Love and Freindship

In honour of the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice, here is an excerpt from Love and Freindship (1790), a wicked parody of the romantic novel from Jane Austen’s juvenilia. Laura is writing to her friend’s daughter, Marianne, in order to instruct her in the ways of the world.

Letter 4th

Our neighbourhood was small, for it consisted only of your Mother. She may probably have already told you that being left by her Parents in indigent Circumstances she had retired into Wales on eoconomical motives. There it was our freindship first commenced. Isobel was then one and twenty. Tho’ pleasing both in her Person and Manners (between ourselves) she never possessed the hundredth part of my Beauty or Accomplishments. Isabel had seen the World. She had passed 2 Years at one of the first Boarding-schools in London; had spent a fortnight in Bath and had supped one night in Southampton.

“Beware my Laura (she would often say) Beware of the insipid Vanities and idle Dissipations of the Metropolis of England; Beware of the unmeaning Luxuries of Bath and of the stinking fish of Southampton.”

“Alas! (exclaimed I) how am I to avoid those evils I shall never be exposed to? What probability is there of my ever tasting the Dissipations of London, the Luxuries of Bath, or the stinking Fish of Southampton? I who am doomed to waste my Days of Youth and Beauty in an humble Cottage in the Vale of Uske.”

Ah! little did I then think I was ordained so soon to quit that humble Cottage for the Deceitfull Pleasures of the World. Adeiu Laura.

Letter 5th

One Evening in December as my Father, my Mother and myself, were arranged in social converse round our Fireside, we were on a sudden greatly astonished, by hearing a violent knocking on the outward door of our rustic Cot.

My Father started—”What noise is that,” (said he.) “It sounds like a loud rapping at the door”—(replied my Mother.) “it does indeed.” (cried I.) “I am of your opinion; (said my Father) it certainly does appear to proceed from some uncommon violence exerted against our unoffending door.” “Yes (exclaimed I) I cannot help thinking it must be somebody who knocks for admittance.”

“That is another point (replied he;) We must not pretend to determine on what motive the person may knock—tho’ that someone DOES rap at the door, I am partly convinced.”

Here, a 2d tremendous rap interrupted my Father in his speech, and somewhat alarmed my Mother and me.

“Had we better not go and see who it is? (said she) the servants are out.” “I think we had.” (replied I.) “Certainly, (added my Father) by all means.” “Shall we go now?” (said my Mother,) “The sooner the better.” (answered he.) “Oh! let no time be lost” (cried I.)

A third more violent Rap than ever again assaulted our ears. “I am certain there is somebody knocking at the Door.” (said my Mother.) “I think there must,” (replied my Father) “I fancy the servants are returned; (said I) I think I hear Mary going to the Door.” “I’m glad of it (cried my Father) for I long to know who it is.”

I was right in my conjecture; for Mary instantly entering the Room, informed us that a young Gentleman and his Servant were at the door, who had lossed their way, were very cold and begged leave to warm themselves by our fire.

“Won’t you admit them?” (said I.) “You have no objection, my Dear?” (said my Father.) “None in the World.” (replied my Mother.)

Mary, without waiting for any further commands immediately left the room and quickly returned introducing the most beauteous and amiable Youth, I had ever beheld. The servant she kept to herself.

My natural sensibility had already been greatly affected by the sufferings of the unfortunate stranger and no sooner did I first behold him, than I felt that on him the happiness or Misery of my future Life must depend. Adeiu Laura.

Letter 6th

The noble Youth informed us that his name was Lindsay—for particular reasons however I shall conceal it under that of Talbot. He told us that he was the son of an English Baronet, that his Mother had been for many years no more and that he had a Sister of the middle size. “My Father (he continued) is a mean and mercenary wretch—it is only to such particular freinds as this Dear Party that I would thus betray his failings. Your Virtues my amiable Polydore (addressing himself to my father) yours Dear Claudia and yours my Charming Laura call on me to repose in you, my confidence.” We bowed. “My Father seduced by the false glare of Fortune and the Deluding Pomp of Title, insisted on my giving my hand to Lady Dorothea. No never exclaimed I. Lady Dorothea is lovely and Engaging; I prefer no woman to her; but know Sir, that I scorn to marry her in compliance with your Wishes. No! Never shall it be said that I obliged my Father.”

We all admired the noble Manliness of his reply. He continued.

“Sir Edward was surprised; he had perhaps little expected to meet with so spirited an opposition to his will. “Where, Edward in the name of wonder (said he) did you pick up this unmeaning gibberish? You have been studying Novels I suspect.” I scorned to answer: it would have been beneath my dignity. I mounted my Horse and followed by my faithful William set forth for my Aunts.”

“My Father’s house is situated in Bedfordshire, my Aunt’s in Middlesex, and tho’ I flatter myself with being a tolerable proficient in Geography, I know not how it happened, but I found myself entering this beautifull Vale which I find is in South Wales, when I had expected to have reached my Aunts.”

