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I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Rose Servitova to celebrate the release of her newest book, The Watsons, a completion of the unfinished Jane Austen novel. I read Austen’s fragment several years ago and was intrigued by the story, and I think it’s very brave of her to “finish” Austen’s novel. I hope you all are as excited as I am about the novel. Please give Rose a warm welcome!

What inspired you to write a completion of The Watsons? Do you think it was harder to write this book, particularly since Austen never finished writing it? Or did you feel that it gave you a little more freedom in your story?

I had not thought of The Watsons at all until I went to a talk in Bath by Jane Austen expert Paula Byrnes. I was writing another manuscript that just was not working and I had more or less accepted that I would have to walk away from it. As I sat listening to Paula speak so passionately about Austen’s unfinished works and Juvenilia, I decided that perhaps I should read them and consider completing one of the unfinished works, if I liked it. I confess, the task was a little difficult as Austen had not placed much color on the fragment. As Virginia Woolf commented of The Watsons, it was as if she had meant to come back and add layers to it and had not. I had to ensure that I enhanced and added to what existed and not deflate or take from it. The characters she created had huge potential so I knew that if they came alive for me, they would take over the story and write it themselves. I feel that is what happened.

What do you think Jane Austen was starting to do with the themes in The Watsons? Are they different or similar to her other works?

Interestingly, Sanditon is very different from her other novels but The Watsons is somewhat similar. There are themes in The Watsons that we see elsewhere, such as sisterly love, female financial dependence, attempts at climbing the social ladder and family obligation.

Can you describe the main characters? What did you think of them, and what were the challenges in continuing their story?

Emma Watson has returned to her home after spending fourteen years with her rich aunt. Once a presumed heiress, she is returned penniless to her family when her aunt remarries. Emma is kind above all else. It leads her to act at times when others would hesitate or fear the opinion of others. She cannot watch others suffer and do nothing. Well educated and refined, she finds it difficult initially to resettle in the family home.

Her sister Elizabeth Watson is nine years older than Emma. Taking the role of matriarch in the family when she was but a child herself (on their mother’s passing). Elizabeth is outspoken, warm, witty and a little blunt.

Mr. Watson is their ill clergyman father, whose health often necessitates staying in bed. He is a sentimental lover of Shakespeare and a kind father.

Margaret and Penelope Watson are the two other sisters. Margaret is petty and loves gossip. Penelope is sharp-witted and conniving.

Robert and Sam Watson are the brothers in the family. Robert is married and doing very well in Croydon. Sam is an apprentice surgeon who is rarely free to visit.

Lord Osborne, Tom Musgrave, Mr. Howard, Mr. Shaw and Solomon Tomlinson are many of the male characters who play a role in this book. Lord Osborne is the socially awkward heir of Osborne Castle, Tom Musgrave is his charming, socially-climbing side-kick, Mr. Howard is an astronomy-loving clergyman at Wickstead on the Osborne estate, Mr. Shaw is a witty, wealthy bachelor from Chichester who abhors marriage and every mention of it, and Solomon Tomlinson is the arrogant curate at Wickstead.

When/how did you discover Jane Austen, and why do you think she and her novels remain so popular today?

My granny’s house had books – all the classics. When I was a teenager, I read Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, the Brontes and all of Austen’s novels. I really have no idea why her books remain so popular today except to say that there is, within the pages, a secret formula that is impossible to describe but which leaves such a satisfaction in the reader that is unmistakable.

When/how did you discover Jane Austen Fan Fiction (JAFF), and what prompted you to write your own?

To be honest, I am not an avid fiction or JAFF reader. In my free time, I am more inclined to read non-fiction. I get a great kick out of the screen adaptations and spin-offs however. I really enjoyed Bride & Prejudice recently. I thought it was an amazing adaptation that captured Austen’s essence perfectly yet altered almost every detail of the book. It was a joy to watch. I felt for many years that if I were ever to write a book, it would have some connection to Austen and, in particular, to Mr. Collins. This dream came true with The Longbourn Letters. I was not sure that I would get involved in any more Austen related writing but then The Watsons happened.

