Summer 2019

Degree Name

Master of Arts in English (M.A.)

Type of Paper/Work



Dr. Young-ok An, Dr. Laura Zebuhr, Dr. Alexis Easley


Jane Austen’s juvenilia has recently enjoyed much attention, with scholars paying particular notice to language and the seeming nonsense of Austen’s unconventional early texts. The finished epistolary novella Love and Freindship and the playlet “The Mystery: An Unfinished Comedy” are two works of the juvenilia written between 1787-1790 that engage in this play with language and nonsense. Love and Freindship, as a parody of the sentimental novel, is full of linguistic and bodily excesses. The heroines not only use effusive language to convert characters from sense to sensibility, but they also repeatedly faint. On the other hand, “The Mystery,” as an “unfinished” work, is defined by its lack. It is characterized by its verbal and physical absences, by its suggestions in the ellipses, hints in its sparse dialogue, and whispering characters. In my essay, I synthesize, extend, and juxtapose these examples of nonsense as excess and absence.

Already as an adolescent, Austen was critically aware of the conventions of genre, but she was also critical of the conventions that pervaded the long eighteenth century, such as those surrounding communication, marriage, and wealth. She empties out these conventions by challenging the boundary between sense and nonsense. Following how nonsense as excess, silliness, or absurdity—as frivolity—is created and to what end demonstrates the texts’ critique of the conventions. Analyzing the literal ramifications of nonsense as a lack of the senses—linguistic absence and fainting—reveals the difficulty of using language to make meaning. I argue Austen’s novella and playlet blur the boundary between sense and nonsense to point to the emptiness of restrictive conventions and to reveal the limits of our ability to make sense of reality through language. Reveling in the nonsense of Austen’s juvenilia helps us appreciate her entire body of work and her genius as an author.



Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.