Juvenile Songs and Lessons: Music culture in Jane Austen's Teenage Years

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk


Pre-recorded video - featured event at JASNA virtual AGM 2020.
In 1786, Jane Austen turned eleven and her formal school education ended: she and her sister Cassandra returned home and their education continued there. A piano was bought for Jane to practice on and she had lessons for at least another ten years. Not all the music she studied is known – some was sold with her piano when they left Steventon – but some of her music books survive among the family music collections, including three manuscript books with piano music and songs copied out in her own hand. One of these, which contains mainly solo piano music, has a decorative title page on which is written “Juvenile songs and lessons for young beginners who don’t know enough to practise.” This manuscript book was printed by London music publishers Longman and Broderip, who were in business 1779-1798, and was probably produced before 1794, and the first pieces to appear in the book date from the early 1790s. Was Jane Austen this “young beginner”? The phrase seems to display that spiky humour we know so well from the juvenilia, but she had been learning the piano for some years already by then, and the music she wrote out in this book, although not remarkably virtuosic, is far from beginner’s fare, including piano reductions of operatic overtures and variations on well-known melodies. Another book contains mostly songs, including several by Charles Dibdin, the famous composer and performer of character songs on the London stage, and others with explicit political and historical connections to France and Scotland. The songs in this book are on the whole slightly earlier than the piano music in “Juvenile songs and lessons”.
In this paper I look at some of the pieces of music she chose to copy into her manuscript books during her teenage years, alongside her contemporary teenage writings, and consider how her musical knowledge and practice might be reflected in what she was writing, and vice versa.
Period10 Oct 2020
Held atJane Austen Society of North America, United States
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Jane Austen
  • Juvenilia
  • Music