“After having wandered some time on the Banks of the Uske without knowing which way to go, I began to lament my cruel Destiny in the bitterest and most pathetic Manner. It was now perfectly dark, not a single star was there to direct my steps, and I know not what might have befallen me had I not at length discerned thro’ the solemn Gloom that surrounded me a distant light, which as I approached it, I discovered to be the chearfull Blaze of your fire. Impelled by the combination of Misfortunes under which I laboured, namely Fear, Cold and Hunger I hesitated not to ask admittance which at length I have gained; and now my Adorable Laura (continued he taking my Hand) when may I hope to receive that reward of all the painfull sufferings I have undergone during the course of my attachment to you, to which I have ever aspired. Oh! when will you reward me with Yourself?”

“This instant, Dear and Amiable Edward.” (replied I.). We were immediately united by my Father, who tho’ he had never taken orders had been bred to the Church. Adeiu Laura.

And this only the beginning…See Love and Freindship for the full text.

Response to The Bright Old Oak

The Bright Old Oak wrote on July 18 about Good classics gone bad: the erotic twist one can live without. The title gives the author’s stance in a nutshell. I wanted to give a more considered response than is possible in a comments box.

I have no doubt the Total E-Bound Publishing version of Pride and Prejudice, co-authored by Amy Armstrong, will be every bit as dire in its way as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, with horrific input from Seth Grahame-Smith. I had the displeasure of reading it once. I don’t object to mash-ups on principle, but it’s a pitiful embarrassment for the co-authors. In this case, Jane Austen is a brilliant, witty, allusive writer and the co-authors are not.

The Bright Old Oak poses the question of whether it’s right to sex up literary classics.  There are certainly literary classics from the Georgian period which take great delight in a bit of rumpy-pumpy. Tom JonesFanny Hill, and Roderick Random spring fully erect to mind – picaresque novels that embody the spirit of a rumbustious age. The fires were still burning high in the Regency, contained in rather more elegant fireplaces. Henry Fielding, John Cleland, and Tobias Smollett would have marvelled at the restraint. Had they known of the long night of Victorian prudery, they would have been in despair.

Jane Austen is every bit as satirical as the Georgian writers. Any one doubting this should read her juvenilia, particularly Love and Freindship (sic), in which she gleefully parodies the conventions of the romantic novel. Austen wields a wicked pen, perfectly expressed in the opening line of Pride and Prejudice: It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. Beneath the wit lies a sober recognition of the economic consequences of spinsterhood. Mrs Bennet may be portrayed as a comic monster, but most mothers in her position would want their daughters to get married as richly and quickly as possible.

So beneath the elegant restraint of Austen’s writing lies the same bubbling cauldron of sexual desire and economic reality. Are we to believe that Darcy and Elizabeth will live as brother and sister, or that the primary purpose of marriage is not to produce heirs who will inherit the family estate?

My answer to Bright Old Oak’s question is yes, I think it’s fine to sex up literary classics because they deal with life in all its messy complications. The caveat is, can it be done well? Not very often, unfortunately. Also unfortunate is the corollary – classic literature is often neutered to remove sexual content – a process made infamous by Thomas Bowdler. More honest to ban books. If we shouldn’t mess with classic literature, then that includes censorship as much as adding new material or writing alternative versions of the text.

All or nothing. Either keep literary classics  pristine or let them get down and dirty in popular culture. If those in power can censor literature, then the likes of Amy Armstrong, Seth Grahame-Smith should be able to add sex and zombies to Pride and Prejudice. I’m on the side of an evolving literature, even when it takes readers into realms the authors never considered. The best defence against crap is ridicule, but genuinely innovative re-interpretations are the life-blood of an evolving imagination.

My thanks to The Bright Old Oak for provoking this divagation. Please visit the blog.

Website of the Week (1/1/153 AE): Jane Austen Information Page

The Jane Austen Information Page is a compendious website containing everything you might want to know about Jane Austen, her world, works and adaptations.  It is also a determinedly old-fashioned site, a list of HTML pages with no bells, whistles or even images.  It looks like a throwback to the 1990s.

And I love it.  Why?  Because it’s like a huge second-hand bookshop, full of dimly lit stacks where you never know what you’ll find.  You can get down and dirty here, sitting on the floor and browsing to your heart’s content, without some officious salesperson inquiring if they can help you find something.

For comparison, take a look at the Jane Austen Society of the United Kingdom.  A great deal of well-organized information, in a thoroughly tasteful, even beautiful, website.  In bookshop terms, a Waterstones.  But so utterly genteel.  I know where I’d rather be.  In fairness, they do link to the Jane Austen Information Page for e-texts of the novels.

I thought about summarizing the good things you can find on the Jane Austen Information Page (usually referred to as Pemberley from the url) but laziness won.  And the genuine desire not to deny you the pleasure of finding out for yourself.

I’ve spent many happy hours on this website.  I hope you enjoy it every bit as much.