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Publisher Description

CRITICAL STUDIES OF THE Juvenilia tend to focus on Austen's exuberant, brilliant parody of the sentimental heroine, which is most notable in "Love and Freindship." (1) There Austen memorably goes to the extreme in exposing Laura, the ostensible heroine of sensibility, as an amoral egotist with criminal tendencies. But for insight into the comic practices of the mature novels and into Austen's development of comic heroines such as Lady Susan, Elizabeth, and Emma (especially of the least understood of their comic qualities such as Emma's narcissism), we also need to look at the female outlaws and tricksters of the early pieces who are not strictly or primarily parodies of the sentimental heroine. Cassandra and Eliza, in particular, represent Austen's playful tinkering with a different kind of female character, one who never professes sensibility. Austen's most original treatment of the heroine figure in her early work distinguishes the female rogue, whose "adventures" resemble the exploits of the picaresque hero more than the romantic melodramas of the sentimental heroine. Like the picaresque heroes of the English tradition, such as Smollett's Roderick Random, both Cassandra in "The Beautifull Cassandra" and Eliza in "Henry and Eliza" set forth in the world and succeed by means of wits, aplomb, and good fortune. As these heroines are not enthusiasts of sensibility or too proud paragons of virtue, their self-serving transgressions cannot count against them as hypocrisy. Indeed, Austen does not treat the heroines' egotism and infractions derisively but rather depicts the exploits of Cassandra and Eliza in ways that intrigue and even appeal to author and reader alike. Cassandra and Eliza, insouciant adventurers who casually commit crimes along the way, are peculiarly likable, or at least intriguing. Their self-gratifying crimes and vices--such as living extravagantly, triumphing over their superiors, courting or coveting wealth, unpunished mischief-making, lack of susceptibility to guilt, and carefree conscience--appeal to the reader's not particularly noble but nonetheless compelling fantasies of freedom, wealth, and transgression. Though largely unacknowledged by critics, this element of fantasy-fulfillment accounts for a considerable part of the pleasure in reading the Juvenilia. Moreover, Austen's tendency to enact mischievous fantasies of social transgression in comic fiction should not be handled and dismissed as a mere adolescent fancy, for it underlies the piquant, provocative humor running through the mature novels.

January 1
Jane Austen Society of North America
The Gale Group, Inc., a Delaware corporation and an affiliate of Cengage Learning, Inc.

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