The title Volume the Second takes its name from the inscription on the cover and spine of the manuscript. It is one of three vellum covered notebooks given to Jane Austen (1775–1817) by her father, Reverend George Austen.
In these three volumes, Austen wrote out fair copy (neat and corrected) versions of her juvenilia. Volume the Second contains nine different early compositions by Austen which comprise: two epistolary novels (novels in the form of letters between the characters); a parody of a History of England which was illustrated by Austen’s sister, Cassandra; a series of letters and five pieces which Austen entitled ‘Scraps’.
Austen wrote The History of England when she was sixteen years old. It is a comic account of England from Henry IV to Charles I as told by ‘a partial, prejudiced, & ignorant historian’. The book is a parody of published histories and in particular of the four-volume The History of England from the Earliest Times to the Death of George II (1771) by Oliver Goldsmith.
Written in 1791, The History of England is both witty and confusing, as the narrator has a tendency to become rather distracted by his or her opinions of the events and people being described. A note on the bottom of the first page marks out the tone of the tale: ‘N.B. There will be very few Dates in this history’. The pen and watercolour illustrations depicting the monarchs of were drawn by Austen’s sister, Cassandra. One monarch not to have a portrait is Edward V (‘This unfortunate Prince lived so little a while that nobody had time to draw his picture’).
It is likely that Volume the Second was written to be read out or performed for the amusement of the Austen family and possibly the series of boys who boarded with them at the Rectory in Steventon. Austen’s tales are populated by energetic, spirited heroines who can be seen as precursors for characters such as Emma Woodhouse (Emma), Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice) and Marianne Dashwood (Sense and Sensibility).
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