Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Watsons by Jane Austen and completed by John Coates: A Review

The Watsons

by Jane Austen

Completed by John Coates

Source: local library

The Watsons was an unfinished manuscript left behind by Jane Austen. It has always caused us to wonder what would have happened had she finished it, so it was with delight that I found a very hard to find completion by John Coates. When I say hard to find I mean it’s out of print. I was lucky my library had a copy hiding in its midst’s.

Coates makes a change to our heroine’s name. Instead of calling her Emma he calls her Emily, which works just fine.

In the initial fragment we are led to understand that Emily had been raised by her Aunt who upon her second marriage went to Ireland effectively sending Emily back home to strangers. Mr. Watson is a sickly man who rarely leaves his room and Mrs. Watson is long since dead which is suggested to be the cause of Mr. Watson’s condition.

Emily comes from a large family---two brothers and four sisters. Her brother Robert is married to a simpering woman named Jane. The other brother Sam is practicing to be a doctor. Elizabeth, the eldest daughter, is in essence the lady of the house seeing to all the needs of the parsonage. Penelope is the teasing, witty one and Margaret is vain and self absorbed. What a cast of characters!

Tom Musgrave is considered a flirt a la Willoughby or Wickham. He gets his just desserts when he marries Margaret Watson as he is sure to be miserable in life now. Lord Osborne is the wealthy lord who sets his eye on Emily and proposes to her twice (both time refused), but in a charming twist he finds his heart has been claimed elsewhere for some time. It is Mr. Howard who ultimately wins Emily’s heart despite him only being a clergyman---what is wealth and status to true love?

In other words this is a cast of characters that only Austen could have introduced.

Coates created a balance between Emily and her Aunt and their more prosperous status than that of her family. However it was suggested that Jane spoke to her sister Cassandra and explained that Emily’s father Mr. Watson was to die and she was to be dependent on her snipping sister-in-law and brother. As I knew of this I was saddened to see Coates deviate from that path, but then that is what makes it a completion because we can only speculate how Jane herself would have ended it.

Coates does an admirable job in keeping the transition between Austen’s fragment and his completion without any disasters. What is more is that every Janeite is sure to find similarities to other Austen characters in this book. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and believe that even Jane herself would have been proud.

Final Recommendation: A book worth the read….if you can find a copy that is.

Have you read this completion or the one by Joan Aiken?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Watsons: An Unfinished Fragment by Jane Austen

The Watsons is one of Jane Austen’s unfinished manuscripts (only about 17 ½ thousand words) and the only one from her time in Bath. It is well known that Austen truly hated Bath and it was an unhappy time in her life. It is thought that Austen began writing The Watsons sometime in 1804 and then abandoned the manuscript after her father’s death in 1805.

The Watsons begins with the heroine Emma Watson returning home for the first time. In infancy she was given to a more affluent and childless Aunt to raise as was particularly customary during the time if a family had too many mouths to feed. Emma’s Aunt has remarried and so Emma has been sent home. Where once she may have expected to be given a dowry she now has nothing and is cast into obscurity. Emma has been raised in more refinement than her poor siblings and now she must navigate a way of life where she is poorer than she is used too and social norms are different. In addition, while this is her family they are also complete strangers. It is a difficult situation to be sure for Emma.

Mr. Watson, Emma’s father, is shown as a sickly man who perhaps never quite recovered from the death of his wife years prior. Emma is one of six children. Elizabeth is the oldest and has taken to running the small parish household. There is also Penelope and Margaret. There are two brothers, Sam and Robert. Robert is married to Jane who we can tell, even from her brief appearance in the fragment, that she is insipid and close minded.

We are introduced to two possible suitors for Emma. There is the rich, titled landowner, Lord Osborne, who first lays eyes on her at a ball and is intrigued. Then there is Mr. Howard who is the former tutor to Lord Osborne and now the clergyman in the parish of Osborne Castle. Mr. Howard also meets Emma at the same ball that she is introduce to Lord Osborne. What is a girl to do with two different choices?

Well we do not know as the fragment ends quite abruptly.

It is suggested, and rightly so if you know Austen that Emma will turn down a marriage proposal from Lord Osborne and in the end marry Mr. Howard.

In the memoir by Austen-Leigh the following is stated:

When the author’s sister, Cassandra, showed the manuscript of this work to her nieces, she also told them something of the intended story; for with this dear sister---though, I believe with no one else---Jane seems to have talked freely of any work she might have on hand. Mr. Watson was soon to die; and Emma to become dependent on her narrow-minded sister-in-law and brother. She was to decline an offer of marriage from Lord Osborne, and much of the interest in the tale was to arise from Lady Osborne’s love for Mr. Howard, and his counter affection for Emma, whom he was finally to marry (Austen, p.152, Penguin Classics edition.).

It is only a wonder what Austen would have done had she continued the story. The stage has been set for a classic story, peppered with Austen’s wit and social satire. In fact Austen was almost exhibiting a bygone era which would have only made the story all that more delightful.

