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This essay argues that reading works from Jane Austen’s juvenilia alongside Mansfield Park reveals the author’s decades-long engagement in a series of formal experiments traditionally associated with Menippean satire, a strategy she uses to reveal the oppressive nature of British paternalism while still aligning with societal expectations for women authors. “Henry and Eliza” and “Evelyn” lampoon and critique traditional tropes of the popular novel and expose the landed gentry’s and the aristocracy’s proto-capitalist abuses of women, workers, and the poor. Longer (and later) works, “Catharine, or the Bower” and Mansfield Park, expand this emphasis to register anxieties about Britain’s imperial violence at home and abroad. The essay ultimately suggests that Austen’s notoriously tonally opaque novel targets the Evangelical novel as the form most suitable to expose broader British ambivalence toward abolition and emancipation.
This chapter examines recurring instances in the Brontë juvenilia where the siblings intervene in their narratives as omnipotent author-gods, called the ‘Chief Genii’, who reshape the imaginary world by writing it. I trace this narrative and play practice back to its roots in the pseudo-Oriental tales of The Arabian Nights and James Ridley, but also argue for its wider significance to the literary-theoretical metaphor (employed by writers from Gustave Flaubert to Roland Barthes) of the author as divine creator of the narrative reality. In counterpoint to existing scholarship which tend to emphasise generic differences between the juvenilia and Brontë’s mature work, I offer a reading of The Professor as a continuation of the Genii authorship within the realist novel, and thereby defend Brontë’s reputation as an author of vicarious ‘wish-fulfilment’. Brontë provides a starting case for this book’s larger argument about the alternative uses of the novel as a fictional reality, rather than a historical representation, an aesthetic work, or an ethical parable.
This initial chapter establishes virtual play as a historical practice, and draws its parallel with eighteenth- and nineteenth-century developments in novel fictionality. It introduces the concept of paracosmic play or worldplay – a form of modern make-believe documented in the juvenilia and biographical archives of Thomas De Quincey, Anna Jameson, Hartley Coleridge, Thomas Malkin, Charlotte Brontë, and Anthony Trollope – as the clearest manifestation of this practice. I review the social scientific work on this phenomenon, track its origins through the history of utopian fiction, and propose its formal significance and theoretical affinities to the nineteenth-century novel. This chapter frames and contextualises the historical argument of the book: that novel fiction comes of age by distinguishing the actual from the virtual.
This introduction traces the critical reception of Jane Austen’s fiction in terms of the economy of her writing, especially as promoted by George Henry Lewes in the nineteenth century. The chapter examines how Austen often commented on her selection of material, and the interest it might generate, when she wrote her private letters and it points to the relevance of this self-consciousness for her fiction. The chapter goes on to examine young Jane Austen’s fascination with constricted writing spaces as she composed her juvenilia and her similar interest in physically constricted domestic spaces, an interest that continued into her published novels. The chapter argues that the radically contracted spaces of the juvenilia are foundational for Austen’s later writing.
Chapter 3 argues that Jane Austen revisited themes from her juvenilia in her published novels, especially Sense and Sensibility (1811) and Mansfield Park (1814), both of which were also lightly revised after initial publication in response to readers and reviewers. They display Austen’s concern with improving her texts and using accurate technical language. Austen’s cautionary stance on “sensibility,” especially female sensibility, within Sense and Sensibility was first developed within her juvenilia and functions as a critique of late eighteenth-century sentimental tropes. Austen’s ambiguous stance regarding the wild women of Mansfield Park, especially when interpreted through the lens of her earlier writings, can be read as an implicit criticism of the systems of female education and marriage that produce their immoral behavior. The chapter’s conclusion shows the culmination of Austen’s masterful revision practices in The Watsons (c.1803) and Persuasion (1817), which are linked to clear stylistic improvements and keen social commentary on the condition of women.
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