Emma Watson: The Watsons Completed Hardcover – Sep 1996
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Aiken's (Eliza's Daughter, 1994) latest work is the completion of an unfinished work by her esteemed and beloved mentor, Jane Austen, entitled The Watsons. Emma and Elizabeth Watson are unmarried sisters struggling to adjust to the grim reality of their socioeconomic status. Their father, a revered parson and a man of great intelligence, does not bequeath adequate provisions for the two women in the event they do not marry. Although the two sisters are not without considerable and admirable talents, achieving their own domiciles and avoiding the cruel and demeaning fate of virtually penniless spinsters is not an easily accomplished task. As they conform to the firmly entrenched morals of their social stratum, they confront numerous domestic and financial entanglements, contending with various siblings, extended family members, and eccentric local characters. The romantic tale, enhanced by the provincial and genteel hamlet of Stanton, serves as a source of hope and inspiration. Aiken continues to nurture the voracious appetites of Austen aficionados. Liz Rifken
From Kirkus Reviews
Another of Aiken's playful yet hearty romantic fancies, with a cast lifted (respectfully) from the luminously peopled novels of Jane Austen. Aiken's previous novel, Eliza's Daughter (1994), focused on an offstage figure from Sense and Sensibility who confronts the former, now unhappy, Dashwood sisters. Aiken has wisely jettisoned attempts at irony and witty pyrotechnics; still, her cast members here, borrowed from Austen, take some entertaining turns. In Austen's bleak and sketchy The Watsons, probably begun in 1804 and never finished, Elizabeth Watson confides to sister Emma, with whom she has been reunited after Emma's 14 years with kind Aunt Maria, grim thoughts on their single state: ``You know we must marry . . . it is very bad to grow old and be poor and laughed at.'' But that seems to be the fate of these young women, now in their 20s, for their father, a gentle clergyman, is quite poor. The soon-to-be family head is pompous, unsympathetic brother Robert, married to horrid Jane, ``callow'' and unhelpful. Their sisters Penelope and Margaret are generally unpleasant. Aiken picks up Austen's tale and carries it imaginatively along. Penelope marries nice, elderly Dr. Harding, and buys, renovates, and moves into a grand, if decaying mansion. But heartaches abound: Elizabeth's former suitor marries another; kind brother Sam is refused marriage to pleasant Mary Edwards, pledged to dim Lord Osborne. Emma is not attracted to curate Adam, because he's tethered to the dowager Lady Osborne. And dear Aunt Maria has vanished after having borne up under the weight of a miserable marriage for many years. Before the close, when lovers will traipse off hand in hand, there will be reversals and upheavals; a fatal accident; a destructive theft and elopement; disclosure of an old scandal; a rescue; and even a rousing horse race. As always, for those attuned to Austen, and to Aiken's imaginative, respectful variations, simply charming. -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Emma Watson, aged 19, is returned to her impoverished family, of 3 sisters and 2 brothers. One brother, Robert, is rich and affluent, but disagreeable, and is married to an equally disagreeable woman. Another brother, Sam, is good-natured, and a budding surgeon. Elizabeth, the eldest sister, is kind and hard-working, and is suffering from a disappointed love of many years ago (rather like Anne Elliot of "Persuasion"). But the other two sisters, Penelope and Margaret, are pretentious and scheming. Emma's gracefulness draw the attention of a wealthy peer, Lord Osborne, and his former tutor, the gentlemanlike Mr. Howard, who is loved by Lady Osborne, Osborne's elegant mother.
Aiken keeps true to some of Austen's intentions in her characterization. She does not attempt to reform any sister, as Joan Coates' completion ("The Watsons") did Penelope. However, in all other respects she changes both plot and characters.
For example, the would-be triangle between Howard, Osborne and Emma is reduced to nothing. Neither of the men is particularly appealing, and both are weak-spirited and/or weak-minded. The relationship between Emma and her final choice is so negligible that it is barely developed in several pages. The same can be said for Elizabeth's relationship with her own destined spouse.
While the prose is the usual Aiken well-written fare, events crowd quickly one upon the other, with too many characters introduced in the first section of the book, and then so many events occurring with long spaces of time narrated briefly. Consequently, the book is teeming with incidents none of which leaves and impression on the readers, or supplies them with any growing attachment to any of the characters. Indeed, some of the events are downright unnecessary and unpleasant.
In summary, this book is unsatisfying, and I would not recommend it. If you wish to read a super completion of The Watsons, read Coates' completion. It is not 100% true to the fragment, but it's a good story-unlike Aiken's effort.
The book is indeed entertaining, although there are many dark moments and the whole story is suffused by the determination or desire of Emma Watson to be independent (something that might be labelled as post-modern interpretation, or feminist interpretation). For those of you not completely familiar with THE WATSONS, the book begins when a young lady Emma Watson is obliged to return to her family - a widower clergyman father and his many children - when her rich aunt marries a fortune-hunter and moves to Ireland. Much of the story is preoccupied with the economic and social position of the Watsons, particularly the three unmarried daughters (a fourth unmarried daughter marries at the outset) and the situation of Emma Watson in particular as she is bounced from home to home. The ending is a trifle unrealistic, since it appears to be a pastiche of Austen's own encounters with Royalty and the happy ending of PERSUASION.
The tone is completely unlike that of Austen; I thought I should make that clear for anyone seeking the wit and irony of Austen herself. Although I have not found any sequel or continuation or pastiche completely satisfactory, Aiken's JANE FAIRFAX was the most faithful both in plot and spirit to Austen's own works. This book draws more from Austen's own life and considerably from the situation of the Dashwood sisters in Sense & Sensibility. [In fact, think of this story as Sense & Sensibility, combined with a bit of Persuasion for the ending, with some other highly romantic elements thrown in].
I found the book rather disappointing if I approached it as a Janeite. [Most of Aiken's recent works using Austen characters have been similarly disapointing.] Even as a stand-alone novel, I found the work oddly disjointed. The most brilliantly drawn characters were those who were the villains or the most disagreeable. The personalities of the more likeable characters seem oddly flat, and one of them - the Rev Mr Howard - very different from start to finish. Emma Watson herself, although showing traces of Austen's own character, seemed oddly passive in her relationship with her aunt who had cast her off in preference to a young second husband, a stand that I found too self-sacrificing (compared to her general thoughts and attitudes). I think this could have been an interesting and even a great novel if some characters had been better developed, and if the ending had been made more realistic. For a really good example of how this is done, read Jean Rhys's WIDE SARGASSO SEA.
After reading this and Lady Catherine's Necklace (A Jane Austen entertainment), Aiken's sequel to Pride and Prejudice, it appears to me that the author is rather bored with romances - I strongly recommend that she try writing something else. It is possible to write a historical novel of this period without leeching off of Austen.
I strongly recommend John Coates' finishing of this fragment, The Watsons;: Jane Austen's fragment continued and completed by John Coates.