Hello dear readers, today Austenesque Reviews is paid a visit from a lovely new author, Ann Mychal, who just published a novel based on Jane Austen’s unfinished fragment, The Watsons, titled Emma and Elizabeth. Ann has been kind enough to answer some questions of mine. I hope you enjoy learning more about Ann, her writing, and her new novel, Emma and Elizabeth!
Hello Meredith. Thank you for posing such thought provoking questions. I can’t tell you how I have struggled to answer them, but I’ve enjoyed the challenge immensely.
I’m English. I live by the sea in the beautiful county of North Yorkshire. (Fans of Downton Abbey may recall references made to North Yorkshire towns such as Thirsk, Ripon, Malton and Whitby in some of the episodes.) I have loved Jane Austen’s novels ever since I first came across them in my teens, and I have taken them with me everywhere I’ve lived and worked. It would be hard to choose a favorite, but if pressed I’d have to go with Persuasion. I’ve worked in the education and charity sectors most of my life, both in the UK and overseas. I originally trained as a school teacher but have ended up in higher education. Emma and Elizabeth is my first published novel.
Oh how lucky you are to live where you do! 🙂 I love that you have given us a continuation for Jane Austen’s uncompleted fragment, The Watsons! What was it about this unfinished story and these characters that inspired you to write your own novel?
Curiosity. The Watsons is an intriguing fragment. It seems to portray a bleak realism that is not present to the same extent in the major novels. There’s always the danger of reading too much into a text, particularly when it comes to drawing parallels between the writer’s life and her fictional world, but that is what I want to do here because it is, in part, what I find fascinating about The Watsons. I wonder whether Jane Austen’s treatment of the familiar themes of love and marriage in The Watsons reflects something of the realities of her own transition from young woman (of marriageable age) to spinster.
An incident recounted in a letter Jane wrote to her sister in 1805 seems to mirror the opening scene of The Watsons. Jane, writing to Cassandra on August 27th, describes how Lady Forbes had offered Harriot Bridges (the younger sister of Elizabeth, wife of Edward Knight) a ticket to a ‘grand ball, with an invitation to come to her house…before and after it’. Harriot, though determined to decline the offer of ‘dressing and sleeping’ at Lady Forbes’ house, was eventually persuaded by Jane to attend the ball. (You’ll find that a minor character named Lady Forbes creeps into the pages of Emma and Elizabeth.)
Could this event have inspired the opening scene between Emma and Elizabeth in The Watsons? If so, perhaps Jane didn’t begin working on The Watsons until sometime after that event. As you know, balls were not just social events; they were where young women found husbands. And husbands had to be found if young women were to avoid lives of poverty and obscurity. Jane pressed Harriot to go to the grand ball, just as Elizabeth urged Emma to attend the first assembly of the season. It led me to think about the relationship between the Watson sisters. As the fragment opens, Elizabeth is on the verge of spinsterhood, facing a life of poverty, while Emma, with youth on her side, holds to more romantic ideals of love and marriage – that people should marry for love rather than necessity or material gain. I found the relationship between the two sisters a fascinating starting point for the story. For weeks, though, I had the greatest difficulty thinking of a title for the novel, even though it was jumping off the page at me!
An unusual feature of The Watsons is the inclusion of a child as one of the main characters. Charles Blake plays an important part early on in the fragment, being the means of bringing Emma to the notice of the Osborne set. Of course, I didn’t want to lose him – he’s one of my favorite characters and was fun to write.
Oh, I love Charles! His relationship with Emma was one I greatly enjoyed witnessing! Back to Jane Austen’s manuscript. Instead of using the 17000 word fragment by Jane Austen as your exposition in its entirety, you used parts of the fragment and blended it together with your own writing (which I greatly enjoyed!) What prompted this decision?
I simply didn’t have the skill to take up the novel from the point at which Jane Austen left off. And so rather than using the fragment in its entirety, I took inspiration from the extracts that told me something about the characters, and helped me drive the narrative forward. Blending short passages of the original text into the narrative (together with some amusing little extracts from Jane Austen’s letters) helped my writing process, particularly in terms of plot development and characterization.
That makes sense! Many scholars have pondered and have diverse theories of why Jane Austen abandoned this unfinished novel and never returned to it later on. What do you personally think is the reason the Watson family was discarded and never again picked up?
