"Pictures of perfection, as you know, make me sick & wicked"

- Jane Austen
"Jane Austen is weirdly capable of keeping everybody busy. The moralists, the Eros-and-Agape people, the Marxists, the Freudians, the Jungians, the semioticians, the deconstructors - all find an adventure playground in six samey novels about middle-class provincials. And for every generation of critics, and readers, her fiction effortlessly renews itself."

- Martin Amis, in The New Yorker

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

On Women Swooning & Running Mad

Excerpts from various sections of "Love and Friendship", in which Jane's heroines make a habit of running mad and fainting at the slightest provocation. Completed six months before Jane's fifteenth birthday, and just hilarious. Her at times idiosyncratic spelling has been left as is.

On witnessing a reunion between their husbands Edward and Augustus, Laura, the narrator, relates: "It was too pathetic for the feelings of Sophia and myself - we fainted Alternately on a Sofa."

Due to their profligate lifestyle, Sophia's husband Augustus is soon arrested for debt: "Ah! what could we do but what we did! We sighed and fainted on the Sofa."

Augustus is carted off to Newgate and Edward follows him to London. The two impecunious heroines then have various adventures in London and Scotland and later encounter an overturned phaeton on the road, which turns out to contain their husbands "elegantly attired but weltering in their blood". Both appear to be dead, so

"Sophia shreiked & fainted on the Ground - I screamed and instantly ran mad-. We remained thus mutually deprived of our Senses some minutes, & on regaining them were deprived of them again-. For an Hour & a Quarter did we continue in this unfortunate Situation - Sophia fainting every moment & I running Mad as often."

Edward revives briefly, but quickly expires, whereupon Sophia sinks into another swoon and Laura runs mad again:

"Talk not to me of Phaetons (said I, raving in a frantic incoherent manner) - Give me a violin-. I'll play to him & sooth him in his melancholy Hours - Beware ye gentle Nymphs of Cupid's Thunderbolts, avoid the piercing shafts of Jupiter- Look at that Grove of Firs- I see a leg of Mutton- They told me Edward was not Dead; but they deceived me- they took him for a Cucumber-" Thus I continued wildly exclaiming on my Edward's death-. For two Hours did I rave thus madly and should not then have left off, as I was not in the least fatigued, had not Sophia who was just recovered from her swoon, intreated me to consider that Night was now approaching..."

The two friends then take up lodgings in a nearby cottage, however Sophia has caught cold due to her protracted swoon and is immediately carried off by "a galloping Consumption":

"My beloved Laura (said she to me a few Hours before she died) take warning from my unhappy end & avoid the imprudent conduct which has occasioned it.. beware of fainting-fits.. Though at the time they may be refreshing & Agreable yet believe me they will in the end, if too often repeated & at improper seasons, prove destructive to your Constitution... [...] Beware of swoons dear Laura... A frenzy fit is not one quarter so pernicious; it is an exercise to the Body & if not too violent, is I dare say conducive to Health in its consequences - Run mad as often as you chuse; but do not faint-".

Laura concludes her melancholy history of the fainting episodes with: "These were the last words she ever adressed to me... It was her dieing Advice to her afflicted Laura, who has ever most faithfully adhered to it."

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