement:

Re-reading the youthful writings, one is struck again and again by the violence. A group of characters threaten murder by dagger, which shall be “steeped in your hearts blood”. A sister poisons another sister and is “speedily raised to the gallows” for her perfidy. A child bites off her mother’s fingers. There is also notable violence against the self. One young heroine inadvertently enters into an engagement with two gentlemen in the space of a single evening and kills herself by plunging into the river. Another is addicted “to the bottle”, and drinks herself half to death. In “Love and Freindship”, the two heroines, indulging in a bout of sensibility, are momentarily distracted by a road accident. They see “Two Gentlemen most elegantly attired but weltering in their blood”. When the heroines discover that the gentlemen are in fact their husbands, they respond like characters in a sentimental novel: “Sophia shrieked and fainted on the Ground – I ran instantly mad”. Sophia faints for so long that she catches cold, develops a fever and dies. Her final advice is not to faint but to run mad: “Beware of swoons, dear Laura . . . . A frenzy fit is not one quarter so pernicious; it is an exercise to the Body and if not too violent, is I dare say conducive to Health in its consequence”.

Critics have long seen “Love and Freindship” as an embryo version of Sense and Sensibility. Both works, of course, are attacks on the novel of sensibility. Austen’s first published novel establishes the type of novelist she is not.

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