” [sic] is the most popular and complete of Austen’s early works, and one of the pieces in this collection that I’d read many years ago. Its two heroines faint and come to so many times, there are so many mistaken identities and overturned carriages and general histrionics involved, that it leaves even today’s distance reader faint of breath and desperate for smelling salts. It’s a small comic masterpiece, and worth a visit. “The History of England” is her absurdist take on the canon, and its sarcastic teenage attitude towards serious history is instantly recognizable to anyone who has had to study names, dates, and successions.
This handsome cloth-bound edition gathers 28 novellas or scraps, as well as Austen’s earliest unfinished novel, Lady Susan, which is about to get its big-screen moment soon, thanks to Whit Stillman. While the collection is likely to appeal most to hardcore Janeites and book-collector types, it’s also the kind of thing any casual Austen lover (which should be all of us, if we are human beings who can read) can leave on his or her coffee table. It’s perfect to pick up at any given moment, flip through and enjoy the page before you, thinking all the while about a teenage girl in the British countryside over 200 years ago, who is still making us crack up with her imagination and wit.