Frederic and Elfrida
is a short comic
romance by the young Jane Austen
. It is the first entry in Volume the First
, one of three volumes of juvenilia
that she kept in later years. She was somewhere between twelve and eighteen when she wrote it.
It is a splendid, fast-paced parody of the romantic conventions of the age, infused with her own wicked and often violent wit. For example, she says the cousins Frederic and Elfrida were so much alike that their dearest friends could barely tell them apart... except for their face, nose, eyes, and complexion. Then the families become such dear friends "that they did not scruple to kick one another out of the window on the slightest provocation." Her notion of sweet and gentle persuasion happens to include a dagger ready to be steeped in the victim's heart's blood.
This e-text was created by Cathy Dean and is taken from her website http://home.earthlink.net/~lfdean/austen. This is the first time I've tried to accommodate an e-text to E2 so I'm not sure if it'll come out right at first. (I tried to contact her to get permission to add more, as she put so much work into formatting these, but the e-mail bounced. Oh well, they're public domain and it's good to have them accessible on E2.)
Frederic and Elfrida
To Miss Lloyd
My dear Martha,
As a small testimony of the gratitude I feel for your late generosity to me in finishing my muslin Cloak, I beg leave to offer you this little production of your sincere Freind
Chapter the First
The Uncle of Elfrida was the Father of Frederic; in other words, they were first cousins by the Father's side.
Being both born in one day & both brought up at one school, it was not wonderfull that they should look on each other with something more than bare politeness. They loved with mutual sincerity but were both determined not to transgress the rules of Propriety by owning their attachment, either to the object beloved, or to any one else.
They were exceedingly handsome and so much alike, that it was not every one who knew them apart. Nay even their most intimate freinds had nothing to distinguish them by, but the shape of the face, the colour of the Eye, the length of the Nose & the difference of the complexion. Elfrida had an intimate freind to whom, being on a visit to an Aunt, she wrote the following Letter.
To Miss Drummond
I should be obliged to you, if you would buy me, during your stay with Mrs Williamson, a new & fashionable Bonnet, to suit the complexion of your
Charlotte, whose character was a willingness to oblige every one, when she returned into the Country, brought her Freind the wished-for Bonnet, & so ended this little adventure, much to the satisfaction of all parties.
On her return to Crankhumdunberry (of which sweet village her father was Rector) Charlotte was received with the greatest Joy by Frederic & Elfrida, who, after pressing her alternately to their Bosoms, proposed to her to take a walk in a Grove of Poplars which led from the Parsonage to a verdant Lawn enamelled with a variety of variegated flowers & watered by a purling Stream, brought from the Valley of Tempé by a passage under ground.
In this Grove they had scarcely remained above 9 hours, when they were suddenly agreably surprized by hearing a most delightfull voice warble the following stanza.
That Damon was in love with me
I once thought & beleiv'd
But now that he is not I see,
I fear I was deceiv'd
No sooner were the lines finished than they beheld by a turning in the Grove 2 elegant young women leaning on each other's arm, who immediately on perceiving them, took a different path & disappeared from their sight.
Chapter the Second
As Elfrida & her companions, had seen enough of them to know that they were neither the 2 Miss Greens, nor Mrs Jackson & her Daughter, they could not help expressing their surprise at their appearance; till at length recollecting, that a new family had lately taken a House not far from the Grove, they hastened home, determined to lose no time in forming an acquaintance with 2 such amiable & worthy Girls, of which family they rightly imagined them to be a part.
Agreable to such a determination, they went that very evening to pay their respects to Mrs Fitzroy & her two Daughters. On being shewn into an elegant dressing room, ornamented with festoons of artificial flowers, they were struck with the engaging Exterior & beautifull outside of Jezalinda the eldest of the young Ladies; but e'er they had been many minutes seated, the Wit & Charms which shone resplendent in the conversation of the amiable Rebecca, enchanted them so much that they all with one accord jumped up & exclaimed.
