Wednesday 21 December 2011

Advent With Austen: Lady Susan/ The Watsons/ Sanditon

I have issues with this book. Not really with the content, which is interesting at worst and hilarious at best; but more with the fact that it has been published at all. I've already expressed my displeasure at the publication of private journals after an author's death, and although this is a slightly different matter, it still makes me mildly uncomfortable. I'm good with Lady Susan, since it's basically a completed novel (short story? Novella?) that never got published, but I have issues with Sanditon, the novel Austen was writing when she died; and The Watsons, which was abandoned where it stands today. The issue I have is, that I doubt there's a single writer who would want their work published until they were wholly satisfied with it, and Austen was clearly not happy with The Watsons, since she abandoned it, and surely wouldn't have been happy with Sanditon being published without having the opportunity to finish it.

Having said all that, I obviously read all three stories/fragments, and enjoyed them as far as I could- that is, since I knew The Watsons and Sanditon were going to be unfinished, my experience of reading them was kind of marred because I couldn't be bothered to fully engage with them. My other, non-moral, dilemma with this book arises now in the form of the 'short story dilemma' in blogging- which ones to talk about, and how? Quiet consultation with myself suggests that I briefly talk about each of them in turn, so that's what I shall do!

Lady Susan
I was initially alarmed by Lady Susan because it's an epistolatory novel, which immediately reminds me of Pamela, which brings me out in a cold sweat. Fortunately for me, it was a LOT better (and shorter) than Pamela, and didn't make me want to stab myself in the face! Go Jane! What it is though, is kind of risque, and clearly inspired by many novels of the 18th Century (literally the only good thing that has come out of the module I did at University on the 18th Century novel is that I can say Lady Susan is like some of those novels. Time well spent I'd say!) Anyway, Lady Susan is fun, and the character of Lady Susan is terrible, but also fun, AND there's a character called Sir James Martin, which makes me giggle because this is James Martin, and he's an English TV chef who I have genuinely been in love with for about 10 years:

The Watsons
I quite like The Watsons, and I'm kind of sad that it was abandoned by Austen, because I think it could really have gone somewhere. I'm not entirely sure when it was written, because I couldn't be bothered to read the introduction and I can't even be bothered now to look on Wikipedia, but in it I could see foreshadowing/echoes of both Pride and Prejudice, in that this is a relatively poor family with quite a few female members; and of Mansfield Park, if Fanny had gone back to her poor, actual family (and was more interesting... you know it's true!) There's also a totally rake-ish character who could have gone somewhere, and broken some hearts, and it's just, in general, a relatively good, albeit unedited, beginning of a potential novel, and it's so frustrating that we don't get to see it in a finished form. Also fun- the main character is called Emma Watson, which is such a familiar sounding name...

I'm kind of alarmed that I didn't get on with Sanditon, but I think I actually liked it least of the three. It really just feels very un-Austen-like to me, lacking in her spot-on observations of human behaviour, and of society of the time. I did enjoy the whole 'the Parkers are crazy hypochondriacs' thing, because that seemed to be in the style of her gently-mocking-people thing, but on the whole, I was mostly thinking, 'was this really going to be Jane's next novel..?' And the thing is, the answer to that is basically no- It's likely that, any version of Sanditon that was actually finished would be wildly different to this, which is presumably a first draft, and it's even possible that, like The Watsons, she could have scrapped it altogether. And this is the problem with this set of stories, that, even though you can continue the stories in your brain by yourself, we can never know how Austen would have finished them, and that's the kind of information that we all really crave.

So, I wouldn't say I at all hated these stories, but I do kind of think that the world could do without them- giant Austen cravings as we all may have, I don't really think these do much to satisfy even the most desperate Austen junkie. I wouldn't say don't read them, because I think in terms of the development of her writing they are interesting, but basically they're not going to go on my favourite books list (which doesn't actually exist...) or anything like that.


  1. I love what you say about respecting an author enough NOT to publish their half-written work. I think this is why so many request that their half-written stuff be burned after death. Still, I know I'll need to read these, as much as I agree with you. I admit I'm curious about journals by writers as well, though I agree with you in that too!

  2. "I was initially alarmed by Lady Susan because it's an epistolatory novel, which immediately reminds me of Pamela, which brings me out in a cold sweat."


    I started Lady Susan but haven't finished it. Shall someday.

  3. @Jillian- I'm all about questioning the morality of things after I've actually done the thing... it's pretty fun :). I am much more iffy about reading journals than unfinished work though, just because they were never, in any way, intended for publication... ISSUES!

    @Reading Rambo- PAMELA IS THE WORST THING IN THE WORLD! Literally. I can't even deal with it. I HAD TO READ THE WHOLE THING and I am traumatised! Lady Susan is quite fun. Plus, better written than basically everything published in the 18th Century, so that's always a good thing.

  4. I really enjoyed Lady Susan (and her published novels) but I've been putting off reading The Watsons and Sanditon for precisely the same reason. I feel like I should, in a way, but am a bit worried it might affect my current opinion of Austen. :)

  5. @Melody- I don't necessarily think it'll affect the Austen-love, because even if you HATE them, you can still go 'well, that's why she didn't publish them/she would almost definitely have improved it' and then everything's ok! I definitely don't regret reading them, I just didn't love them.