[Part 3 of the author's "Mrs Hubback's The Younger Sister: The Victorian Austen and the Phenomenon of the Austen Sequel"]
n Catherine Hubback’s The Younger Sister, Emma Watson’s homelessness is similarly appropriated to express the increasing mobility that characterised the Victorian age and the consequent anxieties about an increasingly widespread sense of rootlessness as well as financial instability. While it has recently been suggested that “[o]ne of the great themes of Austen’s fiction is moving house” (Stabler, 192), it has also been said about Mansfield Park that the heroine’s “yearning for home” is a theme that “becomes in the mid-Victorian novel a full-blown metaphysics of homelessness” (Sutherland, xii). Nostalgia is neither the prerogative of the Austen sequel nor of Victorian fiction, but clearly pervades Jane Austen’s novels (Wagner, Nostalgia, ch.2).
In his analysis of the 1928 completion of The Watsons by Edith Hubback Brown, the great-grand-niece of Jane Austen, written in conjunction with Francis Brown, Paul Pickrel speaks of a “series of important female characters in the later works – Emma Watson, Fanny Price, Jane Fairfax, and Anne Elliot – as the exiles,” since they “share not only a common exile but also an extraordinarily complete psychological isolation” (451). Catherine Hubback faithfully continues this emphasis on a psychological exile and the physical conditions of nostalgia, whereas later sequels tend to abandon the emotional (or psychological) aspect to focus on the material conditions of Emma’s comparative poverty and to introduce melodramatic plot-twists. Hubback’s Emma is nostalgic for the past and her past home: “Emma found her mind continually reverting to past scenes; to the hopes which had once been so pleasant and lively, and the disappointment which had succeeded them.” (vol.2, 138) Her enforced mobility is perceived as threatening as well as uncomfortable: “And thus, for a second time, was Emma Watson driven out from the home where she had vainly hoped to find a continued shelter, and a second time compelled to look for protection from strange relatives.” (vol.2, 163) As she muses over her own nostalgia, she comes close to Fanny Price’s Romantic rhapsodies on the “powers of recollecting and forgetting” (208-209) in Mansfield Park: “[T]here are times when all I have lost comes back to my memory, and seems quite to overpower me. My earliest friends lost to me, and with them the happy home where I had enjoyed every indulgence, and every pleasure that affection could procure.” (vol.3, 57) Her suffering exacerbated by the unwanted attentions of the sleazy physician, she even falls literally homesick. However, the descriptions of nostalgic longing are disrupted by a Victorian call for endurance. Strength is derived from suffering, which becomes “a system of mental discipline” (vol.2, 164):
It was strange that though at this moment she really had more subjects of anxiety, more sources of depression and sorrow, she bore it so much better than the first. Then she had seemed overwhelmed – now strengthened by the blow. She was learning to see life, its duties, and its trials, in a new light; she discovered that suffering was not an accidental circumstance, like a transitory illness, to be cured and forgotten as soon as possible; it was the condition of life itself – peace was the exception – and she had enjoyed her share; henceforth, she must look forward to trial and endurance […]. (vol.2, 163-164)
Catherine Hubback’s The Younger Sister, the first full-scale sequel to Jane Austen’s novels, is not only emphatically a historical novel, but also a Victorian text in more senses than one. Thus doubly “updating” Austen for her time, she creates an early contribution to a “Victorianisation” of Austen that continued with Austen-Leigh’s Memoir and is still fostered by contemporary biographies and specifically the genre of the Austen sequel. Shedding a different light on the Victorian perceptions, popularity, and interpretation of Jane Austen and her works, The Younger Sister is also a well-written Victorian novel, developed out of Jane Austen's original fragment into an independent piece of fiction, which has so far received very little attention. While its treatment of phrenology, law courts, physicians, governesses, and also homelessness and homesickness is so typical of Victorian fiction as to prevent it from presenting anything new, this typicality marks it as an illuminating part of Victorian culture — specifically as its additions to Jane Austen’s original text reveal the continuities and the breaks that distinguish the Victorian age from Austen’s times.
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Wagner, Tamara S. “‘Overpowering Vitality: Nostalgia and Men of Sensibility in the Fiction of Wilkie Collins,” MLQ 63:4 (2002): 473-502.
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Wagner, Tamara S. Longing: Narratives of Nostalgia in the British Novel, 1740-1890 (forthcoming).
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- Mrs Hubback's The Younger Sister: The Victorian Austen and the Phenomenon of the Austen Sequel
- "These were the days...": Victorian Themes in Hubback's Continuation of Jane Austen's The Watsons
Last modified: 2 December 2002