Historicizing Romantic Sexuality
"Pleasure is now, and ought to be, your business": Stealing Sexuality in Jane Austen's Juvenilia
Jillian Heydt-Stevenson , University of Michigan
* I want to offer many thanks
to Richard Sha, Anna Brickhouse, Alex Dick, and Mary Favret
for their inspiring suggestions as I was writing this
1 The quotation in the title is from The
Letters of the Earl of Chesterfield to his Son (Vol. 2,
133, qtd. in Porter and Hall's The Facts of Life
2 Approaches to the literary
significance of the Juvenilia and of the relationship
between Austen's Juvenilia and her later works vary. My
argument contrasts to those below insofar as I see a closer
link between the published and the unpublished writings
than most critics and I interpret them as more politically
charged—indeed, as significantly so—than most
other readers. For example, Lord David Cecil called them
"squibs and skits of the light literature of the day" (qtd.
in Doody xxiii); Doody argues that Austen had to control
her exuberance in her later texts: "She could not laugh so
loudly in the later works. She could not be wild as
she had been in the notebook Volumes. She had to become
genteel, and act like a lady" (xxxviii). Sometimes they are
read as insights into Austen's life: biographer Jon Spence
argues that the Juvenilia provide a rich source of
knowledge about Austen's young life, especially because
"there is no conventional source of personal information
about her [. . .] between the ages of eleven and twenty"
(ix-x). Often critics read them as a precursor, a key, to
the published works: "The juvenilia are precocious and
sometimes amusing but they are by no means brilliant. . . .
They are chiefly interesting in illuminating . . . Austen's
first struggles to find a literary voice of her own"
(Halperin 30). The Juvenilia Press focuses on the "concept
of 'play,'" which "allows one both to avoid the implied
teleology of apprenticeship and to approach juvenilia on
their own terms" (Robertson 293). My own point of view is
closest to that of Claudia Johnson's, especially insofar as
she argues that "Austen treats conventions not as sterile
devices, but as structures of human possibilities which
evolve from specific social and political situations [. .
.]" (52). Johnson does not discuss the role of crime in the
Juvenilia in the same detail as I do.
3 Brian Southam argues that in "Lesley
Castle," "singly the letters are quite successful, but as a
whole the work lacks unity" (32).
4 Margaret A. Doody has written persuasively
on the importance of the Juvenilia as texts in themselves
and not as the works of an apprentice: "Jane Austen was not
a child as a writer when she wrote these early
pieces. She possessed a sophistication rarely matched
in viewing and using her own medium [. . . ]" (xxxv).
Juliet McMaster explores how in juvenilia in general the
presence of "sexual knowingness in a child, especially a
girl" is usually met with "resistance": "[w]riting and
doing it are seen as perilously close, although the same
assumption would not apply in the case of subjects less
loaded" ("Virginal Representations" 304-5,
5 Margaret Drabble finds in them "another
Jane Austen, a fiercer, wilder, more outspoken, more
ruthless writer, with a dark vision of human motivation [.
. .] and a breathless, almost manic energy"
6 Juliet McMaster sums it up: "[t]hese
females are frankly in pursuit of good male bodies and, by
implication, good sex. The long tendency of
sentimental fiction to etherealize the heroine can hardly
survive against this gust of earthy comedy"
7 As Doody and Douglas Murray point out in
their edition of the Juvenilia, the Prince Regent's affairs
were well known, including his liaison with Mary Robinson
and, in 1785, his well-known, though invalidated marriage
to Maria Fitzherbert (295-6).
8 For illegal marriages, see "Henry and
Eliza," "Love and Friendship," "Sir William Mountague," and
"Letter the second From a Young lady crossed in Love to her
friend" from "A Collection of Letters." For "natural"
children, see "Love and Friendship" as well as the children
conceived by characters in "Henry and Eliza," and "Letter
the second From a Young lady crossed in Love to her
9 Wit and Mirth: or Pills to Purge
Melancholy (six volumes) identifies this as
‘"A Song' in the Comedy call'd the
Biter, Set by Mr. John Eccles, and Sung by Mr. Cook"
10 In Wit and Mirth, at least sixteen
songs alone have either Chloe or Strephon in their title,
and these songs are, on the whole, erotic in nature. Here
are two examples: in "A Song," Chloe "Kiss'd him up
before his Dying, / Kiss'd him up, and eas'd his pain" (I,
329); in "Young Strephon and Phillis,"
Strephon "clasp'd her so fast: / ‘Till playing and
jumbling, / At last they fell tumbling; / [. . . .]'Till
furious Love sallying, / At last he fell dallying, / And
down, down he got him, But oh! oh how sweet, and how soft
at the Bottom" (VI, 221). Wit and Mirth, a facsimile
reproduction of the 1876 reprint of the original edition of
1719-1720, clearly remained popular for over 150 years. It
would be impossible to determine exactly what songs Austen
knew, though she had to have been familiar with a lot of
popular music. In The Innocent Diversion: A Study of
Music in the Life and Writings of Jane Austen, Patrick
Piggot admits as much: "it would be idle to pretend that
many of the songs and piano pieces which Jane Austen copied
with such care and labour into her books are of a good
musical standard. [. . .] ‘Taste' is not very evident
in her choice of music, too many of the items in her
collection being no more than superficially pretty and
sometimes worse than that [. . .]" (153).
