Monday, 14 June 2010

Catherine and Other Writings by Jane Austen

Catherine and Other Writings is a collection of Jane Austen’s juvenilia. All of the works are short stories, and some even have the feel of a literary ditty so to speak, but reading them is like watching Jane Austen grow up. You can see how she plays with ideas and character constellations as she seeks to entertain her family while creating her own outlet for her social criticisms. You she how she grows as a writer and person as her writing, and her person, become more mature, her education becomes more well-rounded and she begins to form thoughts and opinions of her own. She grows from being a girl who likes to write, to the full-fledged novelist who is still loved nearly 200 years later.

Many of the pieces were written to entertain her family who she is uses, even if unconsciously, her family as a testing ground for her future audience. If they like what she writes, others will too, so she can feel free to try out many different themes, pairings and wit without publically embarrassing herself. This tells her that she feels secure enough in her home environment to take such risks, which in turn leads us to realize how difficult things must have been for her after her father died and their life became less secure in general. She was no longer in a position which allowed her to test and try, but in one where she became increasingly more interested in selling her works as a means of support. Would she have written as much or as well had she not been placed in those circumstances? I tend to think she might not have considering how time itself has changed. In today’s society, a young woman without means would simply, even be expected, go to work even if that meant flipping hamburgers, or alternatively rely on social welfare. Jane did not have either option in her day, especially as the only social welfare available would have had to come from family, meaning her brothers, who were for the most part still trying to establish a living for themselves and hadn’t enough to support Jane as well. Young women of her class also had few options to earn money, none of which were pleasant. Thus, the easiest and most agreeable way for Jane to earn a living was for her to make her hobby into a career. The added pressure must have contributed to her focus and prolificacy.

Even if you don’t find the stories themselves terribly interesting, this collection is worth a read for anyone who is truly interested in Jane Austen. It provides valuable insights into her character and development which greatly influence her future life. I’m not going to rate this one as a read because that would be virtually impossible since the stories themselves are much less important than what they tell us about the author. I will, however, give Jane a 5 out of 5 for being a woman dedicated to voicing her criticisms and values in a time when women were considered inconsequential in any metier outside of the domesticity of home. Although she never actively recommend the emancipation or equality of women, simply becoming a successful and well loved writer who voiced her opinions through her works in the early 19th century ultimately helped to open up options for women at a future date. Sometimes the softly, softly approach can be just as valuable as a more aggressive stance.

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