Jane Austen wrote the untitled fragment that was later called The Watsons in 1803-5, and it was published posthumously in 1871. Joan Aiken, well known for her Jane Austen sequels and children's books, finishes the fragment, introducing a new hero and seamlessly continuing where Jane Austen left off to a satisfying ending for all Austen fans.
Emma Watson returns home after 14 years spent with a beloved aunt, whose re-marriage has caused a significant change in Emma's circumstances. Used to a life of ease, warmth and intelligence, Emma is thrust back into a home where, with one exception, her sisters are petty and jealous, if not vulgar, her father is ill and weak, and her brothers are not men of fine minds. This is a poignant exploration of a young lady's endurance in the face of reduced circumstances, and in true Jane Austen fashion, there is an admirable hero to make all right in the end.
Romance Reader at Heart James Kay
THE WATSONS and EMMA WATSON is the fragment of a novel written by Jane Austen sometime between 1803-1805 and the finished portion of that novel written by Joan Aiken. It is, for a true Jane Austen aficionado, a delight. I imagine anyone who enjoys the historical period will enjoy this volume. It is well written, and even the second part is written to closely resemble Jane Austen's style.
THE WATSONS is the part that was written by Jane Austen. It is unfortunately short, but nonetheless long enough to set the stage for what follows. Ms. Austen paints a portrait of the Watsons, and Emma, and shows Emma's personality right from the start. It highlights the necessity for proper choices, careful consideration and, always, an eye for the future. A ball is discussed and Emma makes it very clear she wishes she did not have to attend.
EMMA WATSON takes up flawlessly where Jane Austen leaves off. Emma appears as we would expect any woman of unfortunate circumstances to appear, with washing in her arms. Emma, even in Ms. Aiken's incarnation, behaves just the way we know she should. She takes every trial in stride, even going as far as to say she thinks a servant should be dismissed for filling a child's head with notions of snake ladies and devils, something Ms. Austen would certainly have her character frown upon!
I liked this for a number of reasons, but I think the most overwhelming one is that the continuation of Jane Austen's THE WATSONS is flawless. THE WATSONS is wonderful, but the way its carried forward is perfectly logical. Too, the use of dialogue and details keep the reader firmly entrenched in the period. A delight!
A Lady's Diversions Lady Provinsal
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Book Review: The Watsons and Emma Watson
A whole new round of Jane Austen-inspired books is coming out this spring, beginning, for me, with a fragment written by Jane Austen and taken in a new direction and "completed" by Joan Aiken, The Watsons and Emma Watson.
According to the Republic of Pemberley website, The Watsons,
was written by Jane Austen about 1803-1805, but was not published until 1871, as part of James Edward Austen-Leigh's Memoir (Jane Austen had left it untitled; the title "The Watsons" was provided by Austen-Leigh). It describes Emma Watson's return, after a long absence, to her family, who are on the lower financial fringes of the "genteel". She attracts the interest of a nobleman (and according to tradition in Jane Austen's family, she was later to receive and refuse an offer of marriage from him, and marry a clergyman). It is not clear why Jane Austen did not continue this fragment . . .
Though the fragment and Aiken's story are contained in one edition, I will "split" them briefly to write about Austen's story and probably spend more time explaining the characters in The Watsons, as they are also used in Emma Watson.
I confess: I had not read The Watsons before reading this edition and Aiken's take on it. It felt very odd to be reading something of Jane Austen's that was not as dear and familiar to me as the six completed novels are.
The Watsons begins with Emma Watson, newly returned to her family home, after living with a beloved aunt for 14 years, and being taken by her eldest sister Elizabeth to a nearby village, where she will stay the night with the Edwards family and attend her first ball. Emma's family is rather poor, her father is often ill, and she doesn't really know any of them, brothers Robert and Sam or sisters Elizabeth, Penelope, and Margaret. After the death of her mother, Emma had been sent to live with an aunt, who taught her fine manners and appreciation for nicer things.
As they travel to the ball, Elizabeth tells Emma about their sisters and some of the people she will undoubtedly be meeting at the ball, including the dashing and (possibly) dangerous Tom Musgrave who is "a young man of very good fortune, quite independent, and remarkably agreeable, a universal favourite wherever he goes. Most of the girls hereabouts are in love with him, or have been" (2). Apparently their sister Penelope was hoping he would look her way, but she's a bit troublesome (having encouraged Elizabeth's love to marry elsewhere in the past). Elizabeth hopes Tom dances with Emma, but does not want Emma to fall for him. Also mentioned are the Edwards, whose daughter Sam Watson is hoping to marry, but who might prefer a Captain Hunter; Lord Osborne, his mother, Lady Osborne, his sister, Miss Osborne, and their party, which Emma later learns includes a Mr. Howard, former tutor to Lord Osborne and a clergyman, his sister, Mrs. Blake, and one of her sons, Charles, who is about ten.
