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The three minor works collected here are the closest we’ll ever get to another complete novel by Jane Austen. Lady Susan is a novella composed in the early 1790s at the same time as early versions of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. It’s a sassy little tale about Lady Susan, a dazzling young widow who wants her daughter to marry well and herself to marry even better. Her schemes and seductions unfold through letters that the characters write to each other. The Watsons is an unfinished fragment about Emma Watson, daughter of a poor curate who’s farther down on the social ladder than any other Austen heroine—maybe so far down that Austen couldn’t see a realistic way to raise her up, and possibly why the story was abandoned in 1804. Still, The Watsons showcases Austen’s optimism and originality. Austen was writing Sanditon at the time of her death in 1817, and from the eleven chapters she wrote, it’s clear this story would have been on par with the other novels. It begins with an overturned carriage, follows with several cheerful gossipy chapters about the histories of the characters, and ends just when the heroine finds herself involved in a romantic mystery. Several authors (Joan Aiken, Juliette Shapiro, Julia Barrett, and an anonymous “Other Lady”) have tried completing The Watsons or Sanditon, but not one lives up to the promise contained in these small but tantalizing hints that Austen left behind.
posted Jun 16, 2009 at 11:22AM
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