Readers of Jane Austen’s six great novels are left hungering for more, and more there is: the marvelous unpublished manuscripts she left behind, collected here.
Sanditon might have been Austen’s greatest novel had she lived to finish it. Its subject matter astonishes: here is Austen observing the birth pangs of the culture of commerce, as her country-bred heroine, a foolish baronet, a family of hypochondriacs, and a mysterious West Indian heiress collide against the background hum of real-estate development at a seaside resort.
The Watsons, begun in 1804 but never completed, tells the story of a young woman who was raised by a rich aunt and who finds herself shipped back to the comparative poverty and social clumsiness of her own family.
The novella Lady Susan is a miniature masterpiece, featuring Austen’s only villainous protagonist. Lady Susan’s subtle, single-minded, and ruthless pursuit of power makes the reader regret that Austen never again wrote a novel with a scheming widow for its heroine.
The special joy of this collection lies in Austen’s juvenilia–tiny novels, the enchantingly funny Love and Freindship, comic fragments, and a (very) partial history of England–romping miniatures that she wrote in her teens. Their high spirits, hilarity, and control offer delicious proof that Austen was an artist “born, not made.”
(Book Jacket Status: Jacketed)
About Jane Austen
Though the domain of Jane Austen’s novels was as circumscribed as her life, her caustic wit and keen observation made her the equal of the greatest novelists in any language. Born the seventh child of the rector of Steventon, Hampshire, on December 16, 1775, she was educated mainly at home. At an early age she began writing sketches and satires of popular novels for her family’s entertainment. As a clergyman’s daughter from a well-connected family, she had an ample opportunity to study the habits of the middle class, the gentry, and the aristocracy. At twenty-one, she began a novel called “The First Impressions,” an early version of Pride and Prejudice. In 1801, on her father’s retirement, the family moved to the fashionable resort of Bath. Two years later she sold the first version of Northanger Abby to a London publisher, but the first of her novels to appear was Sense and Sensibility, published at her own expense in 1811. It was followed by Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1815).
After her father died in 1805, the family first moved to Southampton then to Chawton Cottage in Hampshire. Despite this relative retirement, Jane Austen was still in touch with a wider world, mainly through her brothers; one had become a very rich country gentleman, another a London banker, and two were naval officers. Though her many novels were published anonymously, she had many early and devoted readers, among them the Prince Regent and Sir Walter Scott. In 1816, in declining health, Austen wrote Persuasion and revised Northanger Abby. Her last work, Sandition, was left unfinished at her death on July 18, 1817. She was buried in Winchester Cathedral. Austen’s identity as an author was announced to the world posthumously by her brother Henry, who supervised the publication of Northanger Abby and Persuasion in 1818.
“[In her earliest writings] we see the essential Austen . . . There is a force behind Austen’s farce–an energy which demands expression, an irony which will not be refused, a distinctive vision of life already apparent in the teenage writer . . . What grips one about the early works at every turn is the wit, the fire, the voice, the comic distance Austen sets up between herself and her fictional characters . . . Lady Susan is a classic, and Sanditon might have been Austen’s greatest book, had death not prevented her from completing her final novel.” –from the Introduction by Peter Washington