novel by Jane Austen
, begun in 1804, consisting of forty or fifty pages. It is the only work of her "middle period", the unproductive years in Bath
, which she disliked; between the exuberant humour and high spirits of her juvenilia
and first attempts at novels, and the mature published novels of her last five years. She might have stopped because her own father died in 1805, and the plot of the novel was about to bring in the death of the Watson father.
Emma Watson has been brought up by an aunt in Shropshire, and hardly knows the rest of her family in Surrey, but she returns to them as a young woman now that her aunt has remarried. The Watsons go to a ball at their better-off friends, the Edwards, and also meet a party from nearby Osborne Castle. All the other girls admire the rakish Tom Musgrave, but Emma is too well brought-up to find him appealing; nor does she like his ill-mannered friend Lord Osborne.
Lord Osborne's former tutor is Mr Howard, who is clearly the hero, the one who will end up with Emma. She is widely admired as very pretty on her first appearance, but what makes her notable are her defiance of Musgrave and Osborne, and her generous impulse at the ball to dance with Mr Howard's ten-year-old nephew, Charles Blake.
I had thought of The Watsons as a bit dull, not getting far enough to establish an interest in the characters, but now that I've re-read it in order to write this, I revise my opinion. I do want to know a lot more about Emma and Mr Howard and what happens to them, and the machinations and follies of the others would have been quite as interesting as those in her completed books.
It was published by Jane Austen's nephew in 1871, along with some of her other minor works and letters, in his memoir of his aunt.