'Lovely & too charming Fair one, notwithstanding your forbidding Squint, your greazy tresses & your swelling Back, which are more frightfull than imagination can paint or pen describe, I cannot refrain from expressing my raptures, at the engaging Qualities of your Mind, which so amply atone for the Horror, with which your first appearance must ever inspire the unwary visitor.
'Your sentiments so nobly expressed on the different excellencies of Indian & English Muslins, & the judicious preference you give the former, have excited in me an admiration of which I can alone give an adequate idea, by assuring you it is nearly equal to what I feel for myself.'
Then making a profound Curtesy to the amiable & abashed Rebecca, they left the room & hurried home.
From this period, the intimacy between the Families of Fitzroy, Drummond, & Falknor, daily increased till at length it grew to such a pitch, that they did not scruple to kick one another out of the window on the slightest provocation.
During this happy state of Harmony, the eldest Miss Fitzroy ran off with the Coachman & the amiable Rebecca was asked in marriage by Captain Roger of Buckinghamshire.
Mrs Fitzroy did not approve of the match on account of the tender years of the young couple, Rebecca being but 36 & Captain Roger little more than 63. To remedy this objection, it was agreed that they should wait a little while till they were a good deal older.
Chapter the Third
In the mean time the parents of Frederic proposed to those of Elfrida, an union between them, which being accepted with pleasure, the wedding cloathes were brought & nothing remained to be settled but the naming of the Day.
As to the lovely Charlotte, being importuned with eagerness to pay another visit to her Aunt, she determined to accept the invitation & in consequence of it walked to Mrs Fitzroys to take leave of the amiable Rebecca, whom she found surrounded by Patches, Powder, Pomatum & Paint with which she was vainly endeavouring to remedy the natural plainness of her face.
'I am come my amiable Rebecca, to take my leave of you for the fortnight I am destined to spend with my aunt. Beleive me this separation is painfull to me, but it is as necessary as the labour which now engages you.'
'Why to tell you the truth my Love,' replied Rebecca, 'I have lately taken it into my head to think (perhaps with little reason) that my complexion is by no means equal to the rest of my face & have therefore taken, as you see, to white & red paint which I would scorn to use on any other occasion as I hate art.'
Charlotte, who perfectly understood the meaning of her freind's speech, was too good-tempered & obliging to refuse her, what she knew she wished,--a compliment; & they parted the best freinds in the world.
With a heavy heart & streaming Eyes did she ascend the lovely vehicle* which bore her from her freinds & home; but greived as she was, she little thought in what a strange & different manner she should return to it.
On her entrance into the city of London which was the place of Mrs Williamson's abode, the postilion, whose stupidity was amazing, declared & declared even without the least shame or Compunction, that having never been informed he was totally ignorant of what part of the Town, he was to drive to.
Charlotte, whose nature we have before intimated, was an earnest desire to oblige every one, with the greatest Condescension & Good humour informed him that he was to drive to Portland Place, which he accordingly did & Charlotte soon found herself in the arms of a fond Aunt.
Scarcely were they seated as usual, in the most affectionate manner in one chair, than the Door suddenly opened & an aged gentleman with a sallow face & old pink Coat, partly by intention & partly thro' weakness was at the feet of the lovely Charlotte, declaring his attachment to her & beseeching her pity in the most moving manner.
Not being able to resolve to make any one miserable, she consented to become his wife; where upon the Gentleman left the room & all was quiet.
Their quiet however continued but a short time, for on a second opening of the door a young & Handsome Gentleman with a new blue coat, entered & intreated from the lovely Charlotte, permission to pay to her, his addresses. There was a something in the appearance of the second Stranger, that influenced Charlotte in his favour, to the full as much as the appearance of the first: she could not account for it, but so it was.
Having therefore, agreable to that & the natural turn of her mind to make every one happy, promised to become his Wife the next morning, he took his leave & the two Ladies sat down to Supper on a young Leveret, a brace of Partridges, a leash of Pheasants & a Dozen of Pigeons.
