How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Lady Susan, The Watsons, & Sanditon

                                                  Lady Susan/The Watsons/ Sanditon

My Jane Austen literature purview became nearly complete when I read Lady Susan, The Watsons, and Sanditon in one bound copy last year. It was wonderful to read something new from my favorite author -- you know the feeling, I’m sure!

I wasn’t completely satisfied, of course. It was not like reading an undiscovered novel. Lady Susan is a novella, written in the epistolary style (the story is told through letters that the characters write each other), and, frankly, I didn’t like the story. But I could see Jane Austen at work behind the funny prose and well-sketched characters. It was also interesting to read each person’s very different perspective and see how perceptions clash. It’s a very good exercise in putting yourself in other peoples’ shoes, especially when you see how disastrous it is when the characters are blind to all other character’s perspectives. Lady Susan was written possibly in 1794 but Jane Austen never submitted it for publication. She transcribed it in 1805, so she still had an interest in it, but it wasn’t published until 1871 in the second edition of A Memoir of Jane Austen by her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh. (Curious about more details? Go to Austenprose.)

The Watsons starts out to be a most interesting story, but it reaches only 46 pages in my edition -- five chapters and less than 18,000 words. So sad. I think Emma Watson, the heroine, was going to be a delightful protagonist. Jane Austen wrote it around 1803-05 but never returned to it; it was published with Lady Susan in 1871. It would have been a full-length novel like her other works, but the story was already starting out to be a unique web of intriguing difficulties.

Sanditon was begun in 1817 but Jane Austen wrote only twelve chapters before she was forced to put it away because of her declining health. It was likewise published in A Memoir of Jane Austen in 1871. Miss Austen originally called it The Brothers (probably in reference to the very different Parker brothers) but her family renamed it after the seaside resort town that the story is set in. She established a large party of characters and a captivating setting, but this story featuring health and hypochondriacs was cut off in its prime, as was its author. Another pity.

I’ve read Sanditon by Jane Austen & Another Lady, and thought it quite good, though perhaps a bit lacking where the second author started in, such as in Miss Austen’s sharp, refined wit. The Other Lady sewed her words seamlessly in the language of the Regency, however, and, apart from the ending, I think I could have believed it to be wholly by Jane Austen if I hadn’t known better. (At least at that early stage in my Austen fervor. I’d have to read it again and analyze it more closely to see how well it stands up in my opinion now.) Bravo for Anne Telscombe/aka Marie Dobbs, the Other Lady. But -- later I had a distinct satisfaction in reading the pure Jane Austen fragment and leaving it at that. No one can write like Jane Austen.

Have you read these works? What do you think of them? Have you ever dipped into the Juvenilia (the next thing I’m curious about …)?


  1. I thought Sanditon was hilariously funny in places (Sir Edward Denham!!) The Watsons was irritating because it was so unfinished. I actually enjoyed Lady Susan, although the cold, sarcastic tone is a bit monotonous.

    The Juvenilia vary quite a bit. Most are brief comic sketches containing wildly farcical situations. One or two, like the boring "Catherine," show an awkward phase of transitioning to more serious later efforts.

    One juvenile work I found very clever and amusing was "Love and Friendship." In it an older woman wrote about her exciting past to a young acquaintance. Her adventures, narrated in an angsty, self-absorbed way, made hilarious fun of the fainting heroines and immature, posing young men who dominated popular fiction then.

  2. I agree: Sanditon is quite funny! The whole idea is just so clever. Jane Austen liked to poke fun at things, and here this book's whole setting was a joke on up-and-coming seaside resorts!
    I like to see a great writer's skill developing, so the Juvenilia sound very interesting to me. Thanks for the review about them! I really didn't know much.