Aug 09, 2011

by English Muse

To love good writing and the novel is to love Jane Austen. Even when harshly sweeping, her judgments are so elegantly put that they convince absolutely and seem to absolve those who share them of any hint of condescension. For example: “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”

Those of us who share that sentiment—and in this holiday reading month of August, who doesn’t?—still are excited by the recent auction at Sotheby’s in London of the last privately owned fragment of an Austen novel in the author’s own handwriting. It’s doubly delightful that the buyer was Oxford’s Bodleian Library, which paid $1.6 million for the 68 hand-cut pages that Austen herself bound into 11 small booklets, so the manuscript will remain in England, where it belongs. It will go on public display as early as this fall.

Another 12 pages of the abandoned novel, titled “The Watsons”, are in New York’s Pierpont Morgan Library. They were sold during World War I to raise money for the Red Cross. Austen worked on “The Watsons” in 1804 after completing early drafts of “Sense and Sensibility”, “Pride and Prejudice” and Northanger Abbey.” (Which is your favorite?)

“The Watsons’” narrator is a young woman who has returned home to her impoverished clergyman father after being raised by a wealthy aunt. The father dies, leaving the young woman and her sisters in very harsh straits—much as Austen’s own father would do the next year.

None of the author’s handwritten drafts of her finished novels survive, though we do have a handful of discarded chapters from “Persuasion” and the unpublished “Lady Susan”. What’s exciting about this manuscript is that it gives us the fullest picture of Austen the writer at work, editing words and phrases, inserting sentences, all in a tiny, wonderfully precise handwriting. All that’s missing is that magic that only a completed Jane Austen novel can bestow.

(Top illustration by Clare Owen)


This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 9th, 2011 at 3:25 pm. It is filed under Books, illustrations and tagged with , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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11 Responses to “Jane Austen’s Manuscript, a Treasure of Pen and Ink”

  1. I’ve totally been intrigued by this story. Wish the two halves of the manuscript could be together, but I’m sure neither institution would give up their half. Have you read anything about the recent seller?

  2. Candice says:

    Wow this is something I didn’t know about. Thanks for the heads up. I might be able to go to England this fall, I’d love to see the manuscript.

  3. annechovie says:

    I love Jane Austen, sweeping judgments and all….thank you for sharing this news – glad it stayed in England. I love the photos from your Tumblr site….you have a great eye! Those plates look similar to those in my 2nd new shop:

  4. Lauryl Lane says:

    Ohhhh!!! I had no idea! My favorite novel of all time is Northanger Abbey. Austen is my favorite novelist, but I know I’m in the minority of her devotees since I don’t claim Pride & Prejudice as #1 (although beloved). Darcy is a fascinating hero, but Rev. Henry Tilney makes my little heart go pitter-patter. I think he’s the best spoken and most interesting of all of Austen’s characters. And the satirical element of N.A. is truly beyond- beyond- just beyond. Time to crack it open again….

  5. karla says:

    Oh! so beautiful!
    Your little entry is a nice tribute to Austen. I like it very much.

  6. Tina says:

    Aw, thank you!! I’m such a Janeite at heart!

  7. WrightStuff says:

    Something future generations won’t be getting from 21st century writers.

    Have you seen that book in the bestseller lists – the Pride and Prejudice meets the zombies thing? Sacrilege I say. Poor Jane… what are they doing to her?

    BBC adaptation of P&P was best I ever saw. Colin Firth emerging from the lake will never be forgotten… I couldn’t have cast it better myself. Every character was exactly how I had imagined from numerous readings of the book. (I had an English teacher who was in love with Elizabeth Bennett – when it appeared as an option on the syllabus we had little chance to escape…)

    Must have read it 5 or 6 times since…

  8. Ion says:

    Great news! I hope to see the manuscript when I come to england in the winter!
    I love austen novels, my favorite being pride and prejudice!

  9. Melissa says:

    I love this! I saw some of Austen’s work in person at the British Library and it was wonderful. My favorite Austen has always been Persuasion, but P&P is a close second.

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