Catharine, or the Bower by Jane Austen

by A Latter-day Bluestocking

Today was a great day.  I presented at a book discussion Catharine, or the Bower, an unfinished story written by Jane Austen when she was 16 years old.  It is one of only two stories contained in Volume the Third of her youthful and ebullient writings, called the Juvenilia.  Her father wrote of them “Effusions of Fancy by a Young Lady Consisting of Tales in a Style entirely new.”  Austen’s earlier Juvenilia stories are literary parody consisting of coincidences, lurid horrors, and comic situations.  They are boisterous and youthful and border the ridiculous and satirical towards the sentimental.  Despite being written by such a young person (beginning at the age of 12) the stories are chock full of theft, drunkenness, sexual indiscretion, and lewdness, found to be most shocking by the Victorians.  Her family refrained from publishing the volumes of the Juvenilia wanting to keep the reputation of the demure and devout maiden aunt pure.  They were not published until 1933 (Volume the First), 1922 (Volume the Second), and 1951 (Volume the Third).

Catharine is considered important because, albeit raw, it intimates the maturity of her later published novels.  Austen is beginning to direct her wit towards her interests of courtship, romance, and family relationships; the range and depth of her characterization, clarity of dialogue and action is emerging.  Discernible are familiar character types that will be more fleshed out in the novels:  self-centered, selfish, and empty-headed young ladies; thoughtless, idle, and seductive young gentlemen; vivacious, witty, and bright heroines, and conservative, over-protective and hypochondriac elders.  Catharine also hints at acceptable principles of behavior and class distinction characteristic of her fully developed novels.

So, yes, today was a good day.  I got to express my own “effusions of fancy” about my favorite author and am still allowed to join in next month when we will discuss A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft.  I already have this and a biography of the early feminist in my To Read list!

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