Jane Austen’s Unfinished Manuscript Gets Museum Show

A detail of the unfinished manuscript for Jane Austen's The Watsons. Photo: Oxford's Bodleian Libraries.
A detail of the unfinished manuscript for Jane Austen's The Watsons. Photo: Oxford's Bodleian Libraries.

Jane Austen’s House Museum, in Hampshire, UK, is offering the author’s fans a rare chance to see pages from one of her unfinished manuscripts this fall, reports the BBC.

Tentatively titled The Watsons, the novel, which was most likely started in 1803, was abandoned by Austen between 1804 and 1805, following her father George’s sudden death. The story follows Emma Watson, who is forced to return to her birth family after the rich uncle who adopted her dies without leaving her an inheritance. Only five chapters (roughly 18,000 words) were ever completed.

The Watsons manuscript comprises 11 booklets, one of which will be displayed at an exhibition at Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton, where the author, who died in 1817, spent the last 8 years of her life. Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries bought the rare manuscript, which features paper patches used by the economical author for making revisions, for £1 million ($1.64 million) at Sotheby’s in 2011.

“This is a rare opportunity to glimpse Jane Austen at work and her fiction as she created it,” museum trustee Kathryn Sutherland told the BBC. “Jane Austen’s art is famously frugal. The densely filled and patched small pages of The Watsons‘ manuscript offer us a precious insight into that rich and mysterious frugality.”

The unfinished novel is made all the more valuable because, save for two chapters of Persuasion, the manuscripts for all six of Austen’s published novels have been lost.

The Watsons will be on view through December 16, with Sutherland offering a talk, “Make Do and Mend: the manuscript of The Watsons and Mansfield Park,” on September 27 in honor of the exhibition and the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mansfield Park.

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