The Watsons


By R. Brimley Johnson

"THE WATSONS" is the name given by those who published it, to a fragment written by Jane Austen when living at Bath. It is in the writer's mature style and is no girlish composition. It is unelaborated and incomplete, but promises well, and it is a regret that the writer did not finish it. Why she laid it aside is not known; probably it was interrupted by the pressure of social engagements and she thus lost interest in it when the thread was broken.

Her nephew expresses the opinion that she became aware of the mistake of having placed her heroine too low in the social scale, in such a position of poverty and obscurity which, though not necessarily connected with vulgarity, has a sad tendency to degenerate into it, and therefore, like a singer who has begun on a wrong key, she discontinued the strain. Jane Austen was genteel in the meaning of the word in her own day, not in the obvious meaning of the word at present.

But the Watsons are gentlefolk : they go to balls where they meet the aristocracy, though they go in a friend's carriage, not in their own, and when aristocratic acquaintances call, the early dinner rather put them to shame.

Emma Watson became the object of attention to a peer and to another man of independent fortune at the same time. It appears from the outline of the plot which the author confessed to her sister, that Emma was to decline an offer of marriage from a peer and to marry a most eligible clergyman. That the story was carrying her out of the region of gentility can hardly ahve been Jane Austen's reason for laying it aside. Nor could it be that "The Watsons" was broken up for the purpose of using the materials in another fabric. Mrs. Robert Watson, with her vulgar airs of fashion, bears a strong resemblance to Mrs. Elton; Henry Crawford as a gay breaker of hearts of women has a resemblance to Tom Musgrave; and the querulous selfishness of Margaret foreshadows that of Mary Musgrove. But no other affinities appear. Mr. Watson is, like Mr. Woodhouse, an invalid, but he is not a valetudinarian.

The characters of "The Watsons," like those of the entire Austen repertory, move, live, and have their being in an atmosphere of santimonious gentility. Love and marriage are the staple motives of these extremely natural studies of the eighteenth century English middle class. Her character painting is true to life, even if the characters are artificial, and true to the eighteenth century environment.