Could you share with us a little about your writing process and describe your writing space (or share a peek via photo)?

Rose Servitova writing

Writing my debut novel, The Longbourn Letters, was very different to writing The Watsons. I work full-time so I have to steal time where I can. The Longbourn Letters was largely concocted while out walking the country roads near my home and later typed up in a café while listening to classical music on my headset. I tended to write at No 1 Pery Square – a Georgian hotel, the setting was perfect by a sash window (see photo). For The Watsons, I gathered all my ideas and notes and took off to a writer’s retreat for a couple of nights – writing the first draft in less than a week and then spending about nine months, here and there, editing and rewriting. Contemporary music played a part – helping me find the emotions I was trying to evoke for key scenes. I also created a visual chart for the characters, basing them on actors, fictional characters etc.; for example, two of the characters are based on Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. As a child, the verbal combat and onscreen chemistry of these two left its mark on me – it was a meeting of minds. I don’t share my work while it’s a work-in-progress. I tend to trust my gut and then trust a very good editor friend.

What book(s) are you reading right now?

Her Kind by Niamh Boyce. Her debut novel, The Herbalist, is one of my favorite books and I’m looking forward to Her Kind as it is based on the Kilkenny Witch Trial of 1324.

Are you working on another book at the moment, and if so, any hints as to what it’s about?

I wrote an outline to Sanditon in early 2018, putting it aside when I heard ITV were filming an adaptation. It’s a manuscript I hope to return to someday. I started a historical fiction crime novel set in a convent in Ireland in the 1930s but work on that has stalled while focusing on getting The Watsons out into the world. The essay is a form of writing that I love and I would like to write a collection of essays at some point. It’s my hope to write them in between writing novels. I’m also a huge fan of travel books and would like to write my own one day.

Fantastic! Thanks for being my guest today, and congratulations on your new release!

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About The Watsons

Can she honour her family and stay true to herself?

Emma Watson returns to her family home after fourteen years with her wealthy and indulgent aunt. Now more refined than her siblings, Emma is shocked by her sisters’ flagrant and desperate attempts to ensnare a husband. To the surprise of the neighbourhood, Emma immediately attracts the attention of eligible suitors – notably the socially awkward Lord Osborne, heir to Osborne Castle – who could provide her with a home and high status if she is left with neither after her father’s death. Soon Emma finds herself navigating a world of unfamiliar social mores, making missteps that could affect the rest of her life. How can she make amends for the wrongs she is seen to have committed without betraying her own sense of what is right?

Jane Austen commenced writing The Watsons over two hundred years ago, putting it aside unfinished, never to return and complete it. Now, Rose Servitova, author of acclaimed humour title, The Longbourn Letters: The Correspondence between Mr Collins and Mr Bennet, has finished Austen’s manuscript in a manner true to Austen’s style and wit.

Amazon | Goodreads

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About the Author

Rose Servitova

Irish author Rose Servitova is an award-winning humor writer, event manager, and job coach for people with special needs. Her debut novel, The Longbourn Letters – The Correspondence between Mr. Collins & Mr. Bennet, described as a ‘literary triumph’, has received international acclaim since its publication in 2017. Rose enjoys talking at literary events, drinking tea and walking on Irish country roads. She lives in County Limerick with her husband, two young children and three indifferent cats. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads.

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November 18            My Jane Austen Book Club (Interview)

November 18            Austenprose—A Jane Austen Blog (Review)

November 19            The Lit Bitch (Excerpt)

November 20            Austenesque Reviews (Review)

November 20            vvb32 Reads (Review)

November 21            All Things Austen (Review)

November 22            My Love for Jane Austen (Spotlight)

November 25            From Pemberley to Milton (Excerpt)

November 25            Diary of an Eccentric (Interview)

November 26            So Little Time… (Excerpt)

November 27            Impressions in Ink (Review)

November 27            Babblings of a Bookworm (Spotlight)

November 28            More Agreeably Engaged (Review)

November 29            My Vices and Weaknesses (Excerpt)

November 29            The Fiction Addiction (Review)

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Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★★

‘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.

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