This week, the English auction house Sotheby’s sold the earliest known work of novelist Jane Austen for a stunning $1.6 million dollars (£993,250 after taxes). The work fetched three times more than what Sotheby’s had anticipated.
The manuscript is titled The Watsons. The sixty-eight pages are written in Austen’s minuscule hand and it clearly shows her attempts at revisions throughout.
It is estimated that Austen wrote The Watsons in 1804, when she was twenty-nine years old. The novel centers on protagonist Emma Watson, the youngest of four sisters, who is being raised by a wealthy aunt. Emma must return to her family and wait while her two elder sisters search for husbands.
It may be disappointing to some that the work was only a quarter completed, but critics such as Margaret Drabble are thrilled nonetheless. Drabble calls The Watsons “a tantalizing, delightful and highly accomplished fragment, which must surely have proved the equal of her other six novels, had she finished it.”
Like her other work, this novel contains Austen’s quintessential wit, displayed in lines such as “Female economy will do a great deal, my Lord, but it cannot turn a small income into a large one.”
Had the work been completed, it would have made a seventh novel in the author’s oeuvre. The other six titles are Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Persuasion, Emma, and Northanger Abbey.
The buyer of the manuscript made his winning bid via telephone and remains anonymous.