A previously unpublished manuscript entitled ‘the Watsons’ has been sold to a telephone bidder at auction for £993,250, three times its top estimate.
Bought by Bodin College Oxford with a special grant a spokesman said “It’s the last manuscript held in private hands and we felt it was our duty to bring it into the public domain”.
The manuscript was probably created in 1804 and tells the story of Emma Watson, the youngest of four sisters being raised by their aunt and forced by society’s expectations at the time to find a husband. It is arranged into 68 pages in Austen’s own handwriting with revisions jotted all over it.
Similar to other works which focus on the economic necessity of marriage for women in the 18th century, it is unclear why the story, said to be only a quarter complete, was abandoned but it is said to coincide with Austen’s father’s (whom she was close to) death in 1805.
The organiser of the auction at Sotherby’s which was focused on rare books, Gabriel Heaton said to the Independent:
“The sale of The Watsons has afforded an extremely broad audience an insight into the author’s writing process and reworkings, which this manuscript uniquely displays..The Watsons is quintessential Jane Austen in style and the influence of this novel on her later works can clearly be seen”.
The critic Margaret Drabble also added that it was “a tantalising, delightful and highly accomplished fragment, which must surely have proved the equal of her other six novels, had she finished it”.
It is Austen’ only literary work between the completion of Northanger Abbey in 1799 and Mansfield Park in 1811 although she has another uncompleted manuscript named Sanditon which she was working on before her death aged 41 from Addison’s disease in 1817.
Jane Austen published four novels during her lifetime: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Emma. Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were published after her death in 1817.
EDIT: Included additional information ay 21:35pm, 14/07/11.