Chapter the Fourth
It was not till the next morning that Charlotte recollected the double engagement she had entered into; but when she did, the reflection of her past folly, operated so strongly on her mind, that she resolved to be guilty of a greater, & to that end threw herself into a deep stream which ran thro' her Aunt's pleasure Grounds in Portland Place.
She floated to Crankhumdunberry where she was picked up & buried; the following epitaph, composed by Frederic, Elfrida & Rebecca, was placed on her tomb.
Here lies our friend who having promis-ed
That unto two she would be marri-ed
Threw her sweet Body & her lovely face
Into the Stream that runs thro' Portland Place.
These sweet lines, as pathetic
as beautifull were never read by any one who passed that way, without a shower of tears, which if they should fail of exciting in you, Reader, your mind must be unworthy
Having performed the last sad office to their departed freind, Frederic & Elfrida together with Captain Roger & Rebecca returned to Mrs Fitzroy's at whose feet they threw themselves with one accord & addressed her in the following Manner.
'Madam 'When the sweet Captain Roger first addressed the amiable Rebecca, you alone objected to their union on account of the tender years of the Parties. That plea can be no more, seven days being now expired, together with the lovely Charlotte, since the Captain first spoke to you on the subject.
'Consent then Madam to their union & as a reward, this smelling Bottle which I enclose in my right hand, shall be yours & yours forever; I never will claim it again. But if you refuse to join their hands in 3 days time, this dagger which I enclose in my left shall be steeped in your hearts blood.
'Speak then Madam & decide their fate & yours.'
Such gentle & sweet persuasion could not fail of having the desired effect. The answer they received, was this.
'My dear young freinds 'The arguments you have used are too just & too eloquent to be withstood; Rebecca in 3 days time, you shall be united to the Captain.
This speech, than which nothing could be more satisfactory, was received with Joy by all; & peace being once more restored on all sides, Captain Roger intreated Rebecca to favour them with a Song, in compliance with which request having first assured them that she had a terrible cold, she sung as follows.
When Corydon went to the fair
He bought a red ribbon for Bess,
With which she encircled her hair
& made herself look very fess.
Chapter the Fifth
At the end of 3 days Captain Roger & Rebecca were united & immediately after the Ceremony set off in the Stage Waggon for the Captain's seat in Buckinghamshire.
The parents of Elfrida, alltho' they earnestly wished to see her married to Frederic before they died, yet knowing the delicate frame of her mind could ill bear the least exertion & rightly judging that naming her wedding day would be too great a one, forebore to press her on the subject.
Weeks & Fortnights flew away without gaining the least ground; the Cloathes grew out of fashion & at length Captain Roger & his Lady arrived, to pay a visit to their Mother & introduce to her their beautifull Daughter of eighteen.
Elfrida, who had found her former acquaintance were growing too old & too ugly to be any longer agreable, was rejoiced to hear of the arrival of so pretty a girl as Eleanor with whom she determined to form the strictest freindship.
But the Happiness she had expected from an acquaintance with Eleanor, she soon found was not to be received, for she had not only the mortification of finding herself treated by her as little less than an old woman, but had actually the horror of perceiving a growing passion in the Bosom of Frederic for the Daughter of the amiable Rebecca.
The instant she had the first idea of such an attachment, she flew to Frederic & in a manner truly heroick, spluttered out to him her intention of being married the next Day.
To one in his predicament who possessed less personal Courage than Frederic was master of, such a speech would have been Death; but he not being the least terrified boldly replied.
'Damme Elfrida you may be married tomorrow but I won't.'
This answer distressed her too much for her delicate Constitution. She accordingly fainted & was in such a hurry to have a succession of fainting fits, that she had scarcely patience enough to recover from one before she fell into another.
Tho', in any threatening Danger to his Life or Liberty, Frederic was as bold as brass yet in other respects his heart was as soft as cotton & immediately on hearing of the dangerous way Elfrida was in, he flew to her & finding her better than he had been taught to expect, was united to her Forever--.
* a post-chaise