This is a difficult question to answer. Unlike Sanditon, a novel Jane Austen would most probably have completed had she lived, The Watsons was put aside, but not destroyed. Would Jane Austen have returned to it at a later date? It’s impossible to say. We know that it was read within Austen family circles long after her death.
Interestingly, The Watsons was written midway between the six major novels, and may have been the product of that transitional period in Jane Austen’s life when she was coming to terms with the harsh reality of her situation and status. There is, after all, little of the comic irony present in The Watsons that is characteristic of Jane Austen’s style of writing. It may have been a story that at the time she found, for personal reasons, difficult to sustain. I once abandoned a novel for precisely that reason: I was too close to the subject matter.
SLIGHT SPOILER!! That is interesting how Jane Austen, herself, was at such a pivotal time in her life and how that might be the reason she didn’t continue to work on The Watsons. One thing I loved about Emma and Elizabeth was that you took these characters in new directions – ones, that according to Cassandra Austen, perhaps weren’t what Jane Austen was intending. I especially loved the focus on the relationship between Elizabeth and Emma and your singular choice of hero! Did you find it easier to go your own route with these characters? What were some the challenges you faced with working on this novel?
I found it easier to take some of the characters in different directions though I think it was more a case of the characters taking me with them. I found, for example, that I couldn’t rein in Mary Edwards once I’d described her as used to ‘getting her own way’.
The choice of hero was influenced in part by Frances Burney’s Evelina. Some readers of Jane Austen today may not be as familiar with the novels read by her contemporaries in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Had the fragment been available to the reading public at the time, connections might have been made between the two central characters in Evelina and two of the main characters in The Watsons who bear the same initials. Amusing parallels can be drawn between the hero of Evelina and the corresponding male character in The Watsons. I won’t say more as I don’t want to give too much away, but once the parallels became apparent to me, I knew who the hero of Emma and Elizabeth would be.
One of the biggest challenges I faced was how to manage the many characters mentioned in the original fragment. In the end I omitted some and, for the purposes of the plot, introduced other minor characters. Another challenge was the ‘declaration of love’ scene: I find love scenes terribly difficult to write without them sounding trite or melodramatic. I’m not sure I have succeeded in avoiding these pitfalls, but I hope I have. The final chapter was, surprisingly, one of the easiest chapters to write, but I’ve no idea why.
Good call, the amount of characters introduced in The Watsons reminds me a little of Highbury, there are so many neighbors and families introduced from Stanton! Lastly, I’m dying to know given how much I thoroughly enjoyed Emma and Elizabeth, what is next for you, Ann? Any more Austenesque projects in the works?
Yes. All I can say at this point is that I am working on another Austenesque project which I hope will be ready by the end of the year.
Thrilled to hear this!!! How about we switch it up with some Quickfire Questions:
– Which Watson character do you think you most resemble?
Lady Osborne (love of intrigue, gossip and concert recitals) and Charles Blake (love of food and poor at Latin)
– Which Watson character would you least like to have a visit with?
– Would you rather go fishing or horseback riding with young Charles Blake?
Horseback riding – as long as I’m not expected to hunt foxes. Galloping through the grounds of Osborne Park with Charles (pretending to be dangerous highwaymen) would be fun.
– What is your favorite scene from Emma and Elizabeth?
My favourite scene is from Jane Austen’s original fragment – the one in which Emma talks about female economy. The scenes I enjoyed writing the most involved Lady Osborne recounting tales of the assemblies she attended in Bath.
– What do you love most about Jane Austen’s novels?
I love her observation of human nature and her use of comic irony to expose its frailties.
– If you were to meet Jane Austen, what would you like to hear her say?
“Join me for lunch and I’ll tell you why I abandoned The Watsons.”
Perfect! Thank you so much for participating in this interview, Ann! It has been a real treat to have you answer my questions and for me to read your lovely novel, Emma and Elizabeth!! I wish you the best of luck with your upcoming release and all your future endeavors!
Today Ann Mychal generously brings with her 10 BRAND NEW copies (winners’ choice – paperback or ebook) of Emma and Elizabeth for me to giveaway!! (You know you need to WOOT WOOT for this!!) So incredible, Ann! Thank you!
To enter this giveaway, leave a comment, question, or some love for Ann!
- This giveaway is open worldwide. Thank you, Ann!
- This giveaway ends July 16th!
- To receive an extra entry for this giveaway, leave a comment on my review!! (if you haven’t already!)
*manuscript image from The Morgan Library and Museum