Jane Austen wrote The Watsons around 1804, when she was in her late twenties and living in Bath with her sister Cassandra and their elderly parents. She had already written Northanger Abbey and the first versions of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, but been unable to publish them. She gave up on this novel after 18000 words, and did not begin another one for several years, but she did tell her family roughly what she planned to do.
She began in the middle of things. Emma Watson is the youngest child in a large motherless family and has been brought up by an aunt, so she is more 'refined' than the rest of them. But her aunt remarries and she is sent home. Her sisters are all unmarried and becoming desperate:
'To be so bent on marriage' - Emma says - 'to pursue a man merely for the sake of situation - is a sort of thing that shocks me; I cannot understand it. Poverty is a great evil, but to a woman of education and feeling it ought not, it cannot be the greatest. I would rather be a teacher at a school (and I can think of nothing worse) than marry a man I did not like'.
'I would rather do anything than be a teacher at a school', said her sister. 'I have been at school, Emma, and know what a life they lead; you never have. I should not like marrying a disagreeable man any more than yourself, but I do not think there are very many disagreeable men; I think I could like any good-humoured man with a comfortable income'.
Other people have tried to write an ending. There are at least six other completed versions, none of which seemed to me completely satisfactory. When I decided to attempt it, I determined that I would stay within her guidelines and introduce no major new characters. And this is how my Prologue goes .....
The Reverend Henry Watson, of Stanton in the county of Surrey, was a man whose many good qualities had never won him the position he deserved. His living was small and poor, and his wife died after a short illness leaving him with six children; the eldest, Robert, a schoolboy of eighteen, and the youngest, Emma, a girl of barely five. All the neighbourhood said that the family must now live with the strictest economy, and that the four girls could hardly hope to be sought in marriage by men of their own rank. But help came, from a sister of Mrs Watson's who had for ten years been married to a gentleman with a fine estate in Shropshire, Mr Turner. This aunt, childless herself, was anxious to do anything she could for her sister's children. The Turners came at once to the bereaved family, putting up at the White Hart in D., and it ended with their offering to take the little Emma home with them, and to bring her up in all respects as their own.
Mr Watson hesitated, but not for long. He wished, but he could not think it right to keep his youngest child with him, as he had perfect confidence in the kindness of Mr and Mrs Turner and believed that they would eventually leave her eight or nine thousand pounds. Robert, who was then about to start work as a clerk, warmly seconded the plan. 'Emma will be off our hands for good', he said, 'and she will be an heiress'.
So Emma was carried off to Shropshire, over a hundred miles away, and for fourteen years saw almost nothing of her family .....
'Williams advances the plot according to Austen's wishes'.
Times Literary Supplement
'....one of the more seamless transitions from Austen's uncompleted novel; this completion is particularly gratifying'.
Republic of Pemberley
'I liked the plot-driven flow of the narrative towards a satisfying conclusion, very much in the spirit of Jane Austen herself'.
Jane Austen Society, North America and Canada.
'....true to the work of Jane Austen ....The story is gentle and it provides a very enjoyable reading experience'.
Jane Austen Society, UK.