Review: The Watsons

Title: The Watsons
Jane Austen
Literary Fiction / Classic
Published Date: 1817 (unfinished)
Why I wanted to read it: I am reading the book as part of Austen in August, but I’ve wanted to read more of Jane Austen’s work since reading Pride and Prejudice years ago.


Mr. Watson is a widowed clergyman with two sons and four daughters. The youngest daughter, Emma, has been brought up by a wealthy aunt and is consequently better educated and more refined than her sisters. But when her aunt contracts a foolish second marriage, Emma is obliged to return to her father’s house. There she is chagrined by the crude and reckless husband-hunting of two of her twenty-something sisters.

Before I get to my reviews, I need to write about unfinished work. I find it difficult to take writing for what it is like some people do if the work is unfinished. I start to question whether or not the author would want their work published when it’s unfinished, which makes me feel like I’m invading their privacy. A part of me doesn’t want to read the work while the other part is excited to see what the author’s writing looks like unedited and unfinished. We see books today that are edited several times and perfected before being allowed on the shelf, but with some of Austen work that isn’t always the case. Love and Freindship, for example, has many spelling and punctuation errors, but we love it because it shows us a young Jane using her early wit and cleverness to keep us interested despite these errors. I can look past the errors in most cases, but I have trouble looking past unfinished work. While I’m eager to soak up every word written by Austen, I am also now left wondering about what could have come from works like The Watsons and Sanditon. Perhaps it’s just me, but I find this rather irksome. Regardless, I put my personal opinion aside and rate the work as it is, not based on what it could be or what is lacking due to being unfinished.

It made sense to me that The Watsons went unfinished when I learned that Austen was writing it while living in Bath. While Bath was used as a setting in a couple of her novels, she hated leaving the family home of Steventon for a faster paced life in a larger town. It is assumed that Austen’s work on The Watsons ended completely when her father died, because the content of the story related too closely to her own life. While we will never know the complete details of this work, I think it would have been added to the brilliant “big six” novels that were completed in her lifetime based on what she did manage to write.

The Penguin Classics edition that I read mentioned that Jane had intended for Mr. Watson to die and for Emma to refuse a proposal from Mr. Osborne. This is interesting not only because of Mr. Austen’s death, but also because Jane herself declined a proposal from Harris Bigg-Wither while living in Bath. A lot of authors write about what they know best, and this is just one small example of Austen’s own life existing within her work.

As for the characters within the story, I love how Tom Musgrave is spoken so poorly of by Elizabeth, then defended when Emma states that she dislikes him already. More than anything, Elizabeth is curious as to how Emma will be treated by a man who has appeared to have wronged other women in the past. It also interests me that Emma was asked to take note of who Mary Edwards dances with because their brother fancies her, though it’s made clear that Mary doesn’t care much for him. There is a lot of gossip and intrigue within the story, and everyone seems curious as to what everyone else is doing. The stereotypical nosy neighbor character is indeed intensified in this work.

I like the idea of Emma being raised by a wealthy aunt, then returning to her roots without a penny but with an education and sense of propriety. It reminds me of Fanny Price returning to her family for a visit in Mansfield Park. While she returns to what she should know, the world she enters is in fact foreign to her, and she must learn to blend in with her surroundings. Just as Fanny doesn’t understand the loud and rough lifestyle of her family, Emma doesn’t understand the unwritten rules of the people around her. She has no interest in whether Tom Musgrave enters with the Osborne’s or not, but she is taught to treat it as a matter of importance. The entire thing is silly in that regard, but it’s also very Austen to laugh at such behavior.

Favorite Character
I think I have to go with Emma Watson in this case. I see so much of some of Austen’s other heroines in her, particularly Elizabeth Bennet, whom I adore. She doesn’t want to marry for the sake of it being a good match or good situation, and that is clear if Austen meant for her to refuse Mr. Osborne, just as Elizabeth refuses Mr. Collins when she is practically begged to and almost forced had Mr. Bennet not come to the rescue. She also manages to go from having everything to having little without much complaint, and she makes the most of her situation. While Emma’s time to shine is short due to the unfinished novel, I think she would have been among Austen’s greatest heroines had the story seen its end.

Favorite Quote

There is a ridiculousness about him that entertains me – but his company gives me no other agreeable emotion.

If you don’t mind unfinished works, yes.

Discussion Question
How do you feel about publishing unfinished work?
Do you think The Watsons would be among Austen’s other great novels had it been finished?


10 thoughts on “Review: The Watsons

  1. I haven’t read this one and I’m a little hesitant because it is unfinished. While I think that it would be a shame to not publish it, I think there’s that catch-22 of being disappointed because it isn’t done. The whole idea of “what could have been.”


  2. Very good review, Jenna, I couldn’t have put my thoughts about The Watsons into words any better!

    I was dreading to read this bundle of three, because I know that Lady Susan, although finished, would be so very different from her other work. And with unfinished work… I was afraid I would feel frustrated that they had been left uncompleted. I do keep wondering whether The Watsons could have become a more polished novel, one that would fit into the set of six. Having read this before Mansfield Park (and P&P, which is still on my tbr…) I missed a few similarities. Thanks for pointing them out.

    Emma Watson (another Emma!) is indeed the most likeable character of the bunch. Tom Musgrove is such an airhead…


  3. I don’t think I’ve ever read an unfinished work – yet. I can see the appeal as a reader and a fan of the author’s works…. but I think I still would prefer to read it when finished. But I suppose we don’t have that luxury here! -Sarah


  4. Pingback: Weekly Round-up for September 4, 2012 « The Classics Club

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