At the ball, Emma meets many people, dances, and is admired by the gentlemen. At one point, she shows kindness by dancing with little Charles Blake, when Miss Osborne, who had promised to dance with him goes off with another partner. Emma instantly wins the gratitude of Mrs. Blake, her brother, and the attention of Lord Osborne and Tom Musgrave.
Much of the rest of The Watsons entails Emma's interactions with these characters and her family. Her eldest brother Robert, who is quite stuffy, and his wife Jane (who reminds one of a cross between Fanny Ferrars from S&S and Mrs. Elton from Emma), come for a visit, bringing another sister, Margaret, who appears friendly but is really very petty, dislikes Emma's fine manners (though Emma does not put on airs), and hopes Tom Musgrave will fall in love with her.
The novel fragment ends with Robert and Jane wanting Emma to come for a visit, but Emma would rather stay with her poor father, who is nearing his end.
The Watsons, obviously, cuts off very abruptly, but fortunately for us, Emma Watson by Joan Aiken begins where Jane Austen left off and imagines the fates of Jane's characters. There are many twists and turns, loves and deaths. Emma begins to know her siblings better (which is not always a good thing). Emma becomes friends with Mrs. Blake and has a bit of a crush on Mr. Howard, who might become engaged to Lady Osborne. Her trying sister Penelope shows up married to an older man named Dr. Harding, who is rich, and buys a big local house, which first must be remodeled. This leads to Emma meeting a Captain Fremantle, with whom she feels an instant connection. Tragedy strikes when Emma's father dies. Emma and Elizabeth, who have no income, are to be parceled off to live with their siblings.
The story ends tidily with reunions, marriages, and just rewards. I was quite glad to read it after reading The Watsons because that fragment had no ending. Really, one hardly gets into the story before it abruptly stops. If I hadn't been able to read Emma Watson I would have been quite unsatisified. Aiken did an excellent job of taking Jane Austen's characters and developing them more fully, as characters are often developed in full-length novels. I did not like every twist and turn Aiken introduced, but I was happy with Emma's ending. She deserved nothing less.
I recommend The Watsons and Emma Watson to any Jane Austen fan or anyone who likes an interesting story. It is in bookstores now (and indeed, I saw a copy or two in one last week!) or at Amazon.com. If you read it, do come back and tell us how you liked it!
Book Loons Rheta Van Winkle
The Watsons and Emma Watson by Jane Austen & Joan Aiken
Order: USA Can
Sourcebooks, 2008 (2008)
Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle
When Jane Austen died, she left two unfinished novels, one of which she started during a difficult time in her life, after she had moved with her parents and sister from her childhood home in Steventon to new lodgings in Bath. Jane wasn't happy about this move. She loved the neighborhood where she lived, knew all the neighbors, and was so shocked when she was told about the upcoming move that she fainted dead away. However, having completed two novels while living in Steventon, she attempted to start another one about a family called Watson, after moving to Bath.
This unnamed fragment has been finished in Jane Austen's style by Joan Aiken. The book is called The Watsons and Emma Watson and is separated into two distinct sections, so the reader knows exactly where Jane Austen left off and Joan Aiken began. In the story Emma Watson returns to her own family after her uncle dies and her aunt remarries. They had adopted her when she was five years old because they didn't have any children of their own, and her birth family was large and didn't have much money. The plot revolves around Emma adjusting to life in her own family again, with all the problems of getting acquainted with adult siblings who were children when she left. Emma must also come to terms with the near poverty of her family and the loss to her of any inheritance from her aunt, and she must find a husband.
What I found most interesting about this book was that Aiken's section seemed more like Austen's writing than Austen's section. There's more liveliness once you reach the Emma Watson section and the reader becomes immediately more engaged in the story. According to Jane's sister Cassandra, this novel was never finished because their father died suddenly, and their lives changed again. Cassandra later told her nieces how Jane was going to finish the novel, though, and Aiken has taken some liberties with that ending that I thought were un-Austenlike.
