How we came to wonder about Jane Austen’s slapstick

austenFirst thing in the morning, the Core office checks Arts & Letters Daily, a site run by The Chronicle of Higher Education where, each work day, links are posted to some of the best essays, reviews and articles from the worlds of criticism and scholarship. It is, in other words, our one-stop shopping destination for the best that’s been printed recently in all those publications we wish we had the time to read.

So, this morning like most mornings, we dial over to; and what do we find? The following expression of editorial puzzlement:

The Monty Pythonesque slapstick of… Jane Austen? Her juvenilia &emdash; not intended for the public &emdash; was full of crude practical jokes >>

Jane Austen? Crude practical jokes? This we must see. For there comes a moment when every reader of Austen &emdash; even the fans, and we are fans &emdash; when one tires of comedy of manners, and wit, and churning feelings, and one begins to hunger for something bluer and bawdier. So: we click the link and are taken to a piece by Paula Byrne on the website of the Times Literary Supplement, reviewing several new volumes of the writings of the younger Austen. An excerpt:

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.

Fingers! Bitten off! By a child! Sign. Us. Up. Why didn’t Prof. Nelson mention this kind of Austenian atrocity in her recent lecture on Pride & Prejudice, we wonder? We feel deprived and, frankly, let down. (That lecture, by the way, can be found on YouTube: Part 1, Part 2.)

In any case: we hope you enjoy the review in its entirety (and remember that the Core office has a TLS subscription, so come by any time to peruse the hard copy), and that you might begin to make ALDaily part of your daily habits as a reader.

(Image above: Illustration by Joan Hassell for “Love and Friendship”, from the Folio Society edition. Source: TLS.)

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