The Watsons in Winter: David Hopkinson ("Another")
By Deborah Yaffe, Jan 23 2014 02:00PM
What is it with the extended Hubback clan? They just can’t seem to get enough of Jane Austen’s fragment The Watsons.
The first person to continue The Watsons was Catherine Anne Austen Hubback, Jane Austen’s niece, with her 1850 novel The Younger Sister. Seventy-eight years later came Catherine’s granddaughter, Edith Hubback Brown, with a radically abridged version of Hubback’s novel that, Brown argued, hewed closer to Austen’s intentions.
And forty-nine years after that came yet another Hubback family production, which is the subject of today’s post in my “Watsons in Winter” blog series: a completion of The Watsons coyly attributed to “Jane Austen and Another." Despite the official cloak of anonymity, it seems to have been an open secret in Janeite circles that the author was David Hopkinson, the husband of Diana Hubback, a niece of Edith Brown.
Like Brown, Hopkinson aimed not to imagine his own ending to The Watsons but rather to rewrite Hubback’s novel, stripping away her subplots and dated interventions to allow what he perceived as a more Austen-like book to emerge.
Since we can’t know what Austen would have written had she ever returned to The Watsons, it’s hard to know how well Hopkinson succeeds in this effort. What’s clear is that his book is only partially successful as a novel in its own right.
David Martin Hopkinson (1914-2002) was a British educator who headed a residential adult-education college in the north of England and later served as a schools inspector, a government official charged with evaluating the quality of state-funded schools.
He published a number of books on educational and historical topics, and after his death his wife self-published an edition of his poetry and autobiographical writing, but his Watsons continuation seems to have been his only foray into fiction. In a postscript to the continuation, Hopkinson describes himself as “a reader of Jane Austen since childhood,” and as a student of the life and writings of his wife’s ancestor, Catherine Austen Hubback.
His familiarity with both Austen and Hubback "has led to the conviction that between aunt and niece there were resemblances of character and temperament,” Hopkinson writes. Raised by a stepmother and an aunt who had known Jane Austen well, Catherine likely “absorbed from them an accurate picture” of Austen’s intentions for The Watsons, he asserts. “Any merit in this present telling of the story derives from that belief,” he adds.
Like Brown, Hopkinson prunes Hubback’s novel, and many of his editorial choices -- unlike hers -- are sound. He excises overwrought verbiage (gone: “a voice at Emma’s ear made her start, and sent all the blood thrilling through her veins”), cuts unnecessary transitions, and abridges or eliminates passages spelling out emotions and responses that an attentive reader can understand without help.
Where Brown attacks Hubback with a machete, reducing entire scenes to their bare bones and leaving behind little more than a perfunctory sketch of a story, Hopkinson generally uses a scalpel, removing a phrase here or there in the interest of tightening the writing or streamlining the narrative.
As he gets further into Hubback’s book, however, Hopkinson’s editing becomes more aggressive. Gone are some of the new scenes in which Hubback develops Austen’s characters; gone are the new characters that Hubback introduces halfway through her second volume; gone are the subplots in which these new characters feature. Three-quarters of the way through his two hundred-plus pages, Hopkinson has reached the end of Hubback’s second volume; she continues for another three hundred pages (albeit short, octavo-sized pages), but he has only sixty pages left.
Like plenty of readers before him, Hopkinson clearly recognized that Hubback’s first volume, nearly half of which she owes directly to Austen’s fragment, is stronger than her later, more original work. But with Hubback’s final volume largely inaccessible, as I’ve explained before, it’s hard to know whether Hopkinson’s radical cuts save Hubback from herself or destroy her vision.
Hopkinson works hard to erase the most obviously Victorian aspects of Hubback’s work – his Emma is less of a goody-goody than Hubback’s character, who constantly measures her own emotions against priggish standards of virtue. And he excises long descriptive and historical passages that Austen would never have written, But nevertheless, it’s not really clear that his version is closer to Austen than Hubback’s is.
Despite his confident assertions, it’s not possible to know what Jane Austen intended for her story, whether she confided those intentions to her friends and relatives, whether they in turn passed that information down to little Catherine Austen, and whether the grownup Catherine Hubback memorialized Austen’s intentions in her own book.
Whoever is to blame – Austen, Hubback or Hopkinson -- it’s hard to approve the ending of this version of The Watsons. Like an even less decisive Edmund Bertram, our hero, Mr. Howard, dithers inexplicably over seeking Emma Watson’s hand, long after she has made clear, far more explicitly than any Jane Austen heroine ever could, that she has no interest in the oh-so-eligible Lord Osborne. The reader loses patience with Mr. Howard’s vacillations long before he leads Emma to the altar.
Beyond the book’s failings as a novel, it’s hard to understand the point of Hopkinson’s effort. Presumably, his book was a labor of love – published two years after the bicentennial of Austen’s birth, it must have come too late to capitalize on that notable anniversary – and yet it’s hard to see whom it honors.
As a tribute to Austen, a Hubback-based Watsons continuation is an odd choice, since Hubback rewrites the fragment, rather than reproducing Austen’s own words. As a tribute to Hubback, however, Hopkinson's book is even odder: rather than putting her little-known novel in front of a new public, he excises her most characteristic material, changes her title, and leaves her name off the credits, mentioning her contribution only in his postscript.
Catherine Hubback, a brave and independent woman, published under her own name. She wouldn’t have hidden behind a dubious pseudonym.
Jane Austen and Another. The Watsons. London: Peter Davies, 1977.