Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sanditon
‘She has poured forth her tender tale of love in vain and exposed herself forever to the contempt of the whole world’
These three short works show Jane Austen experimenting with a variety of different literary styles, from melodrama to satire, and exploring a range of social classes and settings. The early epistolary novel Lady Susan depicts an unscrupulous coquette, toying with the affections of several men. In contrast, The Watsons is a delightful fragment, whose spirited heroine Emma Watson finds her marriage opportunities restricted by poverty and pride. Written in the last months of her life, the uncompleted novel Sanditon is set in a newly established seaside resort, with a glorious cast of hypochondriacs and speculators and shows the author contemplating a changing society with a mixture of scepticism and amusement.
Margaret Drabble’ introduction examines these three works in the context of Jane Austen’s major novels and her life, and discusses the social background of her fiction. This edition features a new chronology.
An excerpt from Lady Susan
Lady Susan Vernon to Mr. Vernon
My dear brother,
I can no longer refuse myself the pleasure of profiting by your kind invitation when we last parted, of spending some weeks with you at Churchill, and therefore if quite convenient to you and Mrs. Vernon to receive me at present, I shall hope within a few days to be introduced to a sister whom I have so long desired to be acquainted with. My kind friends here are most affectionately urgent with me to prolong my stay, but their hospitable and cheerful dispositions lead them too much into society for my present situation and state of mind; and I impatiently look forward to the hour when I shall be admitted into your delightful retirement. I long to be made known to your dear little children, in whose hearts I shall be very eager to secure an interest. I shall soon have occasion for all my fortitude, as I am on the point of separation from my own daughter. The long illness of her dear father prevented my paying her that attention which duty and affection equally dictated, and I have but too much reason to fear that the governess to whose care I cosigned her, was unequal to the charge. I have therefore resolved on placing her at one of the best private schools in town, where I shall have an opportunity of leaving her myself, in my way to you. I am determined you see, not to be denied admittance at Churchill. It would indeed give me most painful sensations to know that it were not in your power to receive me.
Your most obliged and affectionate sister
An excerpt from The Watsons
The first winter assembly in the town of D. in Surrey was to be held on Tuesday October the thirteenth, and it was generally expected to be a very good one; a long list of country families was confidently run over as sure of attending, and sanguine hopes were entertained that the Osbornes themselves would be there.
The Edwards' invitation to the Watsons followed me of course. The Edwards were people of fortune who lived in the town and kept their coach; the Watsons inhabited a village about three miles distant, were poor and had no close carriage; and ever since there had been balls in the place, the former were accustomed to invite the latter to dress dine and sleep at their house, on every monthly return throughout the winter.
On the present occasion, as only two of Mr. Watson's children were at home, and one was always necessary as a companion to himself, for he was sickly and had lost his wife, one only could profit by the kindness of their friends; Miss Emma Watson who was very recently returned to her family from the care of an aunt who had brought her up, was to make her first public appearance in the neighborhood; and her eldest sister, whose delight in a ball was not lessened by ten years' enjoyment, had some merit in cheerfully undertaking to drive her and all her finery in the old chair to D. on the important morning.
As they splashed along the dirty lane Miss Watson thus instructed and cautioned her inexperienced sister.—
'I dare say it will be a very good ball and among so many officers, you will hardly want partners. You will find Mrs. Edwards' maid very willing to help you, and I would advise you to ask Mary Edwards' opinion if you are at all at a loss, for she has very good taste. —If Mr. Edwards does not lose his money at cards, you will stay as late as you can wish for; if he does he will hurry you home perhaps—but you are sure of some comfortable soup. —I hope you will be in good looks — I should not be surprised if you were to be thought one of the prettiest girls in the room, there is a great deal in novelty. Perhaps Tom Musgrave may take notice of you — but I would advice you by all means not to give him any encouragement. He generally pays attention to every new girl, but he is a great flirt and never means anything serious.'
'I think I have heard you speak of him before,' said Emma.
