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The Watsons and Emma Watson    by Jane Austen & Joan Aiken order for
Watsons and Emma Watson
by Jane Austen
Order:  USA  Can
Sourcebooks, 2008 (2008)
* *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

When Jane Austen died, she left two unfinished novels, one of which she started during a difficult time in her life, after she had moved with her parents and sister from her childhood home in Steventon to new lodgings in Bath. Jane wasn't happy about this move. She loved the neighborhood where she lived, knew all the neighbors, and was so shocked when she was told about the upcoming move that she fainted dead away. However, having completed two novels while living in Steventon, she attempted to start another one about a family called Watson, after moving to Bath.

This unnamed fragment has been finished in Jane Austen's style by Joan Aiken. The book is called The Watsons and Emma Watson and is separated into two distinct sections, so the reader knows exactly where Jane Austen left off and Joan Aiken began. In the story Emma Watson returns to her own family after her uncle dies and her aunt remarries. They had adopted her when she was five years old because they didn't have any children of their own, and her birth family was large and didn't have much money. The plot revolves around Emma adjusting to life in her own family again, with all the problems of getting acquainted with adult siblings who were children when she left. Emma must also come to terms with the near poverty of her family and the loss to her of any inheritance from her aunt, and she must find a husband.

What I found most interesting about this book was that Aiken's section seemed more like Austen's writing than Austen's section. There's more liveliness once you reach the Emma Watson section and the reader becomes immediately more engaged in the story. According to Jane's sister Cassandra, this novel was never finished because their father died suddenly, and their lives changed again. Cassandra later told her nieces how Jane was going to finish the novel, though, and Aiken has taken some liberties with that ending that I thought were un-Austenlike.

I've read and loved all of Austen's novels, more than once. I feel certain that if Jane had finished this one herself, she would have worked on it, rewriting and revising until it was up to the standards of the others. She would read her books aloud to her family as she was writing them and take seriously any criticism or praise she received, so I know that she did a lot of rewriting. Aiken would not have wanted to revise Austen's words in the first part as her main purpose was to finish what Jane had started. Taking into consideration the challenge of turning a fragment into a novel, complete with plot and well-developed characters, without changing what's there already, Aiken did a terrific job.

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