MS. MA 1034, Morgan Library & Museum, New York

MS. Eng. e. 3764, Bodleian Library, Oxford

See diplomatic display of manuscript at Morgan Library & Museum

See diplomatic display of manuscript at Bodleian Library

The untitled and unfinished manuscript consists of two portions and is Jane Austen’s only known work of fiction surviving in manuscript to have suffered physical separation in this way. Approximately 17,500 words long, it reads like a substantial beginning to a novel and was given the descriptive title The Watsons by James Edward Austen-Leigh, ‘for the sake of having a title by which to designate it’, when he first presented it to the public in the expanded second edition of his Memoir of Jane Austen in 1871.1 According to Austen-Leigh, it is ‘probable, that it was composed at Bath, before she ceased to reside there in 1805’.2 In terms of the chronology of the early drafting of the full-length novels, and setting aside the novella Lady Susan, this would make The Watsons her fourth novel and would place its composition after the unrevised but fully drafted ‘First Impressions’ (Pride and Prejudice), Sense and Sensibility, and ‘Susan’ (later titled ‘Catherine’, and later still, probably by Henry or Cassandra Austen, Northanger Abbey). Of the two portions into which it is now divided, the smaller portion (12 pages) is held in the Morgan Library, New York; the larger portion (68 pages) is held in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Both portions are written onto sheets of paper, folded to form homemade booklets or quires from four to eight pages in length. The text, in Jane Austen’s hand throughout, appears to flow without loss from one quire to the next. After the first unnumbered four-page booklet, the quires are numbered ‘1’ through to ‘11’. Since digitization for the present edition, all four leaves of Quire 2 are reported missing. Currently, the virtual images for that section of the manuscript are its only documentary record. The manuscript breaks off, unfinished, on the recto of the first leaf of Quire 11, its second leaf being blank. There are in total forty-four leaves (six of which are in the Morgan Library and four are digital surrogates), plus three loose pieces of paper, previously attached as patches to the manuscript. These patches are described in detail below. In 1850, Francis Austen’s daughter Catherine Hubback (1818-1877) published a three-decker novel, The Younger Sister, the opening five chapters of which are based closely on her aunt’s fragment. R. W. Chapman’s Clarendon Press transcription of the manuscript appeared in 1927, and in the following year Catherine Hubback’s granddaughter Edith Brown published with her husband Francis a modest completion grafted onto a verbatim transcription of the original, paragraphed and punctuated in modern style.3


The manuscript descended from Jane Austen’s sister Cassandra to her niece Caroline Mary Craven Austen (1805-1880), the younger daughter of their eldest brother James. It was in Caroline’s possession when first published in 1871 by her brother James Edward Austen-Leigh. It passed to Caroline Austen’s nephew, William Austen-Leigh, and he presented the first six leaves (a quire of two leaves and a quire of four leaves) to a charity sale in aid of the Red Cross Society at Christie, Manson, and Woods’s on 26 April 1915. Lot 1520, it sold for £65 to Lady Alice Wernher.4 Page 1 of this portion of the manuscript bears the two red stamps of the Red Cross Society and the Order of St John. R. W. Chapman made the first and only close scholarly examination of the entire holograph manuscript in 1924, when these six leaves were still in the possession of Lady Wernher (now Lady Ludlow, by a second marriage). Soon afterwards this smaller portion was with the London dealer C. J. Sawyer, who, after unsuccessfully trying to purchase the larger part of the manuscript from its then owners, Lionel Arthur Austen-Leigh and his three sisters (the nephew and nieces of William Austen-Leigh), offered the fragment for sale for £385. It was acquired in 1925 for £317.5s.6d by the Morgan Library, where it remains.5 The larger portion of the manuscript was in Austen-Leigh family ownership (though much of the time on deposit in the British Museum) until 1978 when it was sold at Sotheby’s London for £38,000, to the British Rail Pension Fund. It was again auctioned in 1988, at Sotheby’s London, and was sold for £90,000. From 1988 to 2011 it was the property of Sir Peter Michael, on deposit for much of the time at Queen Mary, University of London, where Sir Peter was once a student.6 On 14 July 2011 it was again auctioned at Sotheby's London. The only remaining known privately owned fiction manuscript in Austen’s hand, it fetched almost £1,000,000 (£850,000, hammer price). It was bought by the Bodleian Library, Oxford, with funds from a variety of sources, including the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

Physical Structure

Total manuscript: 44 octavo leaves + 3 patches
Collation: octavo 12; 24-74; 84+1; 94; 104+1; 114+1; 122

Morgan Library, MA 1034 The Morgan manuscript7 is a fragment written on three separate pieces of paper each folded to give four pages. The first piece of paper is folded to give a wide landscape orientation; the other two are upright or portrait, one folded inside the other to form a quire of four leaves, numbered ‘1’ at the top right of the first recto. Each of the three pieces of paper has part or all of a countermark ‘WS’, and it would seem that they come from two separate sheets of paper. Each is approximately a quarter of a full sheet and they all produce an octavo format manuscript. All the edges of the paper have been trimmed but they undulate and appear to have been cut before they were folded.

