Dear friends and readers,
Anna Austen Lefroy wrote one good novel Mary Hamilton) and a continuation of Sanditon which shows she understood the way her aunt wrote novels; Catherine Anne Austen Hubback wrote 10 novels in a few short years to support herself and her family (1850-63); I have not read any of them, but some have been praised, and her continuation-sequel of The Watsons is an entertaining, well-written novel, occasionally charming, often witty. (see definitions for kinds of sequels in my blog on Drabble’s Dowerhouse of Kellynch).
Hubback’s The Younger Sister led me to think about what makes a good sequel: well, a novel in its own right which reflects the author; a novel which does develop the original story somehow justly and if partly critically with understanding. So the criteria is like that of good faithful (or transposition) film adaptations. It should also provide insight into both the era of the original book or author: this one does fall down there — the franchise is Austen (reminding me of Confessions of an Austen Addict by Laurie Rigler). Or it should mirror its own, which this does through an Austen lens: I’d call this a governess-novel, a novel about young women who either fall or fear to fall into jobs as put-upon governesses, school teachers, companions, nursemaids. This is a kind of historical romance.
It’s no denigration of The Younger Sister to say it’s the novel or kind of novel that James-Edward Austen-Leigh, Austen’s nephew who wrote the cult-engendering memoir of his aunt, thought his aunt had written. It’s about a small number of people all in a limited milieu living in the same small area together (it’s consciously excluding the Victorian larger world, very much a historical novel); several characters fall in love or strain against not falling in love with someone else; the Watson sisters experience financial and social upsets (not quite upheavals as they do not at any time live outside their class); Hubback gives her characters subtle psychology and witty, delicate (sometimes half-teasing) and eloquent dialogues.
Numerous scenes remind me of the scenes added to Jane Austen in the film adaptations, particularly the ones of good feeling: like when Henry and Catherine come home from riding in the 2007 Northanger Abbey (by Andrew Davies) and Eleanor Tilney meets them so cordially at the door; or in the in the 2008 S&S when Elinor and Edward go out walking and he (in effect) proposes a way of life with her of which she approves, and he says “A quiet life with a parish it is then.”
Emma Watson, Hubback’s central character, Emma, is at times modeled on what Catherine Hubback had been told about Austen and gleaned to be so about her (which is someone rather asocial and austere in her ideals and norms). Sometimes the fiction feels like Elizabeth Gaskell’s: one character who is part of the aristocratic family, Rosa (Victorian name there) Osborne is very like Lady Harriet Cumnor in Wives and Daughters.
Here are scenes of green and lovely England as a park — no poverty about. The couples visit a cottage and the woman living there has no distress (nor is she in the least resentful). No war. The hungry 1840s? forget it.
It is self-consciously not a Victorian novel. Now I’ve dipped into a couple other of Hubback’s novels (they are downloadable online): they have wide purviews, they include hard sexualities and aggressions. It is self-consciously written as a kind of continuation which will please an 1850 reader.
Emma is snowed in at the vicarage where Mr Howard and his sister, and their nephew live (recalling Jane Bennett having to stay at Netherfield) and the growth of love between the good kind clergyman, intelligent figure of integrity of the book gives way to effective descriptions of snow.
At times the book recalls Restoration or eighteenth-century comedy something in the vein of the 1890s English stage because of the debates the characters indulge in — harking back to the debates in longer 17th century romances. They are intended to hark back to Austen. What is preferable for marriage? real affection and worth in someone character and humble life or luxury, high status, the security of patronage but a rather stupid or amoral partner? Yet there is no French feel like in some of Austen’s novels. (Anyway French novels of the era were Balzac and Sand, not Genlis and Cottin and before that Scudery and Lafayette).
For the researcher into Austen’s life, the scholar interested in Austen’s art in the unpublished unfinished books, it’s a goldmine of suggestiveness. It’s a distanced source. I can see why Austen-Leigh and Anna were stung by the book to the point that Austen-Leigh did not send Catherine a copy of the memoir; he and his sister were anxious to prevent a similar performance using Sanditon too.
