Jane Austen is great, whether in fragments or finished. I very much enjoyed reading all three of the story (parts), although I’m actually happy that Sanditon remained a fragment because I would have different plans for the characters than Austen most likely intended and this way, the path is free for me to imagine it all. In any case, if you enjoy her finished and polished novels, it’s definitely worth checking out her other works as well.
After the jump, I’ll talk about each work separately.
Lady Susan Vernon is a widow with a 16-year-old daughter, Frederica. Susan very much enjoys her widowhood and has garnered quite a reputation as a seductress. Her most recent conquest, Mr. Mainwaring, has left her in a bit of a delicate situation, so she retreats to her brother’s estate. Her sister-in-law Catherine Vernon is not pleased as she suspects Susan’s scheming ways. Catherine’s brother Reginald, on the other hand, is rather intrigued by her, despite the warnings. Things become even more difficult for Susan when Frederica runs away from school, fearing her mother’s plans for herself.
I loved the idea of Lady Susan, I am definitely into epistolary novels and I would have freaked if this had actually turned out to be Dangerous Liaisons by Jane Austen. But it doesn’t quite work out that way, mostly because Austen didn’t leave herself enough time and space to tell the story. Maybe it was due to the epistolary form. In any case, there is too much missing which leaves the characters fragmented, making Susan’s magnetism, Reginald’s heroism and Frederica’s entire character almost incomprehensible. And it is clear that Austen ran out of steam before the ending, which remains perfunctory. If she had reworked it once or twice, it could have been great, but it appears that she wasn’t all that interested in the story after the first draft. Still, even that first draft is highly entertaining.
Mr. Watson is a widower left with four daughters and two sons. His youngest daughter Emma has received a good education in the care of a wealthy aunt, a privilege her sisters don’t have. But when the aunt gets married for a second time, Emma has to return home, where she just doesn’t feel at home anymore and sees the husband hunting of two of her sisters with horror. Only her oldest sister Elisabeth proves to be the kind of person Emma likes to spend time with. When Emma attracts the attention of the young Lord Osborne, who lives near-by, she may have found a potential husband.
It’s a pity that The Watsons remained a fragment. It started off well and I really enjoyed reading about Emma and her sisters. I also totally rooted for the right guy (Austen confided into her sister how the story was supposed to end), which is nice.
Charlotte Heywood lives a rather calm life, but when a carriage topples close to her home and one of its passengers, Mr. Parker, is injured, she and her family take him and his wife in for two weeks until they’re ready to travel again. In that time, the Parkers take to Charlotte very much and bring her to Sanditon, a small seaside town, with them. There Charlotte meets Lady Denham and her impoverished niece Clara and the rest of her family. They are soon joined by Mr. Parker’s siblings who all seem to have their own reasons for coming to town – and Charlotte is caught inbetween.
I enjoyed reading Sanditon – which finishes laying the scene, but doesn’t quite leave enough hints or go far enough to make clear how the story is supposed to end according to Austen. In this case, as I said, I absolutely loved that Sanditon remained a fragment, because for me it is absolutely clear that Charlotte and Clara are destined for each other – and it’s also clear that this couple would never have happened in a Jane Austen novel. So not getting an ending, left me absolutely free to imagine my queer one. That being said, I do regret never getting to see Sidney Parker in action himself. I assume that he would have shaken things up again quite a bit.
Summarizing: Definitely worth reading. And maybe even continuing.