Pagination, inferred, where second folded section is numbered ‘1’: [p.1-p.4]; 1[p.1-p.8]

Bodleian Library, MS. Eng. e. 3764 The larger portion of the manuscript is made up of ten quires, numbered at the top right of the recto of each first leaf ‘2’ through to ‘11’, consistent in size and orientation with the four-leaf quire of PML MA 1034. Quire 2 is missing and described here from its digital surrogate. Quires 2-10 are composed each of four leaves and the final quire, ‘11’, is composed of two leaves, the second of which is blank. Each leaf measures approximately 190 x 120 mm. Chapman detected the countermark date of ‘1803’ in quires 8, 9, and 10, and the countermark ‘WS’ in 5, 6, and 7. In fact, each quire from ‘2’ to ‘10’ is formed from a half sheet of paper, measuring 380 x 240 mm, which has again been cut in half and one half folded inside the other to form a booklet of four leaves or eight pages. With allowance for rubbing and wear at the edges, the paper of Quires 2-10 corresponds in its uncut size to half sheets of ‘post’ writing paper (385 x 480 mm). The paper is wove, that is, without chain lines, and from a common stock. It would appear that Austen had to hand half sheets only (the stationer’s notebooks used for the juvenile writings were also fashioned from stocks of half sheets only). In some cases the cutting of the sheets has made it more difficult to see the watermark, but examined closely every sheet is marked, by the date ‘1803’ and the initials or countermark ‘WS’. Quire 11 is formed from part of a sheet of a different stock of paper: laid paper, with prominent chainlines (24 mm apart), and with the countermark 'Curteis & Son'.8 In addition, the manuscript has three patches. The patches are now conserved as loose sheets but the evidence of pin marks in the paper of the manuscript shows that they were inserted at Quire 7, f.4r; Quire 9, f.1v ; Quire 10, f.2r. The patch in Quire 10 appears to bear the watermark ‘MJL’. Like the paper used for Quire 11, the paper of all three patches is laid and has prominent chainlines (26 mm apart) and appears to be a single stock. Pin holes in the paper of the manuscript show where three straight pins were used to attach the patches; one pin remains conserved with it. A handwritten note, held with the manuscript, states: ‘These three pins were removed by me for the purpose of | transcribing. I suggest that they be not put back in their | places, where they must sooner or later corrode the paper. | R. W. Chapman.

Pagination, inferred, within numbered quires, where third folded section is numbered ‘2’: 2[p.1-p.8]; 3[p.1-p.8]; 4[p.1-p.8]; 5[p.1-p.8]; 6[p.1-p.8]; 7[p.1-p.7; p.7a; p.8]; 8[p.1-p.8]; 9[p.1-p.2; p.2a; p.3-p.8]; 10[p.1-p.3; p.3a;p.4-p.8]; 11[p.1-p.4]

The manuscript

The manuscript is written and corrected throughout in brown iron-gall ink. The pages are filled in a neat, even hand with signs of concurrent writing, erasure, and revision, interrupted by occasional passages of heavy interlinear correction. There is no pagination, no clear or regular paragraphing, and no separation of speaking parts one from another. (Over a third of the Watsons fragment is cast in direct speech.) The manuscript is without chapter divisions, though not without informal division by wider spacing and ruled lines. The full pages suggest that Jane Austen did not anticipate a protracted process of redrafting. With no calculated blank spaces and no obvious way of incorporating large revision or expansion she had to find other strategies – the three patches, small pieces of paper, each of which was filled closely and neatly with the new material, attached with straight pins to the precise spot where erased material was to be covered or where an insertion was required to expand the text.9 All three patches are carefully cut to the shape of their written texts and, unlike the quired leaves, are materially tailored to fit narrative need: in the patches to Quires 9 and 10 the only indication of where they are to be placed is provided by the pin holes. The best clue we have that they represent a later stage of creation rather than immediate second thoughts is that all three are written on paper which, though common to themselves, is not used for the bulk of the manuscript. The patches are on thicker paper with distinct chainlines; they may even come from the same sheet and represent a single concerted act of revision.10

See also the conservation report.


A Memoir of Jane Austen (2nd edn, London: Richard Bentley & Son, 1871), p. 295. Back to context...
Memoir (1871), p. 295, though Austen did not finally leave Bath until July 1806. Back to context...
Mrs [Catherine] Hubback, The Younger Sister. A Novel (3 vols., London: Thomas Cautley Newby, 1850); The Watsons: A Fragment [ed. R. W. Chapman] (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1927); Edith and Francis Brown, The Watsons (London: Elkin Mathews and Marrot Ltd, 1928). Back to context...
Christie, Manson, and Woods, Catalogue of the Collection of Works of Art presented to the Red Cross Society and the Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem in England ... (London, 1915), p. 282; The Times, 27 April 1915, p. 11; Gilson F10 mistakenly sets the sale at Sotheby’s and gives the sale price as £55. Back to context...
Charles J. Sawyer, A Second Century. Being a Description of One Hundred Works Deserving the Attention of Patrons of Literature ... (London, 1926), p. 3, Lot 4: ‘An Original Manuscript of Jane Austen’; Christine Nelson, ‘Jane Austen in the Morgan Library: History of a Collection’, unpublished paper presented to the New York chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America, 21 January 1995 (updated 2005). Back to context...
‘Jane Austen MSS. Loan to the British Museum’, The Times, 13 April 1936, p. 13; Sotheby’s, Catalogue of Valuable Autograph Letters, Literary Manuscripts, and Historical Documents (London, 1978), Lot 322, 25 July 1978; Gilson F10. Back to context...
A detailed catalogue record for the smaller fragment of The Watsons can be found on Corsair, the Morgan’s online catalogue Back to context...
The Curteises were well-known good-quality papermaker in Carshalton, Surrey (D. C. Coleman, The British Paper Industry, 1495-1860 (Oxford, 1958; repr. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1975), p. 156. Back to context...
There is one patch pasted into the Persuasion manuscript (described in the Head Note to that manuscript), suggesting that this remained Austen’s preferred method of correction where there was no space for extensive rewriting. Back to context...
Kathryn Sutherland, Jane Austen’s Textual Lives: From Aeschylus to Bollywood (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), pp. 128-47. Back to context...