's beaten me to posting the e-text, so let me try to convey you why
you should read this.
I found myself creased up crying with laughter all through Love and Friendship (sic!). It's in Volume the Second of her juvenilia, but I was sure it was one of her later ones, when she was a mature and powerful 17 or so. But no, at the end is the date "June 13th, 1790": Jane Austen was a mere 14. It's a much more sustained and novel-like effort than the short whimsies of Volume the First.
Now first of all two misconceptions. It's not called Love and Freindship, fixed as that is in the popular imagination. Jane Austen corrected that spelling in the manuscript, as she did many others: she was good at spelling, and revised her manuscripts carefully.
It's not really an epistolary
novel, either, a form that was common in her youth but was outdated by the time she got to write the real novels. She was to make one more effort at the style in Lady Susan
. But apart from two very short introductory letters setting the reason for the letters, they are all from Laura
, without any replies, and it is therefore really just a first-person
narrative broken up into chapters.
It is the story of Laura when she was young, and her adventures with her two friends Isabel and Sophia. She is now 55 and out of harm's way and the introductory two letters are between Laura and Isabel, who asks her to set down her adventures for the sake of Isabel's daughter Marianne. Laura agrees she has had an eventful and tragic life, as rich as any sentimental heroine could wish for.
The three young women, and the silly men who become their husbands, are outrageously over-sentimental and romantic and idiotically selfish, weaving a path of destruction amid a world full of normal, healthy, kind, reasonable people, who are condemned as vile and devoid of proper sensibility. The contrast between the nonsense world of novels and the restraints of real life was later to be given convincing flesh and blood in Marianne Dashwood of Sense and Sensibility.
Laura had a perfectly normal upbringing for a romantic heroine: "My Father was a native of Ireland and an inhabitant of Wales; my Mother was the natural Daughter of a Scotch Peer by an Italian Opera-girl -- I was born in Spain, and received my Education at a Convent in France."
And she was well equipped for her inevitable role in life: "But lovely as I was, the Graces of my Person were the least of my Perfections. Of every accomplishment accustomary to my sex, I was Mistress." - With that most indispensible of requirements for a true heroine: "A sensibility too tremblingly alive to every affliction of my Freinds, my Acquaintance, and particularly to every affliction of my own, was my only fault, if a fault it could be called."
She lived in innocent retirement in a Welsh cottage with her friend Isabel (who had seen the world: she "had spent a fortnight in Bath and had supped one night in Southampton" and who therefore could warn her of dissipation, luxury, and the stinking fish of Southampton), when suddenly her quiet world is overturned by the arrival of a stranger (an entire letter is devoted to the knocking at the door), called Lindsay, whom she'll conceal under the name of Talbot. They naturally fall instantly in love and are united by her father, who, though he was not actually in holy orders, "had been bred to the church".
This Edward is fleeing his father, who was asking him to marry a good and amiable woman; but as Edward had never done anything in his life to oblige his father, he had left, and in consequence of a slight wrong turning near London was now lost in the wild glens of Wales. Like noble lovers they propose to live on love alone, and scorn the need for victuals and drink that his heartlessly down-to-earth sister recommends.
Laura and Edward go to stay with his friend Augustus, who is supporting his wife Sophia on banknotes he's had the foresight to purloin from his father's escritoire. Laura and Sophia became fast friends instantly and are continually fainting into each other's arms.
The men being taken into custody in Newgate for debt, Sophia finds it insupportable to face the distress of seeing him, so they leave for Scotland to sponge off some relatives there. By chance, on the way, they are recognized by a grandfather who has never seen them before, as well as two more new grandsons who happen along. These things will occur in sensitive families. The grandfather hands them all money, the grandsons steal away with it, and Sophia and Laura are left destitute once more.
They front up on the Scottish relation's doorstep, and persuade his hitherto level-headed daughter Janetta that she must be madly in love with someone other than the good and decent man her father wants for her. After racking her brains, she comes up with a name of someone she is slightly fond of, so they fix them up in an elopement, steal some money from the heartless and cruel relation, and walk out into the woods.
Here their attention is distracted by a carriage accident, and who should lay groaning and dying but their own two husbands. At this, Sophia spends the rest of the afternoon swooning while Laura runs mad. Alas, the ground is damp, and lying on it in her swoons does away with Sophia too, who recommends to her friend to beware of fainting-fits, though "at the time they may be refreshing and agreable; whereas a mad frenzy is undoubtedly healthy exercise."
She then by chance meets her entire family again, and their adventures are described, but I've gone on too long, rather like Laura's madness: the whole e-text is here on E2. Read it and weep. :-)