Deborah Yaffe

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By Deborah Yaffe, Mar 15 2018 01:00PM

The Watsons -- the novel Jane Austen began, probably in 1804, but never finished -- is a fascinating fragment. It’s bleak and wintry, centering on a once-genteel family facing economic disaster and a heroine, Emma Watson, who struggles with feelings of displacement, loneliness and rejection.


Although The Watsons has inspired its fair share of fanfiction – I reviewed ten Watsons completions in a 2014 blog series – as far as I know, it’s never been adapted for the stage or screen.


So I was delighted to learn that this omission will be rectified later this year, when a Watsons dramatization by contemporary British playwright Laura Wade opens at the Chichester Festival Theatre in Chichester, Sussex, in southeastern England. (Those who enjoy playing Six Degrees of Jane Austen will note that the production will be directed by Samuel West, Wade’s life partner, who played Mr. Elliot in the excellent 1995 film of Persuasion.)


Judging from the description on the theater’s website, Wade’s version of The Watsons will have some postmodern fun with the notion of an unfinished manuscript. “Who will write Emma’s happy ending now?” the blurb asks. “This sparklingly witty play looks under the bonnet of Jane Austen and asks: what can characters do when their author abandons them?”


It all sounds most promising. Although Jane Austen apparently gave some of her relatives a general sense of what she planned for her Watsons characters, her outline leaves plenty of scope for fleshing out the story in unexpected ways. It should be fascinating to see whether Wade follows Austen’s roadmap or branches off on her own.


The play won’t open until November, but tickets are already on sale. My chances of being in Chichester this fall are nil, sadly, but If any lucky readers see the show, please post here and let us know what you thought.


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