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Jane Austen's $1.6-million manuscript

July 14, 2011 | 11:36 am

Janeausten_thewatsons
Jane Austen's unpublished manuscript of "The Watsons," a book she never completed, was sold for $1.6 million at auction Thursday. The phenomenal price surprised watchers, who had expected the manuscript pages to sell for $330,000 to $490,000.

Written and edited in Austen's own hand, the manuscript was the last to be held by a private party. Who has bought it is a mystery -- it was purchased by an unidentified phone bidder.

The buyer doesn't get the complete version of "The Watsons," the name given to the unfinished manuscript after the fact. The first 12 pages of the novel-in-progress are at New York's Morgan Library and Museum. And, of course, Austen never finished "The Watsons" -- the book is about one-quarter written.

Jane Austen published four novels during her lifetime: "Sense and Sensibility," Pride and Prejudice," "Mansfield Park" and "Emma." "Northanger Abbey" and "Persuasion" were published after her death in 1817.

In the nearly 200 years since, her popularity has only grown; recent film and television adaptations keep her stories in the public eye. Not to mention the public heart -- there have been several swoon-worthy portrayals of "Pride and Prejudice's" Mr. Darcy on screen.

Come to think of it, a Hollywood star might be able to afford $1.6 million for a Jane Austen manuscript. Colin Firth, was that you?

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Literary letters for auction at Sotheby's

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Pages from Jane Austen's manuscript of "The Watsons." Credit: Sotheby's

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