Deborah Yaffe

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By Deborah Yaffe, Feb 10 2014 02:00PM

Some Jane Austen fan fiction is produced by professional writers with one eye on a potentially profitable market. But much Austen fan fiction is written by non-professionals – readers, essentially – who revere Jane Austen and want to lay a gift at the feet of the master.


As literature, the results do not always succeed. But as expressions of love, they are often rather touching.


Such is Jennifer Ready Bettiol’s 2012 completion of The Watsons, the subject of today’s post in my “Watsons in Winter” blog series. It’s an undercooked wrap-up of Austen’s fragment – Bettiol's additions consume fewer pages than Austen’s brief original, creating a work that is “more novella than novel,” as Bettiol herself admits – but it’s also a sincere act of homage and, as such, something every Janeite can appreciate.

By Deborah Yaffe, Feb 6 2014 02:00PM

Jane Austen’s life was steeped in religion. As the daughter of an Anglican clergyman, she almost certainly believed in God, attended church regularly, and knew the Bible well. She wrote three overtly Christian prayers and was buried in an Anglican cathedral, under a stone bearing an epitaph that mentions her religious faith twice and her novel-writing not at all.


But little of the religious context of Austen’s life and times can be discerned in the pages of her books. Although her stories chronicle her characters’ moral development, she virtually never gives this growth an overtly spiritual dimension. Austen’s heroes and heroines do not seek divine help in adversity, pray for suffering friends, or turn to the Bible for comfort.


The heroine of Eucharista Ward’s The Watsons Revisited, the subject of today’s post in my “Watsons in Winter” blog series, does all of those things. Ward’s version of The Watsons springs from a religious sensibility that, if not stronger than Austen’s own, is at any rate more demonstrative in its expression.


Consequently, while Ward’s completion of Austen’s novel fragment isn’t great literature, it’s nevertheless an interesting prism through which to refract the question of Austen’s religious faith.

By Deborah Yaffe, Feb 3 2014 02:00PM

News flash: it’s hard to write like Jane Austen.


I don’t just mean that it’s hard to emulate Austen’s diamond-bright sentences, with their elegant phrasing and tiny, hidden time-bombs of irony. (Although it is.) I mean that it’s hard to recount the more-or-less unexceptional events of daily life and yet make that ordinariness as compelling as any swashbuckling melodrama.


Thus it is that Helen Baker’s 2008 book The Watsons By Jane Austen and Another Lady, the subject of today’s installment in my “Watsons in Winter” blog series, manages to turn a series of ordinary events into. . . not much more than a series of ordinary events. The result isn’t unremittingly terrible – but it’s a reminder that what looks so effortless in Jane Austen’s hands is very, very difficult indeed.

By Deborah Yaffe, Jan 30 2014 02:00PM

Merryn Williams’ completion of The Watsons, Jane Austen’s fragment of a novel, is a modest undertaking.


With new material that runs only slightly longer than the brief original, Williams’ version -- the subject of today’s post in my "Watsons in Winter" blog series -- stakes no great claim to breadth, depth, or originality. No new characters erupt into Austen’s story; no unexpected plot twists deform the expected course of events.


And yet, this very modesty is disarming, even appealing. By the time Williams’ conclusion rolled around, I found myself a bit sorry to bid her characters goodbye.

By Deborah Yaffe, Jan 27 2014 02:00PM

Joan Aiken’s books were among the delights of my childhood – propulsive, plot-driven novels in the Gothic spirit of Victorian classics like The Woman in White, but written in language more accessible to the tween set.


I adored The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (plucky girls menaced by heartless adults, while furry predators howl outside in the snow), and I still vividly remember the factory in Midnight Is a Place, where child laborers pick lint off carpets and sprint to safety moments before a heavy pressing plate descends to crush them.


So imagine my joy when I learned that the insanely prolific Aiken, author of more than one hundred books for children and adults, had a sideline in Jane Austen spinoffs. She wrote six -- sequels to Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma and Mansfield Park, as well as a 1996 completion of Austen’s fragment The Watsons, the subject of today’s post in my "Watsons in Winter" blog series.


The result may not quite merit the rosy glow of my childhood memories, but it’s a breezy and good-humored novel, albeit one that owes less to Austen than to the Victorian novelists Aiken so often emulated.

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