I've read and loved all of Austen's novels, more than once. I feel certain that if Jane had finished this one herself, she would have worked on it, rewriting and revising until it was up to the standards of the others. She would read her books aloud to her family as she was writing them and take seriously any criticism or praise she received, so I know that she did a lot of rewriting. Aiken would not have wanted to revise Austen's words in the first part as her main purpose was to finish what Jane had started. Taking into consideration the challenge of turning a fragment into a novel, complete with plot and well-developed characters, without changing what's there already, Aiken did a terrific job.
Harriet Devine's Blog Harriet Devine
This has been sitting on the TBR pile for ages. I had a bit of a run a while back on what one regular visitor called 'cod Jane Austen' (you know who you are, Kym!) and then somehow didn't fancy any more for a while. When I picked this up a couple of days ago in an idle moment, I wasn't really expecting to enjoy it all that much -- but I did, so there you are. Of course I should have realised it must be OK because it was written, or rather completed, by the wonderful Joan Aiken. Only last week I was reading some of her stories, contained in a book called A Handful of Gold, to my two grandsons. It's a measure of how good they were that they were enjoyed in about equal measure by Cai (6), George (12), my daughter and myself. So -- The Watsons. As an Austen lover and erstwhile Austen teacher, I was already familiar with the short, and I have to say not wildly promising, fragment that Austen wrote in about 1806 and abandoned. But Aiken picks it up and runs with it with great enthusiasm, and I found it immensely readable.
One of the interesting things about Austen's uncompleted fragment is the fact that the Watson family, though of course well born, is poor -- more so than any of the families at the centre of her other books, except, I suppose, the ones in Sense and Sensibility. Mr Watson, a widower, is an invalid (though a much less annoying one than the father of the more famous Emma). They can't afford a carriage of their own, have only one servant, the ancient and loyal Nanny, and have to involve themselves in household duties like the weekly 'great wash'. Emma herself has been brought up by an aunt at a distance from the rest of the family, with whom she is reunited at the beginning of the book when her aunt remarries and goes to live in Ireland. She has three older, unmarried sisters, of varying degrees of unpleasantness, and a couple of brothers, one nice one not. There is a certain harshness and slight desperation in these circumstances -- perhaps that was what made JA give up writing it? But Aiken, of course, makes it all come out right in the end. What I admired most about her continuation was the way she manages to do three things successfully: she catches Austen's style so well that you are never, or rarely, aware that you are reading someone else's version; she tells a really good story, one that keeps you interested throughout; and she is true to the spirit of Austen's novels. By this, I think I mean that Emma is a heroine of whom JA herself would not be ashamed. She is intelligent, good-hearted and right thinking -- though I have to say that there are a few moments when she voices sentiments which are more obviously feminist than JA ever expressed, openly at least. Austen fans will recognise certain characters and situations which are reminiscent of those in other novels -- Lady Osborne has a touch of Lady Catherine de Burgh, Robert Watson somewhat resembles Eleanor and Marianne's unpleasant brother, Emma's Aunt Maria's return to England in poor health might put you in mind of Mrs Smith in Persuasion, and so on. But these are only hints, not slavish copies, and there are numerous other excellent characters, many developed from the sketches in Austen's original. There is so much enjoyment to be had in following the ups and downs, the sadnesses and joys, the successes and failures of Emma and her sisters. Another one I would recommend, in other words!
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March 01, 2008
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Excerpt from Watsons and Emma Watson by Jane Austen
Excerpt from Chapter 1 of Emma Watson, Jane Austen's Unfinished Novel Completed by Joan Aiken
WHAT A VERY FORTUNATE CIRCUMSTANCE IT WAS THAT ROBERT and Jane chose this day to visit their friends at Alford,' said Emma Watson, walking into the wash-house with a large bundle of table-linen in her arms.
'Indeed yes!' agreed her sister Elizabeth, briskly giving a stir to various tubs of laundry soaking in solutions of household soda and unslaked lime. 'Those cloths you have there, Emma, can go straight into the copper, unless any of them is badly stained.'
'Only this handkerchief of my father's, which has ink on it.'
'Spread it out in a pan of oxalic acid. Or spirits of sorrel. You will find the bottles next door, on the shelf.'
The wash-house at Stanton Parsonage was a large, draughty room with a York stone floor, a copper, and a range of wooden tubs. The bleaching-room, next to it, was used for ironing, mangling, and drying. These two rooms were, of course, on the ground floor, with doors and windows giving on to the stable-yard; all the windows were wide open at the moment to let out the steam.
Both sisters wore pattens, and had tied voluminous linen aprons over their cambric gowns.
