Austen and Alice Are BizzareEnglish independent work and craziness
Before we graduate, Princeton students complete a little something called the
And that's what I'm headed into this year! To learn what I've decided to focus my English thesis on, come over to my Firestone Library Locker.
My thesis adviser is Professor Claudia Johnson, who also happens to be one of the most preeminent scholars on Jane Austen in the world. I'm particularly focusing on Jane Austen's juvenilia, the label generally given to the work she wrote from ages 11 to 17. Trust me, focusing a thesis on Jane Austen's teenage writing is much more worthwhile than reading my teenage writing.
Currently, I'm typesetting and illustrating her "Frederic and Elfrida" for a midterm creative project, so I'll give you a little look at some of the gems in this particular story.
There's that time Charlotte gets proposed to twice, first by "an aged gentleman with a sallow face & old pink Coat."
Young Jane Austen's writing has all the sharpness, wit, and careful control of language you would expect from the author of "Emma" and "Persuasion." The content on the other hand is a little more... unexpected. One of my favorite lines in this text:
IT'S AMAZING. The burlesque of this early work is just so bodily, dramatic and hilarious in a way that her later published work cannot be. The juvenilia is full of illegitimate marriages, slapstick violence, extreme fainting fits, intoxicated ladies, murder, eyes that literally shine like the sun, and a whole host of wonderful and bizarre situations. Young Austen clearly took delight in entertainment through language, a combination of the ridiculous and mundane fitted into writing that surprises, inverts tropes, and simultaneously mocks and loves fiction.
And that's the start of what I'll be exploring in my thesis! I may also take up the English department on the critical-creative option and give the dramatic energy of the juvenilia some illustrated body. Should be a good time.
While working on a 75-80 page project is intimidating, junior year independent work helps build up to the project. Last year, we completed a fall and a spring junior paper (JP), or little baby theses. For the spring JP, I turned to "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," a work different from Austen, but also bizarre. My first point of interest lay in the opening scene, which I've illustrated below:
The book begins with Alice being bored by a book. Weird!
More specifically, Alice is bored by a book without "pictures and conversations," which is exactly what "Alice in Wonderland," the physical book, contains. The exploration led me to look closely at the older sister's role in the story, the parallels of Wonderland and reading, Lewis Carroll, retelling, and nostalgia through literature.
While focusing on a different text, I'll be drawing on my JP experience to inform my thesis process. I'll hopefully keep you updated as this year and my work progresses! Till then, you can find me writing about an Austen in all her craziness.
Sometimes I look at what I write and draw, and I just realize, "Hmmm Aliisa, you're kind of strange."
And then I go to our cultural masterpieces like "Pride and Prejudice," knowing every Jane Austen novel has an undercurrent of that girl kicking her characters out windows. And I think, "Eh, we're all pretty weird," so might as well keep doing what I'm doing.