All sorts of things will stop me in my tracks when I’m out trolling for used books. Something I’ve been wanting or meaning to read, of course, but also any number of cover elements: A great image, well-done type, a title I’ve never heard of by an author I like, a book somebody once mentioned long ago that rings a bell… but there’s nothing that pulls me up short like a typo. I spend most of my working day looking for them, and the inner red pencil never turns off.
So this book got my attention right off the bat: Love and Freindship and Other Early Works by Jane Austen. When’s the last time you saw such a magnificently blatant misspelling on the cover of a published book? And not some fly-by-night POD job, but a regular commercial trade paperback from Harmony, a Random House imprint. Not only was the title spelled wrong on the cover, but on the title page, the back cover blurb, and every single page header… very strange.
After convincing Google that yes, I did mean “love and freindship,” I discovered that it’s a bit of Jane Austen juvenilia dating from 1790, when she was 14, and the misspelling was preserved out of some combination of cuteness and Austen worship. Written as a series of letters between Laura St. Clair, daughter of a minor Scottish nobleman, and her friend Isabel and Isabel’s daughter Marianne, “Love and Freindship” is Austen’s cheerful teen-girl parody of the romantic tales of the day. The seeds of future accomplishment are there if you look—she references “sensibility” often—but mostly the story leaves no doubt that Jane Austen was a typical young writer with a great love of melodrama and romance:
“After having wandered some time on the Banks of the Uske without knowing which way to go,” [says the handsome Edward Lindsay, son of a baronet] “I began to lament my cruel Destiny in the bitterest and most pathetic Manner. It was now perfectly dark, not a single star was there to direct my steps, and I know not what might have befallen me, had I not at length discerned thro’ the solemn Gloom that surrounded me a distant Light, which, as I approached it, I discovered to be the chearfull Blaze of your fire. Impelled by the combination of Misfortunes under which I laboured, namely Fear, Cold, and Hunger, I hesitated not to ask admittance, which at length I have gained; and now, my Adorable Laura (continued he, taking my Hand) when may I hope to receive that reward of all the painfull sufferings I have undergone during the course of my attachment to you, to which I have ever aspired. Oh! when will you reward me with Yourself?”
“This instant, Dear and Amiable Edward,” (replied I). We were immediately united by my Father, who, tho’ he had never taken orders, had been bred to the Church.
And so forth. The blurb on the back calls it “a hilarious romp in which two young ladies cavort about 18th-century England, leaving havoc in their wake and poking fun at such popularly applauded traditions as vaporous ladies and middle-class gentility,” but you have to wonder just how sly the young Ms. Austen’s intentions were—how much parody, how much Mary Sue? It will definitely take closer reading, and any Austen scholars out there should feel free to enlighten me. In the meantime, it goes on the Books Bought For Their Covers shelf, where it can languish among freinds.