Jane Austen’s six novels, published toward the end of her short life, represent a body of work that is as brilliant as it is compact. Her earlier writings have routinely been dismissed as mere juvenilia, or stepping stones to mature proficiency and greatness. Austen’s first biographer described them as “childish effusions.” Was he right to do so? Can the novels be definitively separated from the unpublished works? In Jane Austen, Early and Late, Freya Johnston argues that they cannot.
Examining the three manuscript volumes in which Austen collected her earliest writings, Johnston finds that Austen’s regard and affection for them are revealed by her continuing to revisit and revise them throughout her adult life. The teenage works share the milieu and the humour of the novels, while revealing more clearly the sources and influences upon which Austen drew. Johnston upends the conventional narrative, according to which Austen discarded the satire and fantasy of her first writings in favour of the irony and realism of the novels. By demonstrating a stylistic and thematic continuity across the full range of Austen’s work, Johnston asks whether it makes sense to speak of an early and a late Austen at all.
Jane Austen, Early and Late offers a new picture of the author in all her complexity and ambiguity, and shows us that it is not necessarily true that early work yields to later, better things.
"Fans of Jane Austen will enjoy Freya Johnston’s Jane Austen, Early and Late, which examines some of the teenage writings from the author of Pride and Prejudice, many of which were, surprisingly, full of ‘gallows humour.’"—Martin Chilton, Independent
"If you know your Austen, this book is a dream."—Norma Clarke, Literary Review
"Austenites will appreciate the historical context Johnston provides. . . . Students and devotees of Austen will appreciate the light shed on a lesser-known part of her career."—Publishers Weekly
"A wonderfully expansive reimagining of the corpus. . . . The great achievement of Johnston’s book is putting us face-to-face with the writing itself: with the sheer compositional energy of Austen’s work."—Alex Woloch, Nineteenth-Century Contexts
"In a stream of perceptive and engaging close readings of Austen’s writing, the book insists on stylistic, thematic and conceptual connections not only between her juvenilia and published novels, but among all the author’s written output. . . . Johnston also weaves into her analysis a stunning array of works that likely constituted Austen’s own reading."—Michelle Levy, Review of English Studies
“Jane Austen, Early and Late is a pleasure to read from start to finish. With writing that’s clear and engaging, and a reorientation to the novelist that is positively provocative, this fine book offers a brilliant and refreshing take on Austen’s most surprising, raucous, and neglected writings. Just as importantly, Freya Johnston gives us new ways to understand Austen as an experimental writer whose lifelong commitment to revision and retelling have paved the way for our own careful rereadings of her beloved fiction.”—Devoney Looser, author of The Making of Jane Austen
“Freya Johnston’s book brilliantly illuminates the connections between Austen’s youthful writings and her published fiction. The novelist is seen afresh, more testing and experimental than ever before.”—John Mullan, author of What Matters in Jane Austen?
“On almost every page of this splendid book, one learns new things about Austen’s fictions and letters and her relationship to her literary predecessors and contemporaries. Freya Johnston is a formidably talented close reader who, in prose that is full of panache and energy, captures as few critics can the particular stylistic choices and syntactical habits that make Austen’s voice her own.”—Deidre Lynch, editor of Janeites: Austen’s Disciples and Devotees
“Jane Austen, Early and Late affirms that the juvenilia and published novels remain united in ways that no critic can put asunder.”—Janine Barchas, author of The Lost Books of Jane Austen