One might say the character clearly intended for Frank, Sam (tremendously handy, not upper class, an apprentice to a surgeon who lives away) is given such affinity with Emma (Jane) because Catherine was his daughter. I suggest the evidence outside the book reinforces the portrait in it. Sam and Emma have a striking affinity; when Hubback’s Emma comes near to a threat of rape (or at least has a physical and abrasive sexual encounter), it’s not Mr Howard who rescues her but Sam and Sam who is thinking of a duel. (It does not come off, an accident removes the offender from the scene — in a Persuasion like scene.) Emma Watson does nearly end up living with Sam her brother (recalling William Price dreams all novel long of making a home for the two of them), the pair say it will hold “until they [will] tire of one another” all while she and another friend, Annie, are writing letters which are just the greatest pleasure imaginable (Cassandra’s?). In the event after all Sam does marry this witty friend, Anna, and in a consciously partly fairy tale ending the aunt returns from Ireland, having wrested her property and enables Emma to marry Mr Howard (as originally planned by Austen). But the connection is clear.
There is a scene in The Younger Sister after the father’s death when Sam comes home for the first time where the two really do just about fall into one another’s arms (2007 MP, Wm coming to Mansfield after a long absence)
However you take who=who, it’s impossible to miss if you know anything at all for real about the family. The break-up of Steventon is the breakup of the Watson’s household upon Mr Watson’s death. What apparently (according to Villasenor) troubled JEAL and Anna and others is that the memoir depicted a Jane never once bothered about money, never having to worry even when her father died, ever secure. In The Younger Sister, they saw Robert Watson as a possible portrait of any or all of the brothers. He does closely recall John Dashwood in several scenes, lamenting for example, that he nearly lost money and could have gained some had Emma’s aunt not remarried and the uncle left all his money to he, Robert, as he should ahve done as the eldest Watson child. Mrs Jane Watson does succeed in bullying her husband, recalling Fanny Dashwood; Hubback’s Mrs Jane combines the character of Mrs Elton (sordid, vulgar, a hypocrite) with the worst characteristics Jane Austen suggests were Mary Lloyd Austen’s in Jane’s letters.
Emma is really badly treated by her brother and sister-in-law and tries to get a job as a governess. She is worked hard, given a small plain room, paid nothing, berated, said to be living off them, when she is doing more than earn the keep she is not getting. We see how hard this is; we see her desperation, her illness. I assumed Sam is Frank (from the novels and letters), but (according to Marie Villaseñor (who has written a book, Women Readers and the Victorian Jane Austen, two chapters of which are devoted to Jane Austen’s novelist nieces and grand-niece [Fanny Caroline LeFroy, Anna Austen Lefroy’s daughter) feared that Robert and Jane Watson would be seen as Frank and Mary giving a household to the women Austen and not treating them right. Or as one of the brothers or all of them. Sam is apprenticed to a surgeon as Mr Austen’s brother was and we see the hardness of this family group — as many were.
All this destroys the idyllic view of the Austen home in Austen-Leigh’s memoir. Alice Marie Villaseñor makes the point that the family was not monolithic (Fanny Lefroy insisted that Austen’s novels left out her love life for the most part and much else — did not mirror what she had known). Both JEAL and Anna deliberately marginalized Catherine Hubback’s sequel novel (never mentioning it for example or her in the aunt’s biography) because, like Fanny Lefroy, Hubback departed from the safe conventionalizing story of JEAL. JEAL did not want Hubback’s The Watsons continuation to be read because they too read it autobiographically and as partly about the Austen family.
One thing Hubback is not aware of: she’s not alive to the hidden obsessive patterns of her aunt. For example the woman with the hidden love that is tabooed. There are sensual or nearly sensual scenes of heterosexual feeling such as one does not have in Austen – one proposal which ends in an embrace — makes Austen’s proposal scenes seem what they are: very stiff and hurried so that the couple can return to talk about the moral lesson of their story or some aspect of it. And the intensities of distress and passion that come through in the daily patterns of Austen’s novels which is how they reach the level of tragic are not here. Emma is wrong when she is in such distress and the way it’s presented is to suggest that she understands this. In Austen when Emma is upstairs thinking about the tormenting people below they are tormenters and she is spot on to dread returning.
Hubback was a pro-social conformative woman. It’s not that Hubback is not on her own incapable of writing of passionate distress and anger and need release but when she sees her aunt’s patterns she does not identify these sorts of feelings. To her Jane Austen probably had it easy. She didn’t have a husband who went mad, and then children she had to support and somehow place.