11 Whether or not people took coins from each
other often depended on how worn the coin appeared. I am
very grateful to Alex Dick for his expertise in this point
and in the analysis of pawning an undirected letter that
12 Many thanks
to Mary Favret for her valuable insights into this
13 For further discussion of the associations
between this arbor (bower) and disease, see my book,
14 It is funny, then, in a sly, joking sort
of way, that Mr. Elton is described as "spruce, black, and
smiling" the night Emma finds him "actually making violent
love to her" (129). The repetition is significant.
According to the OED, when applied to costume, it
suggests "a lively air, fashionable dress;" (Chesterfield,
1792), but it also carried connotations of an artificer, as
in "Your spruce appearance is a perfect forgery" (Young
1755 Centaur ii. Wks. 1757 IV. 148) The OED cites a
chronological range of sources using the word in this way:
Ben Jonson refers to " A Neat, spruce, affecting Courtier
(1599); Burney to "He'll make himself so spruce, he says,
we sha'n't know him (1796 Camilla IV.
15 Though Abelson is writing about thefts
occurring around 100 years later than Austen, the women she
describes sound in many cases like those in the Juvenilia.
See When ladies go a-thieving: Middle-Class Shoplifters
in the Victorian Department Store.
does not discuss the Juvenilia.
17 This was a commonplace reaction, Bleson
argues, among later nineteenth-century offenders: once
apprehended, "contrary to all logic and to the evidence,
more than one woman rejected any conscious motive and
adamantly defended herself with the assertion, ‘I am
an honest and respectable woman.' This level of denial was
pervasive. [. . .] Aware of the normative distinctions
between stealing and not stealing, these women were
seemingly incapable of sensing emotionally that their
shoplifting was wrong. They told themselves they were
innocent, and, however fragile their defenses, they did not
think of themselves as thieves" (167-8).
18 They are in another way, of course,
punished for their selfishness (Sophia, Augustus, and
Edward all die and Laura ends up alone). As Patricia Meyer
Spacks argues, "[t]he most frequently recurrent
plot-generating characteristic of persons in the juvenile
fiction is relentless self-interest: what we might call
19 The story's plot alludes to that of Tom
Jones, another orphan who is abandoned by his mother,
and who is then "found" and "adopted" into her family only
to be later thrown out of the house because of supposed
criminal activity. Tom, like Eliza, is of course recognized
and rejoins his proper family in the end.
20 Dating certain pieces from the Juvenilia can
only be approximate. "Henry and Eliza" is found in
Volume I, which Chapman and Southam date from 1787-1790,
though as Southam points out, this text was dedicated to
Miss Cooper, who married on December 11, 1792 (15). Since
Austen most likely wouldn't denominate her childhood friend
by her maiden name after her marriage, "Henry and Eliza"
could have been written up until the wedding date, though
it is not clear whether it was written before or after the
fall of the Bastille.
21 Linebaugh explains that trial records show
that 80 of the 117 prisoners freed from Newgate had
committed crimes "against property" (336).
22 Ellen E. Martin, though arguing that the
Juvenilia both "cr[ies] out for interpretation, and
resist[s] it thoroughly," nevertheless offers the
interesting reading that in Laura's reference to the
"indigestible leg of mutton, [she] obtrusively
substitut[es] it for the leg of the wrecked hero"; this is
"interpretable only by a desperate appeal to the heroine's
conflation of culinary and sexual appetites" (84). I do not
agree that such an interpretation is a desperate move or
that the texts are resistant to
23 Lewis and Quick were noted actors: William
Thomas Lewis—who was in such plays as Inchbald's
Everyone Has His Fault and Cowley's Bold Stroke
for a Husband—was at Covent Garden for 35 seasons
and was the acting manager of Covent Garden between
1782-1893. He was known for parts in comedy of manners and
farce. John Quick—who was in the same two plays
listed above, started at the Haymarket and moved to Covent
Garden; one of the best loved and highest paid actors in
the CG Company, he was known for his comedy acting,
creating more than 70 original roles. As far as I know
there is no evidence that either Lewis or Quick were
homosexual; of course, no actor could be labeled a sodomite
in a visible way since it was a capital offense—thus,
the playwright, Bickerstaffe, fled the country when he was
accused of this "crime." I gather from Fraiman's
essay that she is capitalizing on the men's close
relationship (they live, travel, and work together) and the
fact that even if they are not lovers, they have formed a
relationship that is nontraditional by eighteenth-century
standards, insofar as it is not defined by marriage. Thanks
to Jeffrey N. Cox for his expertise in this
24 Though the point of coition in
Aristotle's Masterpiece is reproduction, this
popular medical manual ignored eighteenth-century gender
prejudices, and in it "women enjoy parity in sexual desire,
and female desire is not viewed as grotesque or
psychopathological [. . .]" (Porter, "Secrets"
25 Roy Porter goes on to state that the
Romantics rejected "Enlightenment sensuality as gross and
materialistic" for the "idealization of love, and
particularly of woman" (Facts of Life 32). Although
sensibilities do shift throughout the nineteenth century, I
believe that Porter's statements here are too sweeping and