Unfinished Austen: Interpreting "Catharine", "Lady Susan", "The Watsons" and "Sanditon"

Unfinished Austen: Interpreting "Catharine", "Lady Susan", "The Watsons" and "Sanditon"

By Joanne Wilkes

Anthem Nineteenth-Century Series

Unfinished Austen is the first detailed study of four texts that Jane Austen left incomplete and unpublished: Catharine, or the Bower (1792–3), Lady Susan (1795?), The Watsons (1803–4?) and Sanditon (1817).

EPUB, 152 Pages


September 2023

£25.00, $35.00

PDF, 152 Pages


September 2023

£25.00, $35.00

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About This Book

Unfinished Austen is a scholarly monograph which examines four texts left incomplete by Jane Austen: Catharine, or the Bower (1792–-3), Lady Susan (1795?), The Watsons (1803–-4?) and Sanditon (1817). None was published till well after her death. They have never received nearly as much attention as the six novels that appeared between 1811 and 1817, and this is the first study to examine them in detail, and in relation to each other.

These unfinished texts are fascinating for several reasons. Since very little in manuscript form survives from the six famous novels, these four manuscript texts offer insight into the novelist in the process of creation. All of them feature alterations that show Jane Austen refining her language and demonstrating the orientation of her thinking. The unfinished works also problematize the romance plot salient in the published novels by presenting this in a nebulous or incipient state that underlines its artificiality. In doing so, these texts sometimes draw attention to how the romance plot is inflected by the financial condition in which young marriageable women can find themselves. 

Notable as well is the four texts’ handling of place and setting, which become especially prominent in The Watsons and Sanditon. The Watsons creates superbly the life of a small-town family at the edges of gentility, while Sanditon portrays a small seaside town being developed into a tourist resort—a new trend in Austen’s day. Moreover, the stories (other than Catharine) have aroused the interest of many later writers—including writers for theatre and screen—who are eager to complete or to amplify them. Developments on screen include Whit Stillman’s Love and Friendship (which is actually based on Austen’s Lady Susan), and Andrew Davies’s recent continuation of Sanditon. Completions may develop the stories to some kind of dénouement. Perhaps more intriguingly, however, these texts induce some writers to question the very enterprise of concluding an unfinished text.


Unfinished Austen: Interpreting ‘Catharine,’ Lady Susan, The Watsons, and Sanditon puts the four unfinished works center stage. The book considers what close textual analysis can tell us about Austen’s composition and revision practices, examines how these texts stand in relation to one another and the finished novels, and explores the unique opportunities these unfinished works offer as source texts for adaptations and completions— Cheryl A. Wilson, Professor, SUNY Old Westbury

"Joanne Wilkes catches Jane Austen in the act of creation by exploring her revisions in the manuscripts of the juvenilia and other unpublished works. As a group, their unfinished and possibly transitional state encourages many an author to invent endings for them both in print and on-screen, with varied success"— Jocelyn Harris, Professor emerita, Department of English & Linguistics, University of Otago, New Zealand.

Finally, a book that focusses on Jane Austen’s unfinished business! Joanne Wilkes shines a bright light on four tantalizingly unfinished manuscripts from across Austen’s writing career: ‘Catharine, or the Bower’, Lady Susan, The Watsons, and Sanditon. Deftly, Wilkes weighs their shared incompleteness as well as their divergent afterlives— Janine Barchas, author of The Lost Books of Jane Austen. 

Unfinished Austen makes an important scholarly contribution to our understanding of four of Austen's unfinished manuscript texts that span her career. Wilkes helps us consider Austen's writing and revision processes through careful manuscript study and invites us to reevaluate our expectations of a completed fictional narrative— Michael Kramp, Professor of English, Lehigh University

Author Information

Joanne Wilkes is an Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, and has published especially on nineteenth-century fiction, including Jane Austen.


Anthem Nineteenth-Century Series

Table of Contents

Introduction; 1. “Catharine, or the Bower”; 2. Lady Susan; 3. The Watsons; 4. Sanditon; 5. Conclusion; Bibliography; Index


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