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What Would Jane Read? Episode 27: LFL #1406, Wheaton, IL

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What Would Jane Read?
Episode 27

...in Which Action Figure Jane
Blushes To Be Reminded
of Her Juvenile Writings

You may recall that in our last entry (has it really been more than three weeks since we've posted one?) Action Figure Jane Austen and I were seeking out the many Little Free Libraries of Wheaton, Illinois. Accompanying us was my friend Cindy, who has been a close friend since we were 12, and, newly moved into the neighborhood, she knocked on my door to see if there were any girls her age living there. Cindy now lives in Illinois, and we were spending an afternoon chauffering Jane on a tour of the local book boxes. As you again may recall, in the last episode we were searching for a Little Free Library on President Street, and instead found a delightful one at a nearby elementary school. From the school, we glanced across the street — and rejoiced to spy, at last, the library for which we'd been searching!

As soon as we concluded our business with the school's LFL, we crossed the street (Jane still finds this disconcerting, preferring to be inside one of our modern, motorized carriages rather than underneath the wheels of one). And there was the formerly elusive Little Free Library.

The book house had no LFL number that we could see; perhaps it had been temporarily removed for painting or repairs. Or perhaps we just missed it somehow. I have since looked it up, and am happy to report that it does have a number, #1406, making it much earlier than the 14000+ LFL across the street at the school. Jane commented on 1406's attractive ceramic door knob, and I agreed that it was charming. This book box was a two-story one. Jane was quick to point out that its two storeys (note her British spelling) contained many, many stories. And, indeed, they did.

I had brought along an interesting edition of Jane's own authorship to share with this LFL, although Jane blushed as pink as her bodice to see it. Love and Freindship and Other Early Works is a collection of Jane's writings from her teenage years, before she'd written anything for publication. The misspelled word in the title caught my eye right away. It seems that at age 14, Jane did not know the correct spelling of "friendship," a fact that her fans find amusing and somewhat humanizing, but that Action Figure Jane finds utterly mortifying. She is dismayed to learn that the modern publisher preserved her erroneous spelling instead of editing it, and wonders at the state of publishing today, that such a mistake would be allowed to remain, even on the book's cover.

Love and Freindship is an epistolary novel that parodies the romantic novels she'd read as a child. She wrote it simply for the amusement of her family, and she had no inkling until recently that someone had unearthed her childhood notebooks and published their contents for all to see.

Jane's early works are often known as the Juvenilia, and contain a surprisingly wide range of topics and styles, compared to her more mature works. The wit and keen character insights she is known for are already apparent in her juvenile works, and I assured her that she has no call to be embarrassed by them. In the end, Jane was a good sport and posed for a picture with the offending volume, though she dearly hopes never to see another copy.

Jane's choice of what book to take from the Little Free Library was a difficult one. She considered John Irving's The World According to Garp, Ken Follett's World Without End, and Sydney Sheldon's The Sands of TIme. But in the end she chose James McBride's The Color of Water, an autobiographical work that is a tribute to the author's mother, a Jewish woman who chose to marry a black man in 1942. Growing up the daughter of an Anglican rector in the south of England in the late 1700s, Jane had no experience with the kind of diversity we take for granted in our modern American cities. Her writerly imagination was intrigued by the idea of such a marriage and the implications it would have for a family and community.

By now, our time was running short, so we reluctantly bade goodbye to LFL#1406 (in the photo, you can see it under the large tree) and headed off in pursuit of our next adventure.

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