Though she’s better known for writing fiction, Jane Austen did also write the occasional piece of non-fiction, particularly when she was a teenager. The History of England is one of these, but it’s not what you think. Rather than a serious summary on the history of England, it’s a very satirical piece which gives a summary of each monarch from Henry IV through to Charles I. In her own words, it was written by “a Partial, Prejudiced and Ignorant” historian.
It’s genuinely quite a funny piece of writing, with her making very sarcastic remarks about pretty much all of them. It’s always funny when one of them is suspected of having had somebody killed, for example, and she’ll make it very obvious that she believes that they did, without saying it outright. Although, I have to admit that the archaic language use does occasionally dampen the humour (on the other hand, other times it strengthens it!).
The History of England is very short and can easily be read in one sitting. In my edition, it was published alongside Lesley Castle – an unfinished novel that Austen wrote as a teenager. From what there is of it, it’s hard to make out what the overall story would have been, but it’s made up of various characters writing letters between one another – they’re all very flawed and superficial characters, but that’s the point of it. Though it does feel a little aimless (just talking about upcoming weddings or social gatherings), the back and forth between them is amusing and entertaining. You may not read it in a single sitting, but it is also very short and you’ll get through it quite quickly.
Overall, I enjoyed both of these short pieces of writing. It’s nice to get a glimpse at the short little bits and pieces Jane Austen wrote when she was young and I think most fans of classic literature would enjoy reading this, though it certainly isn’t as substantial as a full novel (or even most short stories).