Probably the best thing that has happened to me while working at the Bodleian Library – besides meeting some very good friends – happened in my first week. I got to hold a letter written by Jane Austen. WRITTEN BY HER HAND AND HELD BY HER HAND AND MAYBE BY BOTH HER HANDS. Ahem.
Well, now the Bodleian have published a book which isn’t too far away from that. I imagine many of you are familiar with Jane Austen’s Volume the First – one of the books in which she transcribed her juvenilia, which she wrote between the ages of twelve and fifteen. It contains all sorts of playlets, verse, and stories which (along with the two other volumes of her juvenilia) reveal an author who was self-confident and accomplished at an astonishingly early age.
I don’t think her juvenilia has all too obvious a connection with the style and genre of her novels (I don’t know whether experts agree with that) – Volume the First etc. have rather more verve and excitable, surreal silliness than you’ll find elsewhere. In that way, it is perhaps closer to the books she was reading at the time than the form she made her own.
Even if you’ve already read the juvenilia, though, you won’t have anything like this edition on your shelves. This is a facsimile edition – which means I can flip through and see Jane Austen’s handwriting. It isn’t her teenage handwriting (those manuscripts were lost or destroyed) but it’s the pieces she transcribed later. And it’s her flipping handwriting. It’s a very exciting thing to have on my bookcase. Perhaps it’s just for Austen fanatics – but I suspect there are a few of those among you.
More info here…