The Watsons and Emma Watson– Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, completed by Joan Aiken
Let me start off by saying I’m a Jane Austen fan. I’ve read most of her books, a couple more than once. When Love and Friendship came out, I went to see it wearing my Pride and Prejudice t-shirt. Most people picking up The Watsons and Emma Watson are likely reading it because they are looking for more Austen. I, however, chose this book primarily as a fan of Joan Aiken.
I was a fan of Aiken before I ever discovered Austen. She is one of my favorite writers from childhood whom I continue to read. I have quite a few of her books I have collected over the years, and I am continually looking for more. While I prefer the excitement of discovering books like this unexpectedly on shelves of used bookstores, I was almost as excited to discover The Watsons and Emma Watson on Amazon. It is fortunate Aiken was such a prolific author because I still occasionally have some luck finding something new. This was my first acquisition since her collection of short stories, The Serial Garden. I have quite a few of these stories scattered in other books, but I was excited to see them published together in one volume.
After devouring every book of Aiken’s I could find in the children’s and YA sections as a child, I turned to the adult shelves. Among her adult works I found Mansfield Park Revisited and Jane Fairfax. I actually read both of these before I read Mansfield Park and Emma. I have Aiken to credit for the Austen reading binge I went on in high school.
Aiken seemed to be the ultimate Jane Austen fan. There are several other books I have not yet found that are also based on Austen’s characters and stories. The Watsons and Emma Watson is a little different because Aiken actually finishes Austen’s piece of novel that was published after her death as The Watsons. Austen gets as far as establishing some of the characters and a familiar sounding scenario. Emma Watson, raised by her aunt, returns to live with her father and her remaining unmarried sisters. Austen’s story makes it as far as Emma’s debut in town at a ball, some interactions with her sister Elizabeth, and the introduction of some other siblings.
At this point, Aiken takes over. The transition between Austen and Aiken is indicated in the book, and Aiken makes a point of the shift. The scene opens with Emma and Elizabeth having a conversation while doing laundry. This is quite at odds with the typical drawing room scene. I think Aiken does this deliberately because the shift seems to prepare the reader for the idea that Austen is no longer in control of the characters she created. Being familiar with Aiken, I know things are going to get worse for our heroine before they get better. She never takes it easy on her heroines.
Beginning with Aiken’s continuation, the characters start to interact in more candid conversations. They wear their emotions clearly on their sleeves, as compared to Austen’s often more subtle interactions. Aiken also adds exposition setting up scenes in a way you don’t see in Austen’s writing. This puts me in mind of the many film adaptations I’ve seen of Austen’s works. Directors take some liberties to interpret scenes in a way that will translate well to the screen, adding sighs and meaningful glances not scripted explicitly by Austen.
The essence of the characters introduced by Austen is largely maintained after the transition. Poor Emma is plagued by an unpleasant lot of relations. In the tradition of Austen, she remains at their mercy for most of the book. In some cases, characters’ disagreeable qualities turn into something more nefarious.
I hope I’m not spoiling anything by saying things work out for our heroine in the end; they just don’t take a predictable path on the way there. Overall, I enjoyed the story and look forward to renewing my search for Austen inspired titles missing from my collection.