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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Jane Austen in the barroom

Yesterday I was delighted to find an early unpublished Jane Austen story, "Jack and Alice." My brother's name is Jack, so I thought this would be the coolest thing to happen to the Boone siblings since my dad discovered that John Jacob Astor's children were named Jack and Alice. I made two copies of the story (from in the Minor Works volume of the collected Jane Austen) to send to my parents and went to 1020 to watch the Red Sox-Yankees game with my friend Brette. I showed her the story and then set it off to the side of our table so we wouldn't accidentally spill beer on it. After the Red Sox lost, the bartender came over and picked up the story and started to read it. I doubted that he was really interested in Jane Austen juvenilia.

Why all the backstory about taking young Jane Austen to a bar? Because "Jack and Alice" is about two drunk siblings! I've never felt so poorly served by a Jane Austen story, ever. Brette and I play the "which Jane Austen character are you?" game sometimes, and my answer tends to waver between Elinor Dashwood and Anne Elliot. Why can't I share a name with an honorable Jane Austen character? Alice Johnson is a walking disaster, and her brother Jack is a cad. He dies in the seventh chapter, leaving Alice a large estate that she'll no doubt drink away. It's not surprising that Alice and Jack don't have a place in Pemberley, the online estate of Janeites.

In the story, which is only ten pages long, Lady Williams tries to counsel Alice against her heavy drinking to no avail, but Lady Williams is also something of a gossip:
"When you are more intimately acquainted with my Alice you will not be surprised, Lucy, to see the dear Creature drink a little too much; for such things happen every day. She has many rare & charming qualities, but Sobriety is not one of them. The whole Family are indeed a sad drunken set. I am sorry to say too that I never knew three such thorough Gamesters as they are, more particularly Alice. But she is a charming girl. I fancy not one of the sweetest tempers in the world; to be sure I have seen her in such passions! However she is a sweet young Woman. I am sure you'll like her. I scarcely know any one so amiable.--Oh! that you could but have seen her the other Evening! How she raved! & on such a trifle too! She is indeed a most pleasing Girl. I shall always love her!"

The arrogant eligible bachelor of the story, Charles Adams, rejects Alice, telling her father:
"Your daugher sir, is neither sufficiently beautifull, sufficiently amiable, sufficiently witty, nor sufficiently rich for me,--I expect nothing more in my wife than my wife will find in me--Perfection."

Alice's reaction is typical: "She flew to her bottle & it was soon forgot."

The story ends with a murder, a hanging, and a cliffhanger about who Charles Adams will marry. So it's a satire, but an extremely minor one. My parents don't need to see their children's names sullied in such a way--although my dad loves to point out that the Astor children frittered away the estate, too.

I'll stick to Northanger Abbey.


Blogger Jenny Davidson on Thu May 25, 11:05:00 PM:
I was really going to wait to show you till I actually got it published (it as yet has no home), but I wrote a story this spring called "The Other Amazon" (it's sort of like one of my blog posts, only my alternate-self narrator starts being able to get imaginary books via Amazon) and one of the many (in this world unwritten) Austen novels I get is called "Alice and Adela"! A minor in-joke. I think "Jack and Alice" is a good satire, though; nice that it's your brother's name too....
Anonymous Anonymous on Fri May 26, 01:06:00 AM:
But Alice, you should be at least a little happy to be in one of the few Austen works which more blatantly shows her comaraderie with Burney! The best of two worlds...
Anonymous Anonymous on Fri May 26, 01:16:00 AM:
blah...sorry: camaraderie
Blogger Marina on Sun May 28, 05:35:00 PM:
I am thrilled that there are Jacks and Alices in Austen. I've never played the 'which Austen Character are you?' game, but I'm going to have to spend some time sorting through my friends now.

I also want to register a sulk: there are no likeable literary Marinas. Are there? I don't think there are. But I don't read very many Russian authors.