Austen's secret works

September 17, 2012

Lady Susan, The Watsons, and Sanditon. These are titles that you may or may not be familiar with, written by an author that I imagine you are. Yes, Jane Austen. They are less widely known as they were incomplete, or posthumously published. I like to think of them as her secret works, although of course they're not, they're as deeply analysed, critiqued, and praised as many of her others.

Wonderful enjoyed with a piping hot cup of tea in bed as I wake, as the sun streams through and promises a cold crisp morning. So what exactly were these stories about and what did I admire?

Lady Susan- an epistolary novel written from changing viewpoints with correspondences between Lady Susan, her friend Mrs Johnson, and her brother: Mr Vernon, (as well as his wife and mother-in-law.) It depicts a beautiful, enchanting, intelligent widow who is simultaneously deceitful and manipulative; she fickly seeks to enhance her own amusement and fortune at the expense of women's, men's, and even her own daughter's heart. 

The eponymous anti-heroine certainly contrasts to Austen's other female characters and indeed lacks the morality of them all. She must be praised, however, for her adept capability of influencing, primarily achieved through her command of language.
The story, though short, demonstrates Austen's skill of depicting the full and flagrant character of Lady Susan. The letters are engaging; I genuinely wanted to read on. This story demonstrates, for me, what I love about Austen: her ability to 'form a third-person narrative able to represent subjective as well as objective experience by moving seamlessly from characters' consciousnesses to detached and authoritative commentary on them' (Claudia L Johnson, Introduction, 'Northanger Abbey', Oxford University Press, 2003)

The Watsons- a story whose protagonist, Emma Watson, returns home to her invalid father. Having grown up away from him and her siblings, in relative prosperity under her Aunt's patronage, it describes this awkward interaction. Due to her estranged relationship with her family members under their paternal roof, we sympathise with Emma and recognise the true poignancy of such a situation. The impoverished Watsons are united with Austen's other families in needing to marry for money, but Emma's older sisters appear as 'unrefined husband-hunters.' 

This has been described as Austen's bleakest work; dealing with ageing parents, social fall, and a lack of familial cohesiveness or love. 

Sanditon- Considered as an example of Austen's most original work, this fragment explores new territory, acting as an obstacle to scholars who critique her work as entirely driven by a marriage plot. Instead it tells of Mr Parker's obsession for the development of a seaside town, Sanditon, into a growing fashionable resort for wealthy invalids- which would compete, (or in his view surpass) its counterparts of Eastbourne and Brighton. It also concerns itself with the commodity culture, depicted as a preoccupation of Regency society and its aspiration for modernity. Charlotte, a guest of Mr Parker's, has good sense and therefore acts as a juxtaposition to his comical hypochondriac relations. Austen amusingly plays with this sense of invalidity, although this is surprising in light of her own degeneration of health, (she died within the year of writing 'Sanditon.')

If you're an Austen fan, I think these are particularly interesting, despite being incomplete. These are perhaps not the beautifully romantic, happily resolved stories that you're used to, but important in developing ones own understanding of Austen as a novelist and the subtle evolution of her style.

Had your heard of these novellas?

What is your favourite novel by Jane Austen?

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1 comment:

  1. I've never heard of these before (I'm a poor excuse for an English Lit student), but I love how interesting The Watsons sounds - completely unlike all her other work! I'm not a big Austen fan really, but if I happen to stumble across these at some point I'll definitely give them a read (: xx