Archive for the ‘Austen 2010’ Category

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The Watsons by Jane Austen

March 8, 2010

The Watsons is one of Jane Austen’s earliest writing attempts, but it remains a fragment. She abandoned the book after only 40 or 50 pages. Somewhat surprisingly, the story focuses on a character named Emma and her family. Emma has been living with an elderly aunt for most of her life, but returns to her family after her aunt remarries without leaving Emma any money. Thus Emma becomes enmeshed in what we recognize as a classic Austen drama: she and her family are poor and the responsibility of providing for themselves rests entirely on the sisters’ ability to marry rich men. I found myself liking this story very much, and was actually shocked when I reached the end. I was sad that it was over, because I found myself very interested in the fates of some of the characters. In her introduction, Terry Castle postualtes that Austen may have abandoned this story because it was too dark, and Austen preferred to critique society with a wittier, gentler tone. I found this theory very convincing, since The Watsons does seem like a pretty bleak beginning for a novel. I could imagine a happy ending for maybe one or two of the sisters, but it seemed virtually impossible that the entire Watson family could conceivably find happiness. And for lack of a better description, many of the characters in The Watsons are quite mean! While I found this fragment an interesting study in how Austen’s work changed as she wrote more, I don’t know if I’d recommend this for a casual Austen fan. The story is fun, but it’s obviously surpasses by Emma and Pride and Prejudice.

I actually completed The Watsons a few of weeks ago. After a one or two week break, I started Sense and Sensibility (in a wonderful new gorgeous Penguin edition!) and I’m determined to read it slowly. This has been hard to do though, as I’ve found that I don’t remember huge swaths of the plot of this book. Even though I saw the movie relatively recently, the book just seems like an entirely different story! I even forgot that there was a third sister! More to come about that soon.

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Lady Susan by Jane Austen

February 8, 2010

This year, I’m planning to read all of Jane Austen’s works in the order in which they were written. That means that I started with Lady Susan, an short, unusual novel told entirely in letters. It’s not the sort of letter writing I expected: a sequence of messages that chronicle the back-and-forth conversations between two people. Instead, the letters are mostly one-sided missives from the two main writers: Lady Susan and her sister-in-law, Mrs. Vernon. Most of the time, Lady Susan is writing to her good friend, and Mrs. Vernon is writing to her mother. Occasionally, we do get to read letters from others. But most of the time, we are reading two different views of the drama happening in Mrs. Vernon’s house. The novel opens with the news that Lady Susan will be coming to stay with her brother and sister-in-law for a while. Lady Susan’s reputation precedes her, however, as Mrs. Vernon has heard that Lady Susan is a mischievous plotter who is self-conceited and neglects her daughter. Of course, once Lady Susan arrives at the Vernon’s house, antics ensue. I loved learning about the story from two different sides: the secret thoughts of Lady Susan as she tells her friend the juicy truth, and the layers of dramatic irony that occur when poor Mrs. Vernon writes to her mother about what she thinks might be happening.

The story isn’t perfect–many of the characters are one-sided, and the plot is slightly predictable and sometimes become almost farcical. However, it was fun to see Austen play with the epistolary format. Many of her later themes show themselves in this book, most noticeably, her concern about how a society which only allows women to play the marriage game can destroy people. You know that Austen is doing some fabulous writing when you occasionally find yourself sympathizing with the villainess!

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Some Random Bookish Thoughts

February 4, 2010

1. Does it seem like the whole world is currently reading The Girl Who Fell from the Sky? Or is it just me? This week, I’ve seen the book twice during my commute, then it also showed up on NPR’s “What We’re Reading” site. I haven’t seen much chatter about this book in the blogosphere, so I went poking around to see what I could find out about it, and the nice folks at Algonquin are providing a little online preview of the first chapter. It seems like an interesting book. May also be a way to diversify my reading this year.

2. I finally started by Complete Austen in 2010 project, beginning with Lady Susan. That is really just flying by! Which is good because I distinctly remember disliking this story when I read it the fist time ages ago. I’ve never read a story told entirely in letters (an epistolary novel), and frankly, I don’t have a great track record with books with letters in them. I think that I put Possession down right around the time when the story dissolves into a series of letters. But Lady Susan and her friends have captured my attention. More to come soon once I’ve finished it. Next up will be The Watsons. I figure that these are two of her shortest works, and here it is already February! So I need to get through those quickly.

3. I haven’t made any progress on my James Family project. I’ve been in the mood for The Turn of the Screw recently, though, so that may change soon.