The Younger Sister is also a novel that reveals where Austen was going and a work of art in its own right.
In the 1985 reprint of Chapman’s 1927 edition of The Watsons, Chapman makes a footnote on “Lady Osborn’s love for Mr. Howard”: “Doubtless a slip for Miss Osborn. Lady O. was ‘nearly fifty’ (pg 38).” I’ve read elsewhere by pro-family members that Cassandra made a slip of the pen and meant Miss Osborne. No she didn’t. She meant the older woman, and Linda is right to say Hubback makes the parallel with Emma’s aunt marrying a worthless younger man clear but the parallel is in the fragment already. Here we do see a rare moment of bad faith, of the editor as censoring-family-member in Chapman.
Hubback fills out Austen’s unfinished novel with characters types and perspectives from Austen’s other novels. (Sarah Scott suggests this is typical of sequels in her study of the continuation type.) So Jane Watson has traits of Mrs Elton and Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Robert Watson is another John Dashwood. She again and again brings in bleaker and ironic lines transposed or half-remembered. The parallel of Emma Watson with Fanny Price, Jane Fairfax, Anne Elliot is brought out through these. Most interesting of all in Emma Watson there is a portrait of Jane Austen which had to have come to Catherine from her father. As often very tired. as worn out, as weary. As of no importance as the younger sister. Tom Musgrove contains traits from John Thorpe made more subtle and harassing. Lord Osborne has Darcy traits in him.
Mr Howard is a new character, not seen in Austen, more firm and male-like (more potentially physical) in a couple of encounters. Emma and Margaret must walk home and a farmer will not remove his growling dog from the path. They are about to walk into the muddy field and he comes along and demands of the farmer he does remove the dog. But he does not talk against “the horrid animal” like Margaret and says the behavior of the man is strange as farmers are not just brutes or and it’s not in the immediate interest of the man to make this sort of half-rebellious assertion. It’s a rescue that is more believable than Willoughby’s in S&S: he comes down form his horse and then walks with them home.
On a slightly different perspective when the Watsons visit the Osborn compound I am strongly reminded of Lost in Austen and begin to wonder if the Lady Catherine de Bourgh owes anything to Lady Osborne in Hubback’s Younger sister. The facsimile has been available for a few years now. The intersections of film adaptations with Austen’s texts and other intervening one is really fruitful as long as you don’t press ridiculously hard. Clueless cannot demonstrate homosexuality in Austen’s text.
What about lady Osborne? She’s not onstage very much. She is wanting Howard to marry her although 15 years younger and he’s got a problem. He is no longer living in the house lest she take over his space too much. She does indeed forcibly try to seduce Mr Howard into marrying her. The scene uncannily anticiipates Lindsay Duncan’s lecherous like behavior in Lost in Austen (or the 1997 Tom Jones where she’s Lady Bellaston chasing the young Tom Jones), only when she’s rejected she becomes a Mrs Ferrars determined to do everything she can to wreck revenge on Mr Howard. As I’ve said Lord Osborne her son turns out better than we expect and the fairy tale providential close, plus that she starts to feel desire for a young officer and becomes otherwise occupied.
While the novel seemed to embody or make concrete a Janeite vision of Jane Austen and the UK, once the father dies it takes a decidedly darker turn, and in fact at times is far more rawer and carries incidents like those which occur in Austen into greater probable reality.
Again there is the same curious reflection of Austen’s own life. The breakup of the vicarage, the auctions, the heir taking over, the selling of property, what to do with servants, how to place them, all sorts of details put me in mind of the break up of Steventon. I could not use this as evidence or life-writing but it’s coherence with the letters reinforces what is found there.
The real difficulties the girls experience in traveling with luggage on cross-roads with post-horses.
The behavior of Robert and Jane Watson is much worse than John and Fanny Dashwood, much harder, more particularized. Emma is put in a small room upstair, a bed, chest of drawers, a stool, no chimney and her window has a dismal view of roofs of other houses. She is berated and pressured into becoming a nurse-governess for her sister-in-law’s child. Jane Watson has traits of Mrs Elton only worse; she is bitterer, more sordid in references, ready to take advantage monetarily. She hinders Emma making friends, going for walks.