'I do think that Margaret, at least, might have stayed behind and helped us, since she knew poor old Nanny was laid up with her bad foot,' observed Emma dispassionately, spreading out the stained kerchief in a pan of bleaching solution.
'Hah! Margaret would be of no more use than a child of three. Less! She would grumble and stand about and argue and complain that the soda spoilt her white hands. No; we go on very well as we are, Emma! I am infinitely obliged to you for your good nature in sharing the work with me, and only thankful that it is such a capital drying-day; if we can get the bed-linen out into the orchard by nine o'clock, everything may well be put away before our guests return for dinner. For once it is an advantage that they like to keep late, fashionable hours.'
'I am only sorry that you could not go with them, Elizabeth; you never seem to get a day's holiday.'
'Oh, it pleases me much better to get this great wash done,' said Elizabeth simply. 'Besides I would not, no, I would not at all have wished to go along with Robert and Jane today - not for the universe, indeed! The visit would only arouse the most painful recollections; in fact--' Her voice was choked, she stood silently over the boiling copper, biting her lips in an effort to control a rising sob, as she stirred the white and steamy brew with a wooden batten.
Emma threw a quick, unhappy glance at her elder sister.
Elizabeth Watson was now twenty-nine, long past all hope of matrimonial prospects. The sisters had been parted for fourteen years, and Emma's last recollections of Elizabeth were from when the latter was fifteen, a tall, lively, handsome girl, with a fresh complexion and a wonderful head of thick, pale-gold hair, like that of a Nordic princess; now her face was thin, careworn, and at the moment flushed and greasy with steam; the hair, lank and flat, long since concealed under an old-maid's cap.
It is so unfair, thought Emma helplessly; Eliza was far prettier than either Margaret or Penelope; why should she have been obliged to waste her youth and good looks in this kind of task while they may go away visiting and enjoying themselves?
In a wish to distract her sister's sad thoughts, she asked a question:
'Who is this friend of our brother's that they are to visit at Alford?'
The question was not a lucky one. Elizabeth's mouth quivered again, but she regained hold of herself and replied:
'His name is Purvis - I think you have heard me speak of Purvis?'
'Yes, now I remember, you mentioned him the other evening when you were driving me to the Assembly in Dorking.'
But, recalling the context, Emma's heart sank, for she could see this was the very last topic to allay her sister's sad recollections. But the latter went on, as if talking eased her:
'Purvis was my first, my only love. At the time, he was a curate, over in Abinger. He used to come and relieve my father sometimes on Sundays. And he - I - we liked each other very well. Everybody thought it would have been a match between us. But I am sorry to say that our sister Penelope set him against me. She told him untrue tales about me, that I had a flirtatious disposition and had formerly been plighted to Jeffrey Fortescue - which was wholly untrue - and so - and so - that was the ruin of my happiness.'
'But why, why, should Penelope play you such a terrible trick?'
'Because, my dear, she wanted him for herself. She thinks any trick fair for a husband - I only wish she may gain one for herself!'
'She failed, then, in her plan to ensnare Purvis?'
'Yes, she failed; he did not like her ways. The end of it was, he discontinued his visits here. And, very shortly afterwards, he removed to a greater distance and married a young lady of some fortune who lived in Leith Hill. And,' said Elizabeth sighing, 'I hope he has been happy. But I have never, never since seen another man whom I could love as I loved Purvis. Indeed, I have not seen many at all.'
'How could one sister so betray another?' demanded Emma hotly, wringing out a couple of napkins with great force and flinging them into the rinse water. 'It is the most shocking story I ever heard! I do not like the sound of Penelope. I shall be afraid of her. I hope she does not return home for a long time.'
'Well, my dear, I daresay she will continue to stay with the Shaws in Chichester as long as she is able to stretch out the visit. She has an eye on a gentleman there, you see, a rich Dr Harding, the uncle of her friend Miss Shaw. He is a great deal older; but she is twenty-five now, so she has not much time left to be looking about her. We cannot afford to pick and choose, you know, there is no provision for us. We must all marry if we can. Still, Penelope cannot prolong her stay for ever, so, sooner or later, you will be obliged to meet her again. Do not trust her, though! Penelope has no scruples, none, if she sees a chance to promote her own advantage. But still, I think she will have a considerable respect for you, although you are the youngest.'
'For me? I see no reason for that, since I have been returned home like a parcel of unwanted goods,' said Emma drily.
'But, Emma, you have such an air of refinement and fashion! That is bound to impress Penelope very much. Those fourteen years you spent with Aunt Turner have turned you into a person of quality, my dear!'