Jane Austen’s History of England, Virtually

“Jane Austen’s ‘The History of England’ ranks as one of the most precocious and engaging works of juvenilia ever produced by a leading literary figure,” according to the British Library, which provides a virtual copy of Austen’s manuscript on its website. (Scroll down the list of Most Viewed books, or put “Austen” in the search box.) You can view Austen’s original manuscript, turning the pages online, read the pages converted into regular text, or listen to an audio version. (You may need to install Microsoft’s Silverlight plugin.)

Written when she was 16 and charmingly illustrated by her older sister Cassandra, Jane’s history is a parody of Oliver Goldsmith’s “History of England,” published in 1771. You can already hear Jane’s voice come through loud and clear as she skewers pomposity, the monarchy and historians. For example, she writes of Henry VIII that “nothing can be said in his vindication, but that his abolishing Religious Houses & leaving them to the ruinous depredations of time has been of infinite use to the landscape of England in general…”

Thanks to the Jane Austen Addict Blog for alerting us to this marvelous online gift. So far, the library has put up only a handful of virtual books, but hopefully will be adding many more.

If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to page through Leonardo’s sketchbook…