Sanditon And Other Miscellanea/Introduction
By singular good fortune we are here able to present, in clearly differentiated examples, the four—or possibly five—stages of preparation for a finished Jane Austen novel.
The publication of Love and Freindship revealed the first, scarcely conscious, inspiration of her work. It showed us how perfectly she understood the follies and insincerities of fashionable romance, with its absurd heroics and artificial emotions; how well she loved the impossible 'dear creatures' she could so shrewdly burlesque. There was wrath, we suspect, even behind the laughter; and because they were false she determined that she at all costs would be true.
Burlesque lingers in Northanger Abbey beside the accomplished vulgarity of Isabella Thorpe; accompanied now, and largely eclipsed, by the finer approach to truth through adaptation and development of work at once admirable and admired though immature: the inspiration of Fanny Burney, maintained in all the novels written at Steventon.
That Miss Austen returned to the burlesque of romance in the Plan of a Novel, written in 1816 after four tales had received their last touches of revision and been presented to the public, is evidence of how deeply laid were the foundations of her art. It was born, indeed, out of fun and nonsense, for which she never lost her zest. It was destined to laugh out of existence the idle vapourings of romance.
So far we see no more than preparation for serious work; of significance by virtue of its exposure of ‘what to avoid.’
The first, preliminary, steps of actual creative work may be plainly seen in the fragment of Sanditon, written in 1817, a muchcorrected manuscript. This cannot, I believe, be accurately called even a first draft. It is rather the beginning of a rough sketch, which may almost be described as shorthand notes of a tale for which all details, possibly even the conclusion or main thread of the plot, have yet to be determined. No hint was given to her family of how the story would be developed. From the ampersands, broken sentences, and other clear signs of carelessness and haste in the original, we may be sure that Miss Austen was merely jotting down ideas for characters and scenes as they came into her mind without a thought for sequence or arrangement. With her experience and natural aptitude for expression, she may by chance have hit upon a phrase or two that could survive revision; but here we have no more than ta few interesting and suggestive notes for reference, when she had time—alas! never granted her—to begin writing another novel.
The Watson, on the other hand, also a much-corrected manuscript, probably written at Southampton in 1807, is an early draft of Emma, probably no further differing from that novel in scenes, characters, and plot than Sense and Sensibility departed from Elinor and Marianne or even Pride and Prejudice from First Impressions. Unlike Sanditon, this fragment has been thought out and composed—both in plot and phrasing. Miss Austen already knew what she intended to do with her characters, as she informed her family in some detail, and was actually engaged upon telling a tale. ‘Mr. Watson was soon to die and Emma to become dependent for a home on her narrow-minded sister-in-law and brother. She was to decline an offer from Lord Osborne, and much of the interest of the tale was to arise from Lady Osborne’s love for Mr. Howard and his counter-affection for Emma, whom he was finally to marry.’ It remained unfinished for reasons wholly connected with personal circumstances of her private life, and when, after the appearance of Mansfield Park, she took up the characters and subject of this interesting fragment, private circumstances again compelled at least one drastic change in the plot—to avoid reflections upon a favourite sister-in-law; and instead of proceeding with the early draft she made a new beginning for the tale of Emma and her invalid father. Here, then, we have the unpolished version of a Jane Austen novel, as carefully written after revisions of a first draft, itself extensively corrected in the process of redrafting; lacking only the final finish of perfected phrase and thought, notably weak, we should observe, in humour and wit.
It is, however, from the cancelled chapter of Persuasion that we can learn most of her accomplished artistry and marvellous powers of self-criticism; can prove—beyond dispute—the standard of perfection on which she everywhere insists.
For this is actually a part of the final, finished, draft: the completed novel which, when writing it, had satisfied her and was intended for publication. Yet even so it remained the subject of careful thought, and the reflections of a night-time convinced her that it could be still further improved.
In a few masterly paragraphs, the whole busy scene was created of a large family group's sudden migration to Bath: lending drama and emphasis to the appropriately quiet, and almost secret, long-deferred understanding between hero and heroine—by contrast with the others' noisy trifling; setting the climax, or dénouement, of the whole story in a natural and becomingly subdued light, from which the gain is indeed great.
The contrivances of the Cancelled Chapter for bringing Anne and Captain Wentworth together are, comparatively, crude and forced; but it remains a charming example of Jane Austen's best, most finely polished, work; in which no other writer could have felt anything but just pride, with which one less severely fastidious in the careful practice of her art would surely have remained content.
In many respects Lady Susan, written in Bath about 1805, must be regarded as somewhat outside the categories enumerated above. Yet it is also a work Jane Austen did not consider worthy of publication, if it was ever designed for print, and it cannot certainly be described as a typical Jane Austen novel.
It is a complete and, as we may safely assume, a final draf—the manuscript almost free from corrections or erasures, in that respect an example of finished work. On the other hand, it is written in ‘Letters,’ a form experimented with in the early days, and expressly discarded for ever as an instrument of narration. Upon careful examination of her life and the continuous development of her art, I am personally disposed to believe that it was a deliberate exercise in composition, as Love and Friendship and the fragments of childhood were written—without design. Her novels were thought out, first written, redrafted, and finally revised, when settled in Steventon or Chawton. During the unsettled years in Bath and Southampton, she gave some, interrupted, attention to old and new work; during which it may well be that she was exercised about her ability to deal with a type of character never congenial to her joyous and loving imagination, the villain of the piece. For the domestic novel, this would occasionally, if not often, be expected to figure as the accomplished vamp—though, in fact, never appearing thus in a true Jane Austen novel. This may well have been the origin of Lady Susan; but for us it remains one more valued example of her art, to which her genius has not given the final polish in thought, phrase, or construction that she invariably demanded from herself before offering anything to the world.
Lady Susan, The Watsons, and the Cancelled Chapter of 'Persuasion' were first printed in the second edition (1871) of the Memoir of Miss Austen by her nephew, J. E. Austen-Leigh. Lady Susan and The Watson have been reprinted in three editions of the novels: (1) the two supplementary volumes, XI and XII, added to the ‘Winchester’ by John Grant (Edinburgh) in 1912; (2) the 'Adelphi' in 7 volumes, 1923; (3) the 'Georgian' in 5 volumes, 1927. The Watson was also issued in 1923, with a brief Introduction by A. B. Walkley.
The Plan of a Novel was also quoted in the Memoir, printed, fully and correctly, in the Life and Letters, by William and Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh, 1913. It is here reprinted by the kind permission of Mr. R. A. Austen-Leigh.
Every fragment has since been thoroughly collated from the manuscripts, and edited by Mr. R. W. Chapman for the Clarendon Press: Lady Susan in 1925; The Plan of a Novel and the Cancelled Chapter of Persuasion in 1926; The Watson in 1927. The present texts are not a verbatim reprint of any previous issue, but as nearly as Jane Austen, in my judgment on the evidence available, intended to write.
By the generous courtesy of Mr. R. W. Chapman, I have been permitted to reprint Sanditon; which was first issued by him for the Clarendon Press in 1925.