Victorian novelist Jane Austen’s handwritten manuscript for “The Watsons” about four daughters of a widowed clergyman who endeavor to marry well, has fetched a stunning $1.6 million at auction.
The buyer was later identified as Oxford University’s Bodleian Library.
Critic Margaret Drabble called it “a tantalizing, delightful and highly accomplished fragment, which must surely have proved the equal of her other six novels, had she finished it.”
Several theories have been advanced as to the reason why, she never finished the tome.
One theory holds that she her writing was interrupted by a family tragedy and she never finished the story.
Another holds that she didn’t finish it because events in her own life had become uncomfortably close to those in her plot.
Experts believe that Austen based Emma, the independent-minded heroine, on herself, according to London’s Daily Mail.
Emma has been brought up by a wealthy aunt and is appalled by the crude husband-hunting of her older sisters.
Austen confided to her sister Cassandra in a letter that the Mr Watson was going to die, and when her own father died in 1805, she stopped work on the book.
“It may have been just too close to the bone when her own father died,” said Gabriel Heaton, Sotheby’s senior specialist on books.
“The situation she was envisaging for Emma, being financially dependent on male relations, was about to happen to Austen herself.”
The manuscript was passed on to descendants, and sold by distant relative, Joan Austen-Leigh, who lives in Canada and sold it through Sotheby’s in London.
The document is unique because it’s the only known copy, it’s written in her own hand and shows her penchant for making revisions.
The work also contains a number of Austen’s shrewd observations about polite society in the early 19th century.
Oddly, the manuscript lacks the first 12 pages. They are held by another library in New York. The pages were sold during the First World War to raise funds for the Red Cross.
Austen wrote “The Watsons” after finishing her third novel, “Northanger Abbey.”
Although she shelved the book, she went on to write “Mansfield Park,” where she coined the term “dinner party.”
Austen never wed. She once accepted the proposal of a wealthy family friend, Harris Bigg-Wither, but changed her mind the next day, and died at 41, with no direct heirs.
All of Austen’s novels were published anonymously during her lifetime.