‘I am sorry for her anxieties,’ said Emma, ‘ — but I do not like her plans or her opinions. I shall be afraid of her. — She must have too masculine and bold a temper. — To be so bent on marriage — to pursue a man merely for the sake of situation — is a sort of thing that shocks me; I cannot understand it. Poverty is a great evil, but to a woman of education and feeling it ought not, it cannot be the greatest. — I would rather be a teacher at a school (and I can think of nothing worse) than marry a man I did not like.’
(from The Watsons in Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sanditon, page 110)
The Watsons is a fragment of a novel written by Jane Austen in 1804 and is believed to be the only work written by Austen when she lived in Bath. The introduction to this edition of three of Austen’s minor works speculates on why she didn’t finish it, but in my opinion, The Watsons is similar to Pride and Prejudice in many ways, and her heroine, Emma Watson, has characteristics of her other heroines.
Emma was living away from her family with an aunt who could better provide for her, but when her aunt marries, she is forced to return home to her widowed father and siblings. The 45-page fragment is mainly an introduction to the characters and covers Emma’s introduction into society through the Edwards family, who are friends of the Watsons. Some of the characters we meet, in addition to the Edwards family, are Elizabeth Watson, Emma’s older sister; Tom Musgrave, who flirts with all the eligible young women and seems to want to inflate his social status by riding the coattails of Lord Osborne; Mr. Howard, a clergyman who catches Emma’s eye at a ball; and Lord Osborne, who is attracted to Emma.
The Watsons are the poorest family seen in a work by Austen, or at least among her main characters, with Elizabeth caring for their sickly father and handling some domestic tasks. As such, the need for the four sisters to marry — and for at least one of them to marry well — is a main theme of the book. But whereas Elizabeth has resigned herself to the fact that the love of her life has married another and she has lowered her standards for marriage as a result, Emma is more romantic and insists she would not marry a man she didn’t love regardless of his fortune.
I really enjoyed The Watsons and was sad to see it end. It had so much potential, and had it been completed, it could have been a wonderful novel. While I didn’t get to know her as well as I would have liked, Emma was a delightful character. I especially loved the scene at the ball where she asks 10-year-old Charles Blake, the nephew of Mr. Howard, to dance after Miss Osborne promised him before the ball that she would dance with him, then decided to dance with someone else. I would have loved to see Mr. Howard and Lord Osborne compete to win Emma’s heart, and I would have loved to see who would have become the scoundrel of the novel.
While many readers would avoid reading a fragment because of its abrupt ending, The Watsons didn’t leave me entirely unsatisfied. Austen told her sister, Cassandra, what she’d planned for her characters, and this information is given at the end of the fragment as a conclusion of sorts. If you’re like me and want to read anything and everything by Austen, then I highly recommend The Watsons. As can be expected, her wit is interlaced with entertaining characters and social commentary.
Disclosure: The Watsons is from my personal library.
© 2010 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.