When I was teaching courses on Jane Austen, I used to worry that I wasn’t paying much attention to her juvenilia and teenage writings; worse, that I didn’t quite know in what order to teach the six novels. Start with Pride and Prejudice? I usually did. But Sense and Sensibility was published first and Northanger Abbey was the first to be sold to a publisher (though not the first written). Northanger Abbey wasn’t published until after Austen’s death, alongside her last novel, Persuasion. It might seem odd that the early Northanger Abbey, which spoofed the gothic novels that were all the rage in the 1780s, should be paired with the late Persuasion, with its autumnal mood. But it is precisely this conventional view that Freya Johnston sets out to correct.
There are ‘moments of sudden ferocity’ in Persuasion, writes Johnston, just as there are in Austen’s letters, early and late, and most strikingly in her juvenile writings, such as ‘Lesley Castle’, ‘Love and Friendship’, Lady Susan and ‘The History of England’ (‘the work of a satirist who looks