11/09/2007

Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sanditon (by Jane Austen)

I have read all the completed classics by Jane Austen at least twice. However I had never read her unfinished work or epistolary novel, thinking they would be rather frustrating. But when I saw this Penguin edition, with notes at the end, I thought it would be interesting to see what they were like.

'Lady Susan' is a short novel composed entirely of letters. The main character, Lady Susan, is manipulative and selfish, as quickly becomes apparent from her writing. She plans to steal someone's husband, and also to marry her sixteen-year-old daughter to a man her daughter dislikes and fears. Lady Susan is beautiful and deceptive; her letters are a very clever way of seeing into her mind. She writes differently to different people, depending on what kind of image she wishes to portray.

It's very well done, with brilliant characters. However it's also rather melodramatic, and the ending a bit sudden as the letters cease and there's a brief conclusion. I imagine Jane Austen would have changed this somewhat had she lived to see it published.

'The Watsons' features Emma Watson, newly returned to her family after being brought up by her aunt. Again, there are excellent pen-portraits of the characters, and an interesting plot which had a lot of potential, had it been finished. As the fragment ends, there's a note suggesting the likely outcomes of the book, which made it rather less frustrating.

'Sanditon' is a bit different, starting with a carriage wreck and dealing with some amusing hypochondriacs who converge on the new seaside resort of Sanditon. Written in Austen's last year when she was ill, and very interesting; it would have been nice to have more of it.

The Penguin edition has excellent notes in the back which explain some 18th century terms, games and customs, as well as giving sections which Jane Austen had crossed out or altered.

There's a long introduction too, which gives the historical background to the book; however as it contains several plot spoilers it's much better read after the rest of the book rather than before.

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