Northern Mummy

General thoughts and wittering about all sorts of things

The Watsons

on December 21, 2010

I have read The Watsons once before (it’s included in the back of one of my copies of Northanger Abbey) but I didn’t remember much about it beyond the first few pages.

It’s strange to read something when you know you’ll never find out how it was supposed to progress and end and I found it more difficult to get involved with the story because I was waiting for it to cut off suddenly.  As it is, it doesn’t really cut off but rather peters out at the end of an episode.

The story concerns a young woman called Emma Watson (which was difficult as I kept on picturing the actress Emma Watson, and eventually when there was a description of the heroine it turned out they are not really alike, but by then it was too late!), the youngest of a relatively poor family of about 6 children (she appears to have 3 sisters and two brothers) who has spent many years living apart from her family with a childless Aunt and Uncle.  It was expected that she would inherit a reasonable fortune from them, but unfortunately, around 2 years after the Uncle’s death, the Aunt has remarried and moved to Ireland with her new husband, leaving Emma without either fortune or home and obliging her to return to live with her eldest sister Elizabeth and ailing, widowed father.

All this background transpires gradually and quite late in the narrative in the course of conversation; at the beginning all the reader learns is that she is the youngest and has been away for some time.  The opening concerns an invitation received by the Watson family from wealthy friends (the Edwards’), to attend a ball with them.  As Emma and Elizabeth are the only ones at home at the time, Elizabeth generously allows Emma to go while she remains at home with their father.  The conversation during their journey to the Edwards’ home concerns what is likely to happen at the ball and in particular a warning from Elizabeth about Tom Musgrave, a charming but unreliable young man who pursues every new girl in the area but only succeeds in breaking her heart because he is unlikely to marry unless it is someone very well-off (Miss Osborne, daughter of the local dignitaries, is thought the only likely match). Their sisters Penelope and Margaret have both succumbed to his charms (in fact Margaret still believes him in love with her although Penelope has set her sights on someone in Chichester where she spends a lot of time); only Elizabeth was unaffected by his attentions because at the time she was in love with a man named Purvis.  However, Elizabeth, too, has suffered heartbreak: Purvis is now married to another woman and although it’s unclear how he came to change his mind over Elizabeth it is indicated that Penelope was instrumental in the break-up. Emma is also told that their unmarried brother Sam is in love with Miss Edwards and instructed to watch the young woman’s behaviour carefully at the ball to work out how much chance he has with her.

The story continues with the events of the ball at which Emma gains the notice of the Osborne family and in particular young Lord Osborne, although she prefers Mr Howard, the lord’s former tutor, and also her several encounters with Tom Musgrave whom she has determined to dislike.  On her return home she is visited by both Osborne and Musgrave, although the former seems unable to understand exactly how poor she is.  Her sister Margaret then returns, along with their brother Robert and his wife Jane, with whom she has been staying.  All three are portrayed as self-centred and unpleasant characters, unlike Tom Musgrave who, despite his reputation, seems thoughtful and pleasant (although his unreliability is confirmed when he fails to honour a dinner invitation).  Robert and Jane bear some similarity to Mr and Mrs Palmer in Sense and Sensibility.  Emma, Elizabeth and their father seem to be the most likeable and sensible characters in the book.

It is through the conversations during Robert and Jane’s visit that much of the background emerges and this is followed by a short section of Emma’s thoughts and reflections on her situation.  It was at this point that I finally started to feel I was getting involved in her character and that, unfortunately, was where the book ended, as she said goodbye to her brother and sister-in-law.

I’m not sure if I can say it’s a book I enjoyed but this was largely due to the sense of unease about where it would stop.  I think that it had the makings of a very interesting novel, with a blend of Austen’s trademark characters, both likeable and dislikeable, and the beginnings of several interesting plot threads.  Will the Watson family’s fortunes improve?  Will Miss Edwards’ preference for a red coat thwart Sam’s chances with her?  What is Penelope doing in Chichester – will she find a husband or will she indeed come home “Miss Penelope” as Margaret predicts?  Will there be a late reunion for Elizabeth and Mr Purvis?  And what will happen to Emma – Tom Musgrave is clearly fascinated by her despite her failure to live up to his ideal of womanhood and her dislike of him, so will there be a Darcy-and-Elizabeth style change of heart or will they both remain fixed on their current objects of interest?  Obviously we shall never know what Jane Austen had in mind but I’d now be interested to read some continuations that have been written, especially one by Joan Aiken who was one of my favourite authors when I was a child.

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