Saturday, 25 March 2017
JANE AUSTEN'S CHILDHOOD NOVEL 'EVELYN'
Jane Austen's childhood writings are full of black jokes and anarchic imaginings. The tale called Evelyn is comically manic. Of the many weird and fast-moving plots in Jane Austen's juvenile works, this strange little novel has perhaps the weirdest and fastest. It takes virtues popularly extolled in eighteenth-century sentimental novels – hospitality and benevolence – and reduces them to the absurd.
Passing through Evelyn, an idyllic Sussex village, Mr. Gower is so impressed that he decides to live there. Mr. and Mrs. Webb welcome him into their house and, though he is a total stranger, immediately give him their best food and insist that he takes all their ready money. When they ask him whether there is anything else he would like, he requests first their house and grounds and then their beautiful daughter Maria. They give him the lot, including a dowry of ten thousand pounds. They are even exceedingly obliged to Mr. Gower for allowing them half an hour to clear out of their own home!
Meanwhile, a man of high rank had fallen in love with Gower's sister Rosa but had been sent by his father on a sea voyage (to the Isle of Wight!) to prevent the marriage. He had been shipwrecked and died. Gower remembers after three months that he had been on his way to see the father in question. He proceeds to the gentleman's castle near Evelyn, where his conversation leaves the company with the well-founded opinion 'of his being Mad'. Meanwhile, his young wife Maria has been so grieved by his absence that 'she died of a broken heart about 3 hours after his departure'.
Despite his bereavement, Gower returns merrily to Carlisle, where he finds his sister Rosa married to a Mr. Davenport. Gower encounters (in Carlisle - what a coincidence!) the very lady alehouse-keeper who was the first person he met in Evelyn. He marries her. They settle at his house back in Evelyn. He writes to the parents of his late wife. Telling them airily of their daughter's death, he assures them he is nevertheless happy, having instantly remarried. In character, the Webbs send him and his new wife a banker's draught for £30!