After reading The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn recently, I went to my book case to pull out my copy of Jane Austen’s The Watsons. Only a few chapters remain after the author abandoned the story. My copy contains an introduction and notes by Margaret Drabble of how Jane Austen intended the story to continue, as told to her sister Cassandra, then reported to her nieces many years later.
The Watsons starts with Emma Watson on her way to stay with neighbours to prepare for a ball. Emma is accompanied by her elder sister, Miss Watson, who is unable to attend the ball as she is to look after their invalid father. During the journey, Miss Watson gossips about the friends and neighbours who Emma can expect to meet at the ball, introducing us and Emma to them. These people are unknown to Emma as she has only recently returned to the neighbourhood, having lived with her aunt and uncle since she was a small child.
Emma was expected to have been her aunt and uncle’s heir, but after her uncle died her aunt unexpectedly remarried, and Emma returned to her own family home, with no further expectations. When Emma returns, she barely knows her own siblings.
At the ball, Emma won the heart of little Charles Blake, who came to dance with his sister (Miss Osborne) but was disappointed when she threw him over so she could dance with other men (who are adults and not related to her – understandable, but hard on little Charles). Emma asked Charles to dance and was noticed for her kindness as well as for her pretty face by the local suck-up, Mr Tom Musgrave, the high and mighty but socially inept Lord Osborne and Mr Howard, Charles’ gentlemanly tutor.
There was a little more to come after the ball, but the story was abandoned at around 17,000 words for reasons which are unknown, but guessed at. Some people think the story was too close to Jane Austen’s own story, while others suggest she was too miserable in Bath to continue, or to busy, or too lacking in privacy and time to write. Probably there are as many opinions as there are readers.
This may be arrogant of me but as a reader, I like to think I’m part of the story and have a say too! (shades of Lady Catherine de Bourgh?) but I think Jane Austen abandoned The Watsons partly because the story’s ending was too obvious to her. I am certain she would have had twists and turns coming up, but from the first few chapters seemed clear who the heroine, the villain and the hero were and what each of their trials would be.
The Watsons is fascinating though. The characters are interesting, some likeable and some not, due to Jane Austen’s knack of writing them so we know and recognise them for who they are in a few words.