The heavily corrected pages of The Watsons will reside in a suitably august home, the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. Fortunately for Austen's fans, one need not travel to England to read the text: The Watsons has been published numerous times, beginning in 1872.
Austen made an intriguing start, writing about sisters, as she so often did. The reader meets Emma Watson, the youngest grown child of a widower, and her bickering family. Like Lizzy Bennet and her sisters in Pride and Prejudice, the Watson women are of marriageable age but have no money to recommend them.
Available young men of varying fortunes quickly arrive on the scene. There's the aristocratic Lord Osborne, the socially ambitious Tom Musgrave, and an earnest clergyman, Mr. Howard. It seems that Austen was planning to write about marrying for money, because when Emma tells her sister Elizabeth that "Poverty is a great Evil, but to a woman of Education & feeling it ought not, it cannot be the greatest," Elizabeth responds, "I think I could like any good humoured Man with a comfortable Income." Austen presented two viewpoints, both valid because both likely true of the speakers. A marriage that suits one person can be all wrong for another, as Austen demonstrated so pointedly in Pride and Prejudice. Whereas Lizzy could not abide the thought of life with Mr. Collins, her friend Charlotte Lucas found in him a satisfactory husband even if she had no illusion of love.
The gentry of Jane Austen's England viewed marriage as a social contract. It was a way to gain or protect wealth or acquire a title and status. Even Austen, who declared herself squarely on the side of love, never said that love alone sufficed. "Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without Affection," she counseled her niece Fanny Knight. But the man's character mattered, too, and so did his position. Love was just part of the package.
Austen's relative poverty limited her own prospects. She had a youthful romance cut abruptly short when her suitor's family whisked him away from her because they had bigger plans for him. Later she turned down a proposal from a family friend--a young man who could have given her wealth, a fine home, and children--because the two of them shared no love. It had been her last chance; no more proposals came.
Having better control of fate in her novels than she did in life, Austen let all her heroines marry for love to the very men who would make them happiest. We cannot know what she had in mind for Emma Watson, but I'm willing to bet that Emma would have married sincere Mr. Howard--after he had been given a comfortable living.