We can enjoy her fragment for what it is knowing that had she finished it there would have been another delightful Austen heroine to add to the mix. There could have been an Emma 1 and Emma 2 or perhaps we would have differentiated by calling them Woodhouse and Watson.

It has been suggested that The Watsons is an early manuscript for Emma, but given the foundation set for the story I cannot agree and can only say I believe that it was to be entirely different from Emma and would have been a charming addition to the Austen works which we enjoy today.

I just finished the John Coates completion of The Watsons and will be posting my review here soon. There is also a completion by Joan Aiken recently rereleased by Sourcebooks as The Watsons & Emma Watson. In the meantime if you have not already you should pick up a copy of Jane Austen’s unfinished manuscript of The Watsons or if you have money to burn you can buy the original manuscript which has recently come up for action.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Jane Austen in the News

Remember my previous post, Better than Jane Austen? Are Women writers inferior to male writers?, where I discussed Nobel Prize winner V.S Naipaul calling Jane Austen sentimental? Author and Professor of English at Brooklyn College, Rachel M Brownstein has written a fabulous article titled The Unsentimental Jane Austen which appears in The Daily Beast where she argues that the enduring fascination with Jane Austen is because of her take on life and love. Check it out!

The Unsentimental Jane Austen by Rachel M Brownstein

Rachel Brownstein is also the author of Becoming a Heroine: Reading About Women in Novels and Tragic Muse: Rachel of the Comédie Française.
Look for her upcoming book Why Jane Austen? I’ll be posting a review as soon as my ARC arrives and I can read it. I’m very excited about this one. :)

In other news Austen Author Jennifer Becton is releasing a thriller titled Absolute Liability later this summer. Look for my review here in the next couple of weeks.

She is also set to release another Austen sequel later this summer titled Caroline Bingley.

Jennifer Becton is also the author of Charlotte Collins: A Continuation of Pride and Prejudice and short story Maria Lucas: A Short Story in the Personages of Pride and Prejudice.

That is just some great Jane Austen news. Exciting things are happening in the world of Austen.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Stacks: Books to Read

What’s on your to read list?

I have to take a moment to thank my local library for supporting my vivacious reading habit on the cheap. If my local branch doesn’t have a book I want they are very wonderful about requesting it through interlibrary exchange.


Anyways, Here are the books in my to read stack; which grows higher all the time. Do you find your book stack slowly creeping up in size? The books in my stack are not all Austen…Gasp…but I have eclectic reading tastes. Why limit yourself when you can explore many different worlds.

What do you think of my book stack?

Am I missing a book that I should be reading?

What’s in your stack of books?

I’d like to know.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Austen Reads: Murder at Mansfield Park by Lynn Shepherd

This book is in the vein of Gosford Park-----a fantastic British mystery. Miss Shepherd keeps you guessing as you turn the pages. She is excellent when it comes to writing mysteries and I look forward to more from her.

Fair warnings however, the characters from Austen’s original Mansfield Park, are vastly different. One should not read this expecting anything to be like Austen. For a great book review visit Austenesque Reviews. Remember, since I myself write JAFF I only recommend a book, but do not review it. (See Book Review Policy)

Murder at Mansfield Park

by Lynn Shepherd

Paperback/Hardback: 384 pages/368 pages
(Also in ebook)

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; 1 edition (July 20, 2010)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0312638345/ 0312577168


"Nobody, I believe, has ever found it possible to like the heroine of Mansfield Park." --Lionel Trilling

In this ingenious new twist on Mansfield Park, the famously meek Fanny Price--whom Jane Austen's own mother called "insipid"--has been utterly transformed; she is now a rich heiress who is spoiled, condescending, and generally hated throughout the county. Mary Crawford, on the other hand, is now as good as Fanny is bad, and suffers great indignities at the hands of her vindictive neighbor. It's only after Fanny is murdered on the grounds of Mansfield Park that Mary comes into her own, teaming-up with a thief-taker from London to solve the crime.

Featuring genuine Austen characters--the same characters, and the same episodes, but each with a new twist--MURDER AT MANSFIELD PARK is a brilliantly entertaining novel that offers Jane Austen fans an engaging new heroine and story to read again and again.

Final Recommendation: If you love a good British mystery where nothing is as it seems.

Visit Lynn Shepherd at her website

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Better than Jane Austen? Are Women Writers Inferior to Male Writers?

The Guardian: V.S. Naipaul finds no woman writer his literary match----not even Jane Austen

SpeakEasy: Jane Austen Caught in Crossfire in Literary Battle of the Sexes (counter comments to V.S. Naipaul)

Nobel Prize Winner V.S. Naipaul “claims that there is no woman writer who could serve as his literary match (The Guardian)." He takes a distinctive stab at our dear Jane Austen saying she is sentimental, as are all women writers. Read the article in The Guardian here as it is very interesting.

Am I inferior?

