Earliest Austen manuscript fetches $1.6 million

Thu Jul 14, 2011 11:54am EDT
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By Clare Kane

LONDON (Reuters) - The earliest surviving Jane Austen manuscript, a handwritten draft for a book that was never published, sold for 993,250 pounds ($1.6 million) at Sotheby's on Thursday.

The manuscript for "The Watsons" was bought by an anonymous telephone bidder for more than three times the top estimate.

Also in the London sale focusing on rare books, the earliest codified rules of soccer, part of the archive of the oldest football club in the world, Sheffield FC, fetched 881,250 pounds.

Gabriel Heaton, Sotheby's senior specialist in the books and manuscript department, said he was delighted with the Austen sale.

"The sale of The Watsons has afforded an extremely broad audience an insight into the author's writing process and reworkings, which this manuscript uniquely displays," he said.

The manuscript comprises 68 pages, arranged in 11 loose gatherings and written in Austen's small hand, peppered with revisions throughout.

Probably written in 1804, it tells the story of Emma Watson, the youngest of four sisters who is raised by a wealthy aunt but then forced to return to her family while two of her sisters search for husbands.

The novel is only a quarter complete but critic Margaret Drabble described it as "a tantalizing, delightful and highly accomplished fragment, which must surely have proved the equal of her other six novels, had she finished it."   Continued...