Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Lady Susan, The Watsons, and Sanditon by Jane Austen

Lady Susan, The Watsons, SanditonFrom Lady Susan: Letter 1: From Lady Susan Vernon to Mr Vernon: My dear brother, I can no longer refuse myself the pleasure of profiting by your kind invitation when we last parted, of spending some weeks with you at Churchill, and therefore if quite convenient to you and Mrs. Vernon to receive me at present, I shall hope within a few days to be introduced to a sister whom I have so long desired to be acquainted with.

I was debating whether or not to review these three books as separate works, but ultimately decided against it. They're so short that it makes more sense to review them as one, though I can certainly see the advantages of reviewing them as three separate books. In any case, I read the Penguin Classics edition with all three. "These three short works show Austen experimenting with a variety of different literary styles, from melodrama to satire, and exploring a range of social classes and settings. The early epistolary novel Lady Susan depicts an unscrupulous coquette, toying with the affections of several men. In contrast, The Watsons is a delightful fragment, whose spirited heroine Emma Watson finds her marriage opportunities restricted by poverty and pride. Written in the last months of Austen's life, the uncompleted novel Sanditon is set in a newly established seaside resort, with a glorious cast of hypochondriacs and speculators,and shows the author contemplating a changing society with a mixture of scepticism and amusement."

All three of these works were amazingly written and deserve to be more widely read. I was immediately hooked by Lady Susan, and really wanted to find out what was going to happen. It was such an amusing read. Lady Susan is an epistolary novel (told in letters), and I think it was a great choice. The character development doesn't suffer for it, and you can see how the various characters think and how they correspond with their intimate and not-so-intimate friends. It added an extra element which I loved. The characters were so humorous to read about, and portrayed so well. I loved Lady Susan much more than I thought I would. It was hilarious and interesting. Sometimes, it was difficult to sort out the characters in your head, but other than that, I have no criticisms, and loved it. The language especially was amazing. Lady Susan reminded me a bit of a younger, cleverer, and more calculating Mrs. Bennet. I started off the novella inclined to sympathize with her, but 60 pages in, I practically despised her. Such is the power of Austen. I actually read the Introduction/analysis this time, and I was glad that I did. The analysis of Lady Susan offered some interesting points. The difference between eighteenth and nineteenth century morals was remarked upon. The morals of the eighteenth century are generally outspoken and coarse, and its fiction features adulterers, rakes, and illegitimate children. The nineteenth century is more prudish and discreet. Most of Austen's books are nineteenth novels; the scandalous things that do happen are kept distant. But Lady Susan is more of an eighteenth century novel. It was described as less satisfying because of that. I don't agree, but I did find the commentary thought-provoking and informative.

The Watsons is a very different story, a fragment actually. It's the story of the Watsons, a poor family with a spirited heroine. You know what? Just read the summary above. I don't want to rewrite it. Anyway, I enjoyed this fragment, though it was really frustrating to have it cut off without knowing what was going to happen to the characters. The Watsons was written during Jane Austen's "dry" period, when she didn't really publish much, which probably explains why it isn't as saucy and witty as Lady Susan; it is also about a family with not much money and not many prospects. Lady Susan is a widow comfortably well off who takes delight in tormenting men. Emma Watson has not the liberty to worry about frivolous things like that. I really wanted to find out what happened to her. I know someone has written an ending to Sanditon; perhaps to The Watsons too? I initially didn't like this one as much as Lady Susan, but then I read the commentary in the front, thought about the fragment a bit more, and decided that I loved it just as much. 

Which leads me to Sanditon, the last work in this collection. Again, see the summary in the first paragraph. I loved Sanditon just as much as Lady Susan and The Watsons. It's so short though, and now I definitely want to read the edition completed by "another lady". Though it wouldn't be legit. You know what I'm talking about, right? The end isn't written by Austen, so it's not "real"...even though none of it is real. Still, I loved the  characters in Sanditon; they really came to life. Once again, the commentary was illuminating. Austen was basically dying while she wrote Sanditon, so it's really not surprising that health is a major topic in the book. But it's treated differently than you might expect. Jane Austen mocks the many hypochondriacs in this book.

I just loved these three short works, much more than I was expecting too. I can't decide which one I love the most. They're all so great in their different ways. But it was probably Lady Susan, which is just so different from any other Austen novel. Plus, it's complete, so the reader isn't left hanging. I would highly recommend this one to Austen fans, both die-hard and otherwise. If it's your first time reading her, don't start with this though. Read one of Austen's great complete novels. 

Read Lady Susan, The Watsons, and Sanditon:
  • if you like Jane Austen
  • if you like short fiction
  • if you like British literature
211 pages. 
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

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