A parallel with Marianne Dashwood again made more real. Tom Musgrove really talked sexily to Margaret, and really does propose, and they go behind some bushes, and then he denies it all. He was overheard by Emma and Miss Osborne and rather than let him marry another of the Osborne relatives Miss Osborne wants to expose him. She writes a letter to Emma detailing frankly how they both are witnesses. Now in the Watson household Emma has no control over her letters and Robert ends up reading it and determines to try to sue the guy. In fact the Osbornes use the threat of suit to bring him to heel. Margaret has a scene where Marianne like she thinks someone has been bad-mouthing her; the forced wedding is one which will bring misery to Margaret we see.
A theme of how you prevent people bullying you inside a family gradually emerges, you must assert yourself.
The depiction of heterosexual relationships is more thorough, more in depth, more private conversations: they are in line with Austen’s era and mileu and seem a probable development from the original Watsons. Lord Osborne not sure keeps his distance; Mr Howard too. Elizabeth becomes engaged to a nearby intelligent farmer and will be marrying him and provide (she hopes) a home for Emma. Lord Osborne, clumsy, ill-educated, awkward, yet with kind potential, seems to be a portrait of Bigg-Wither
A long dinner party where Jane Watson recalls Mary Musgrove insisting on her rank and precedence Emma seeks a position as a governess to escape her brother and sister-in-law.
A male type who recalls Henry Crawford (both modeled on a type of male seen in such milieus) delivers a remarkably bitter but real enough description of the way the different classes of people and individuals attend each to their narrow vanities and concerns except when ugly gossip out of envy is spread.
So I’d say this leaves the Janeite world. But there is nothing in Hubback herself to correspond to that deep personal sense of loss, grievance, satire one finds in Austen.
Linda also writes:
“Hubback’s character development felt seamless to me from those in the fragment, and I loved the dialogue. She was apparently in wales with her family when writing Younger Sister, hoping for a cure there of her husband’s mental illness. The welsh language added an interesting twist toward the end of her novel.”
I agree with Linda here. We have witty dialogues with very real undercurrents of sex, hard life, playfulness, real sexual jealousy.
We get a paragraph in imitation of Northanger Abbey (like other sequels as Sarah Scott says, this one continually brings out features of the different novels, and it does have the advantage of knowing far more than the 6), so Lord Osborne takes the place of Eleanor Tilney’s young man and we hear of how he went to the Peninsula war, and returned with a Spanish bride (in words that imitate Austen’s). It may be recalled that Osborne was to like Emma and he does and he does propose and is rejected — he reminds me of what is said of Bigg-Wither, awkward, big, clumsy but it turns out if you had given him a chance was a very good sort after all (well meaning)
At the close the last sentence of the book may convey the difference in attitude towards experience that Hubback manifests in this book (not in her letters, there she is much harder) and her way of parodying Austen’s style and moments now and again:]
I have nothing more to say of any of the party, and only trust that all who read my tale, may be convinced, as I am, that prudence, gentleness, and good sense, will secure friends under the most disadvantageous circumstances, but that marriage alone, unless undertaken with the right feelings and motives, cannot be considered a certain recipe for worldly happiness.
A recent facsimile of an important book: In France alone woman has had a vital influence on the development of literature; in France alone the mind of woman has passed like an electric current through the language . . . (George Eliot, “Woman in France: Madame de Sablé”)
The larger point made by Villasenor is that the history of Austen criticism often tries to suggest that feminist readings of Austen is a mid-20th century and recent phenomena. She argues that Hubback’s take on her aunt’s book shows an early real feminism, that Lefroy too wanted to give her aunt a separate real life. Villasenor says we don’t read Victorian criticism by women enough. I agree, and she is trying in the later parts of her book to do just this. I have in hand a serious book which gose a lot further: Brian Corman’s Women novelists before Jane Austen: the critics and their canon. It’s an absurdly misnamed book. A friend sent it to me: it’s about 19th century women critics and readers reading 18th century books — these would includes Mary Hays, Anna Jameson, Julia Kavanagh, Geraldine Jewsbury to name a few better known ones.
An informative and insightful book on Hubback is Zoe Klippert’s edition of the Letters of Catherine Hubback, 1871-76: An Englishwoman in California.