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Saturday, May 21

A Copy of The Watsons, a Rare Jane Austen Manuscript, for Sale at Sotheby's

An extremely rare manuscript handwritten by Jane Austen will go on sale at Sotheby's, London on July 14th of this year. The novel
is unquestionably rare. Original manuscripts of her published novels do not exist, aside from two cancelled chapters of Persuasion in the British Library.

The novel is considered around a quarter completed and the manuscript has 68 pages – hand-trimmed by Austen – which have been split up into 11 booklets.
Fragment of the Watsons at the Morgan Library
The Pierpont Morgan Library in New York owns the first 12 pages, which I had the privilege to view last year at A Woman's Wit: Jane Austen's Life and Legacy exhibit. Click here to see a facsimile of those pages.
The Watsons manuscript shows how Austen's other manuscripts must have looked. It also shines an interesting light on how she worked. Austen took a piece of paper, cut it in two and then folded over each half to make eight-page booklets. Then she would write, small neat handwriting leaving little room for corrections – of which there are many. "You can really see the mind at work with all the corrections and revisions," said Heaton.
Only this manuscript and a couple of canceled chapters of Persuasion in Jane's hand have survived. They show her creative mind at work.
At one stage she crosses so much out that she starts a page again and pins it in. It seems, in Austen's mind, her manuscript had to look like a book. "Writers often fall into two categories," said [Gabriel] Heaton, [Sotheby's senior specialist in books and manuscripts]. "The ones who fall into a moment of great inspiration and that's it and then you have others who endlessly go back and write and tinker. Austen is clearly of the latter variety. It really is a wonderful, evocative document."

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