Janeites love our dear Jane and our feathers tend to get ruffled when there are those who do not agree. I must admit to my hackles rising a bit because while Mr. Naipaul is entitled to his own opinion, as we all are, is it really fair to say that men write better than men? I know plenty of men who are sentimental and it doesn’t make them any less manly for it. Men and women write from different perspectives, but to call Jane sentimental?

Jane Austen was if anything, bound to realism in her writing. The reality of the status of women in her time or even the realities of rich vs. poor. She wrote with such wit and such prose that she made herself timeless. Her novels have become almost immortal in their presence. Jane as a woman and as a writer is not inferior. Neither are other women writers.

What about the Brontes? Were they sentimental? I hardly call the Brontes sentimental. They wrote of their own harsh reality which was far from everyday happiness. Wuthering Heights anyone? That is not exactly a sentimental, all ends well love story. It’s one of my favorite books, but I will be the first to admit that the novel is depressing and leaves you feeling angry and well….like crap.

Even in Jane Austen’s happy endings we cannot forget the poor end for Lydia Bennet having to marry poor Wickham, Willoughby giving up Marianne for the money and security offered by Miss Grey, Miss Thorpe losing James Morland because she was unfaithful, Miss Bates lonely existence or Charlotte Lucas’ practical marriage to the odious Mr. Collins. If these outcomes are sentimental then I would hate to see what reality actually is.

Well Mr. Naipaul you are entitled to your opinion, but I respectfully disagree. As a woman and as a writer I am neither sentimental or inferior, I just have a different perspective than you.

What are your thoughts my dear readers? Are women writers inferior to male writers? Are women writers just sentimental?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Writing Desk: How do you choose your characters?

Writing a book is like taking a journey. In fact it is like being in a relationship. You have your good days and your bad days. I’ve been having bad days, not for lack of material mind you, but thanks to my carpal tunnel. I’m learning that my health comes first and so I’ve had more time away from writing and more time trying to slowly rehabilitate my wrist. It is about finding balance which I am happy to say I am learning to do with each passing day.

When I decided to write an Austenesque novel I really thought about what spoke to me and I looked at the market. Everything is about Elizabeth and Darcy and while I love them it is possible to have too much of a good thing. I found myself looking for different offerings and fresh takes on a classic. I started picking up Austenesque books about minor characters and what little I can find of Northanger Abbey sequels. It’s a small buffet of books with minor characters or focusing on other Austen novels, but they are there if you have the time to dig them out.

So, what spoke to me? Colonel Fitzwilliam did. I love a man in uniform and he was so little mentioned, but we know he and Darcy are close; I wanted to know about his story. There are no books focusing solely on Colonel Fitzwilliam. Karen Wasylowski’s Darcy and Fitzwilliam (which I thought was fantastic) is as close as I have found, Usually Colonel Fitzwilliam has a supporting role. I however, felt Colonel Fitzwilliam deserved to be the Hero of his own story.

That’s what I am doing. He spoke to me.

My approach however is not a light hearted one. My work has Gothic undertones and the purpose of basing the situations or feelings my characters have in sharp reality. Will my novel be loved by all? Most certainly not, but I hope it does offer what many Janeites may be looking for and that is a book just for Colonel Fitzwilliam. Most importantly I hope to offer Janeites a good, clean romance, which they can relate too. We all want our hero and I hope my interpretation of Colonel Fitzwilliam will elevate his status from minor character to hero.

Finally, I hope my heroine is welcomed as I have become a bit partial to her. Colonel Fitzwilliam has met his match and he will be the better for it. I am nervous and excited as each day of progress brings me closer to my publishing date. I will survive! I can do it! Yippie!

My question to authors and writers is this: What made you decide to write about the characters in your story?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Charlottle Collins by Jennifer Becton...Get It While It's Hot

One of my favorite Jane Austen Sequels is Jennifer Becton's Charlottle Collins. It must be summer because the ebook is on sale for 99cents. If you haven't read the book yet then hop on the train and pick up a copy. You will love it. I promise.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Austen Reads: Henry Tilney's Diary by Amanda Grange

Ladies and Gents, I must confess to cheating a bit to acquire Henry Tilney’s Diary by Amanda Grange. I purchased this from Amazon UK as it is not schedule to appear on the US market until December. Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey is one of my favorite novels because Henry Tilney is an adorable hero. I get my hands on any Northanger Abbey sequels when I find them, but they are as rare as finding an oil well in my backyard. So, I really could not wait for the US release date.


Publisher: Berkley Trade (December 6, 2011)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0425243923

At the age of four and twenty, Henry is content with his life as a clergyman, leaving his older brother Frederick to inherit Northanger Abbey. But General Tilney is determined to increase the family's means by having all three of his children marry wealthy partners.

During a trip to Bath, Henry meets the delightful Miss Catherine Morland and believes he may have found the woman he's been looking for, although she has no great fortune. When the General takes an unusual liking to Catherine and invites her to visit the Abbey, Henry is thrilled. But just as in the Gothic novels Henry loves, not everything is as it seems...