'Who is he?' 'A young man of very good fortune, quite independent, and remarkably agreeable, a universal favourite wherever he goes. Most of the girls hereabouts are in love with him, or have been. I believe I am the only one among them that have escaped with a whole heart, and yet I was the first he paid attention to, when he came into this country, six years ago; and very great attention indeed did he pay me. Some people say that he has never seemed to like any girl so well since, though he is always behaving in a particular way to one another.' —
'And how came heart to be the only cold one?' — said Emma smiling.
"There was a reason for that' —replied Miss Watson, changing colour. — 'I have not been very well used, Emma, among them, I hope you will have better luck.'
'Dear sister, I beg your pardon, if I have unthinkingly given you pain.'
'When first we knew Tom Musgrave,' continued Miss Watson without seeming to hear her, 'I was very much attached to a young man of the name of Purvis, a particular friend of Robert's, who used to be with us a great deal. Everybody thought it would have been a match.'
A sigh accompanied these words, which Emma respected in silence—but her sister after a short pause went on—'You will naturally ask why it did not take place, and why he is married to another woman, while I am still single.—But you must ask him—not me—you must ask Penelope. —Yes Emma, Penelope was at the bottom of it all. —She thinks everything fair for a husband; I trusted her, she set him against me, with a view of gaining him herself, and it ended in his discontinuing his visits and soon after marrying somebody else. —Penelope makes light of her conduct, but I think such treachery very bad. It has been the ruin of my happiness. I shall never love any man as I loved Purvis. I do not think tom Musgrave should be named with him in the same day.'
An excerpt from Sandition
A gentleman and lady traveling from Tonbridge towards that part of the Sussex coast which lies between hastings and Eastbourne, being induced by business to quit the high road, and attempt a very rough lane, were overturned in toiling up its long ascent half rock, half sand. —The accident happened just beyond the only gentleman's house near the lane—a house, which their driver on first being required to take that direction, had conceived to be necessarily their object, and had with most unwilling looks been constrained to pass by—. He had grumbled and shaken his shoulders so much indeed, and pitied and cut his horses so sharply, that he might have been open to the suspicion of overturning them on purpose (especially as the carriage was his master's own) if the road had not indisputably become considerably worse than before, as soon as the premises of the said house were left behind—expressing with a most intelligent portentous countenance that beyond it no wheels but cart wheels could safely proceed. The severity of the fall was broken by their slow pace and the narrowness of the lane, and the gentleman having scrambled out and helped his companion, they neither of them at first felt more than shaken or bruised. But the gentleman had in the course of the extrication sprained his foot—and soon becoming sensible of it, was obliged in a few moments to cut short, both his remonstrance to the driver and his congratulations to his wife and himself—and sit down on the bank, unable to stand.
'There is something wrong here,' said he—putting his hand to his ankle—but never ind, my dear—looking up at her wih a smile, —'it could not have happened, you know, in a better place. —Good out of evil—. The very thing perhaps to be wished for. We shall soon get relief. —There, I fancy lies my cure' —pointing to the neat-looking end of a cottage, which was seen romantically situated among wood on a high eminence at some little distance—'Does not that promise to be the very place?'
His wife fervently hoped it was—but stood, terrified and anxious, neither able to do or suggest anything—and receiving her first real comfort from the slight of several persons now coming to their assistance. The accident had been discerned from a hayfield adjoining the house they had passed—and the persons who approached, were a well-looking hale, gentlemanlike man, of middle age, the proprietor of the place, who happened to be among his haymakers at the time, and three or four of the ablest of them summoned to attend their master—to say nothing of all the rest of the field, men, woman and children—not very far off.
Mr. Heywood, such was the name of the said proprietor, advanced with a very civil salutation—much concern for the accident —some surprise at anybody's attempting that road in a carriage—and ready offers of assistance. His courtesies were received with good-breeding and gratitude and while one or two of the men lent their help to the driver in getting the carriage upright again, the traveler said— 'You are extremely obliging sir, and I take you at your word. —The injury to my leg is I dare say very trifling, but it is always best in these cases to have a surgeon's opinion without loss of time; and as the road does not seem at present in a favourable state for my getting up to his house myself, I will thank you to send off one of these good people for the surgeon.'
‘In it (Sanditon) she exploits her greatest gifts, her management of dialogue and her skill with monologue. The book feels open and modern … as vigorous and inventive as her earlier work’