The Watsons is a short, unfinshed sketch about a family of young ladies. Visit theJaneinfo page for the text of this story.
There is no consensus about the date of composition. There has been but one brief attempt to say what year it is supposed to take place in. Here is a summary of what has been said, and an argument on behalf of an 1801 calendar and another “gradual performance”.
Both R. W. Chapman and B. Southam write that the extant version of The Watsons, which remains unnamed in the manuscript, is written on paper with a watermark of 1803. That does not mean that Austen necessarily wrote the book in 1803; it means she could not have copied it out any earlier onto this particular set of papers. We are given one date in this book — and again it is a Tuesday. The book opens with the date of the dance as on a Tuesday, October 13th. During Jane Austen’s lifetime between 1792 and 1803 October 13th fell on a Tuesday in 1795 and in 1801; after 1803 October 13th fell on a Tuesday in 1807 and 1812.
According to Edith Brown (daughter of John Hubback who was a son of Catherine Hubback, Frank’s fourth daughter, and co-author with her father of JA’s Sailor Brothers), the manuscript is a single draft written all at once in 1807 and then abandoned: she relies on the Tuesday October 13th date and her idea that Osborne Castle is modelled on Stoneleigh Abbey which Austen visited in 1806. According to Fanny Lefroy (a granddaughter of Austen’s eldest brother, James, and a daughter of Anne Austen Lefroy), “Somewhere in 1804 [JA] began ‘The Watsons’, but her father died early in 1805 [January 27] and it was never finished.” Austen was too depressed to continue, especially since her great older woman friend, Mrs Lefroy also died just around then [December 16, 1804]. Fanny does not tell where she got her information: presumably this was her mother’s view; it fits the same sentimental moulding of JA we find in James-Edward Austen-Leigh’sMemoir. Austen-Leigh seems to feel that his aunt Jane began the book sometime while she was in Bath (after she left Steventon), and abandoned it becaues it was about too low class a group of people: she realised the story would have a “tendency to degenerate into vulgarity”. R. W. Chapman argues for a 1803 draft and almost immediate abandonment. Southam argues for anther “gradual performance” on 1803 paper which was never returned to after 1808.
Southam’s view of the date of composition is closest to the evidence and probabilities, given Austen’s other composition methods and her character as revealed in her novels and letters. She reworked the book more than once as she did all her compositions; when she put it down, she may well have meant to return to the book but had too many other manuscripts to work on, and died, as we know, young. This does cohere with Austen-Leigh’s view of the dates, leaving out the notion of the book’s low class nature. Austen didn’t mind writing about people on the Watsons level in S&S and Mansfield Park (the Portsmouth episode); this was after all just the level she lived at as a young girl in Steventon (her father had a small income) and again at Bath, particularly after her father died.
The chronology of the novel is probably 1801, the year the book was probably begun. There is no description of Osborne Castle except in the most underdetermined language of Austen (we are made to feel it’s imposing, large, grand) so any theory which depends on saying that in Osborne Castle Austen has alluded to Stoneleigh Abbey depends wholly on imaginary fancies which have no source in Austen’s text.
- Thirty years ago Mr Edwards danced with Emma’s aunt, a fine woman, in the old rooms at Bath (Penguin 117)
- Fourteen years ago Emma went to live in Shropshire with her aunt (Penguin 112); at the time Sam was 7; they are thought to look alike (Penguin 116)Fourteen years ago the Watsons settled in Stanton (Penguin 138)
- Six Years ago: Tom Musgrave first came into county, and chose and seemed to like Elizabeth. Elizabeth then in love with Purvis; she is betrayed by Penelope and Purvis married someone else (Penguin 108)
- For two years: Sam Watson has loved Mary Edwards (Penguin 112)Mr Turner dead about two years (Penguin 117)
- Margaret goes to Robert and Jane Watson @ Croydon to chase Tom Musgrave (Penguin 111)
- Just before Emma came home, Penelope left for Chicester “the other day,” to chase marriage in the person of rich old Dr Harding (Penguin 110); said it would be “the last time; so too is Margaret gone chasing after Tom Musgrave at Croydon, to her brother and sister, Robert and Jane Watson, 2nd time in one year (Penguin 111)
- Tues, Oct 13th:
- A Winter Assembly to be held; Osbornes themselves would be there (Penguin 107);35 minutes getting to Dorking from Stanton (Penguin 114), half an hour more before Mr Edwards joins Emma, Mrs Edwards, and Mary (Penguin 114);dinner, tea at 7, Tomlinson’s carriage goes by at 8, & Mrs Edwards orders her carriage, and in “a very few minutes they are at White Hart (Penguin 118)
Horses from White Hart for 2 carriages at Osborne Castle at 9 (Penguin 115)
After Emma’s dance with little Charles and they go to drink tea, it’s “eleven o’clock” (Penguin 124); Mr Howard asks her to dance; she flees an overheard request coming from Musgrave, and “in less than five minutes” Mrs Edwards and Mary join her (Penguin 125)
- Wed, Oct 14th:
- the next morning many visitors at the Edwards (Penguin 128); it’s “two o’clock” and still Emma has heard nothing of “her father’s chair” (Penguin 129), learns from letter sent by sister through Musgrave that father has gone to “visitation;” the letter was given to Tom Musgrave “by the fair hands of Miss [Elizabeth] Watson only ten minutes ago” (Penguin 129).Mrs Edwards seeing Emma does not want to take up Musgrave’s offer to convey her back home herself, offers invitation “until tomorrow” or their “carriage is quite” at her “service” and Mary will be glad to visit Elizabeth (Penguin 129); she stays only a few minutes as it is dinner hour at Stanton (Penguin 131)
- Fri, Oct 16th:
- “On the third day after the ball” (Penguin 135), Elizabeth wants to know about Mary Edwards as she has “begun her letter” to Sam, and “Jack Stokes is to call for it tomorrow, for his uncle is going within a mile of Guildford the next day”; “what I am to say to Sam [?]”; Nanny at 5 to 3 brings out knife-case and tray, and despite Elizabeth’s injunction, lets Lord Osborne and Musgrave in. They are forced to leave at signs of early dinner; nonetheless, Lord Osborne manages to invite Emma and Elizabeth to come to “Stanton Wood on Wednesday [next week] at nine o’clock” (Penguin 137); Mr Howard does not return with father even though he helped him; Emma wishes he had accompanied Lord Osborne (Penguin 138).
