Home Forums Reading Group Jane Austen, ‘The Watsons’ (c. 1803)

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    • Kim Simpson
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      Starter Questions

      -In a 1986 article in Persuasions, James Heldman argued that

      ‘Something is missing – or almost missing – something which is characteristic and even essential in [Austen’s] completed novels. That something is the narrative voice of Jane Austen telling us the story, informing us, guiding us, shaping our responses, standing between us and her characters as we together watch them live their lives. In a very real sense, despite her profound skill in presenting her stories dramatically, every Jane Austen novel is to some degree an extended conversation with Jane Austen herself.’

      What do you think about this? To what extent is Austen as narrator aligned with Emma Watson in this text?

      -What similarities can you find here to Austen’s other novels?

      – Why do you think Austen didn’t return to this novel later in life?

      – What comments do you think Austen is making about social class here? What did you make of references to the sizes of parlours, to ‘our great wash’, and fried beef dinners?

      – What do we learn about the marriage market? What does the detailed description of the ball add to our understanding of seeing and being seen in this period?

      – What is your favourite line of dialogue here?

      – What did you think of the characterisation of the following people:

      • Aunt O’Brien – ‘it did not suit Captain O’Brien that I should be of the party’
      • Penelope Watson – ‘do not trust her’
      • Margaret Watson – ‘artificial sensibility’
      • Mrs Robert Watson (Jane)
      • Robert Watson – ‘a woman should never be trusted with money’
      • Tom Musgrave
      • Lord Osborne – ‘careless air’
      • Mr Howard – no ‘theatrical grimace or violence
      • Mr Watson

      – You can view the manuscript of ‘The Watsons’ on the Jane Austen Fiction Manuscripts database. What do you think looking at the manuscripts can add to our understanding of Austen?

      – In her talk for the 16 December event on ‘The Watsons’ at Chawton House, Michelle Levy talked about Austen deliberately writing herself into a corner by writing a series of impossible-to-resolve scenarios – a cathartic experiment of sorts. But many others have attempted to finish the novel. Deborah Yaffe has reviewed many of these continuation on her blog. Have you read or seen any of these continuations, and if so, what did you think?

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