Partial, Prejudiced, and Proud: Pride and Prejudice and the Juvenilia
I have claimed already that Jane Austen’s juvenilia form a group of works successful in their own right, with their own cheerful and humorous world-view, by a teenager brilliantly creative and with an astonishing gift for language. But as we have seen, they also lead in many quite audible ways to the novels of her maturity. “First Impressions,” written when Austen was in her early twenties, no doubt would have felt quite close in tone to some of the juvenilia. And we know it was read often in the Austen family, and seems to have been just as “light & bright & sparkling” as Pride and Prejudice itself. Austen wrote about its popularity in the family circle, with her own brand of humour: “I should not let Martha read ‘First Impressions’ again upon any account,” she wrote to Cassandra in 1799. “ ... She is very cunning, but I saw through her design: she means to publish it from Memory, & one more perusal must enable her to do it” (Letters 441). Even if publishing it from memory was an exaggeration, it seems family members read it and reread it, both singly and aloud to one another. We can hear the voice of the same youngster who wrote delightedly about the “threescore Editions” that “The Beautifull Cassandra” and “The History of England” have run to (MW 193). Austen can revel in popularity, either actual or imagined, and joke about it too.