- Wed, Oct 21st
- This would have been the day the hunt was to happen to which Emma and Elizabeth invited, which invitation they had not refused (Penguin 137). When father returns from “visitation he was not pleased by invite: “I have lived here fourteen years without beign noticed by any of the family. It is some foolery … of Tom Musgrave. I cannot return the visit. — I would not if I could” (Penguin 138).
- Sat, Oct 24th:
- We learn when Robert and Jane Watson come to visit that (see below) that “last Saturday about nine or ten o’clock in the evenng” at Osborne Castle while people were playing cards, Musgrave teased Mr Howard about his dancing (“cheek-glowing”) with Emma at the Assembly rooms; that Howard began to tell “how it was” and was (according to Musgrave) slightly insolent to or at least challenged Lord Osborne (“I see you are dying to know. — Says Howard to Lord Osborne — ” (Penguin 148).
- Mon, Oct 26th:
- “A week or ten days rolled quietly away,” and letter announces return of Margaret with Robert and Jane Watson for 2 or 3 day visit (Penguin 138); the conversation before and then after dinner, Tom Musgrave calls on the way home from London, came out of road to “call for ten minutes” going home to an “eight o’clock dinner” (Penguin 145), seeing party round fire says it doesn’t matter if he dines at “nine;” we are told he left London “four hours ago;”Musgrave pretends to think Margaret gone a “fortnight” but Watsons assert she has been gone ” a month” (Penguin 146), and stays for cards for “another quarter of an hour” more; clock strikes “nine” and Mr Watson’s gruel called for and Musgrave leaves rather than partake, invited to dinner the next day and says he will come if shooting with Lady Osborne does not stop him (Penguin 148)
- Tues, Oct 27th:
- “Next morning” Margaret tries to confide her relationship with Musgrave to Emma, odious to Emma; card playing with Tom Musgrove (Penguin 149-50)
- Wed, Oct 28th:
- The day Tom Musgrove never showed (149-50)
- Thurs, Oct 29th:
- Margaret still poisoning whatever there is of cordiality in the family, Emma Emma prefers remaining upstairs (Penguin 149-150).
- Fri, Oct 30th: Emmma is invited to go to Croydon, but declines
- Mr Watson soon to die
- Emma to become a dependent in the home of brother and sister-in-law, to decline an offer of marriage by Lord Osborne
- Tension of tale from Lady Osborne’s love for Mr Howard, his for Emma, and Emma’s marriage to him at close; possible subordinate stories to be of Mary Edwards torn between love for Sam Watson and Captain Hunter; Miss Osborne involved with military men too. Does Margaret play a role in Tom’s fate similar to Maria Bertram’s in Henry Crawford’s? Tom would long to marry Miss Osborne who is money and will bring prestige; perhaps ‘saved’ from this by Margaret’s precipitancy (analogue here is also Lydia Bennet)
It has been argued that The Watsons is a first draft; a perusal of it in comparison with some of Austen’s scaps or the cancelled chapters of Persuasion– even Sanditon, show what Virginia Woolf and Q. D. Leavis argued in the last century: the genius and magic of Austen’s suggestive nuanced text comes from repeated endless revision. That is precisely what we find in this manuscript fragment of a novel. Click Here to read some essay-postings showing Austen’s detailed planning in the character sketches, relationships between characters, and Emma’s history.
Ellen Moody, a Lecturer in English at George Mason University, has compiled the most accurate calendars for Jane Austen’s work, to date. Drawn from a variety of sources, including the original Chapman calendars and period Almanacs, her work has been recognized as the most thorough and certainly inclusive of all Austen Calendars. She has created timelines for each of the six novels and the three unfinished novel fragments; one of the calendars has been published as “A Calendar For Sense and Sensibility” in the Fall 2000 edition of the Philological Quarterly. To see more of her work on Austen visit her website to find
Essays on _Mansfield Park
A copy of a published essay-review on the film adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels, And More!
For information on how Ellen created her calendars, click here
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