Monday 26 August 2019

Sanditon by Jane Austen

Sanditon Adaptation
In preparation for the mini-series, completed by Andrew Davies, which was starting this weekend on British TV I thought I should probably reacquaint myself with the fragment that Jane Austen started, and had to put aside when she became ill, and soon afterwards died. Apparently her working title was The Brothers but we know it as Sanditon.

This is the blurb, from Amazon:

'no person could be really well . . . without spending at least six weeks by the sea every year'

In Sanditon, Jane Austen writes what may well be the first seaside novel: a novel, that is, that explores the mysterious and startling transformations that a stay by the sea can work on individuals and relationships. Sanditon is a fictitious place on England's south coast and the obsession of local landowner Mr Thomas Parker. He means to transform this humble fishing village into a fashionable health resort to rival its famous neighbours of Brighton and Eastbourne.

In this, her final, unfinished work, the writer sets aside her familiar subject matter, the country village with its settled community, for the transient and eccentric assortment of people who drift to the new resort, the town built upon sand. If the ground beneath her characters' feet appears less secure, Austen's own vision is opening out. Light and funny, Sanditon is her most experimental and poignant work.

* * *

I’d read the first chapters previously, in a sense, as I’d read a completion - Sanditon, by Jane Austen and a Lady (Marie Dobbs) which I enjoyed very much. It’s going to be strange for me to see it go another direction in the adaption and yet I’m eager to see where the story is taken. I really hope they do the story justice.

Unfortunately, the fragment really didn’t get far beyond setting out the main characters, which is such a shame, as I would have loved to know where Austen was going to take this tale. We start off with Mr Thomas Parker having an accident. He’s gone to try and poach a doctor for his home town of Sanditon, which he is trying to develop as a fashionable seaside resort. Mr Parker is a fond husband, father and brother. He is a little obsessed with Sanditon, and making it a success. Mr Parker’s accident leads to him spending 2 weeks staying with the Heywoods and at the end of the two weeks he and his wife return to Sanditon. They would like to bring any number of Heywoods with them but although there are a LOT of them (parents plus 14 children, the eldest of whom have presumably moved out) they are forced to content themselves with the eldest daughter still at home, Miss Charlotte Heywood.

Miss Charlotte Heywood from Sanditon
An aside to this: Jane Austen mentioned a Miss Charlotte Williams in her correspondence to Cassandra, and said: “I admire the Sagacity & Taste of Charlotte Williams, those large dark eyes always judge well. I will compliment her, by naming a Heroine after her.’ and perhaps this was Charlotte Heywood, particularly as she appears to have good judgement.

Charlotte is quite lovely as a heroine. She is sensible and ordinary, and as such, the reader can really identify with her. She seems to be one of the few people who judges the other characters clearly. For example, this is her take on Mr Tom Parker, which seems to me to be fair:
His judgement is evidently not to be trusted. His own good nature misleads him. He is too kind-hearted to see clearly.
Mrs Parker is a sweet lady, fond of her husband and children, but not very strong minded.
So entirely waiting to be guided on every occasion that whether he was risking his fortune or spraining his ankle, she remained equally useless.
Upon going to Sanditon, Charlotte meets with Lady Denham, who is Mr Parker’s investment partner in Sanditon. Lady Denham has been married twice and is now widowed. Her first husband was rich, her second had a title. She is childless and has three families competing for her money. The families of both of her husbands and her birth family, the Breretons. She has a poor relative from her birth family living with her, and her good opinion is courted by the second husband’s family. Lady Denham has no illusions about the grabbiness of her relatives and yet, she is an unsympathetic and unlikeable lady.
She is very, very mean. I can see no good in her.
Miss Clara Brereton is the poor relative who lives with Lady Denham. She is beautiful and somewhat tragic. Reading between the lines, Clara gives off a vulnerable air. She has enemies, but she is aware of it. Charlotte’s judgement of Clara is, for her, quite whimsical.
She could not separate the idea of a complete heroine from Clara Brereton.
Sir Edward Denham is also introduced. He is a remarkable character; remarkably vain and stupid:
Why he should talk so much nonsense, unless he could do no better, was unintelligible.
But there’s also an intrigue to his character. He is determined to seduce Miss Clara Brereton, both to keep her out of Lady Denham's good graces and hence will, but also because he thinks rakes are both dashing and admirable:
With a perversity of judgement which must be attributed to his not having by nature a very strong head, the graces, the spirit, the sagacity and the perserverance of the villain of the story out- weighed all his absurdities and all his atrocities with Sir Edward. With him such conduct was genius, fire and feeling.
Sir Edward’s sister, Miss Denham is just coldly unpleasant. She cosies up to Lady Denham and tries to feel superior to everybody else:
The change from Miss Denham sitting in cold grandeur in Mrs. Parker's drawing room, to be kept from silence by the efforts of others, to Miss Denham at Lady Denham's elbow, listening and talking with smiling attention or solicitous eagerness, was very striking ~ and very amusing or very melancholy, just as satire or morality might prevail.
Mr Parker has two grown sisters, Diana and Susan. Susan is referred to as Miss Parker, and Diana as Miss Diana Parker so Susan must be the elder sister. They are both unmarried, and are both invalids when they have nothing else to do. Diana particularly is a busybody:
It would seem that they must either be very busy for the good of others or else extremely ill themselves.
They live with the youngest of Mr Parker’s siblings, Mr Arthur Parker. He is 20. His sisters think him an invalid and encourage him to think likewise. Charlotte’s opinion differs slightly:
Charlotte could not but suspect him of adopting that line of life principally for the indulgence of an indolent temper, and to be determined on having no disorders but such as called for warm rooms and good nourishment. 
A scene which I enjoyed very much involved Arthur, and after I read it I found myself snorting inelegantly over lunch when I recalled it as I was asked to pass this butter. This is Arthur’s excuse for not eating dry toast but preferring to butter it. Apparently dry toast has the following effect on one’s stomach lining: 
It irritates and acts like a nutmeg grater.
Following Arthur’s example, if one scrapes off the butter while one’s sisters watch, and then scrape it back on quickly, unobserved, before eating, there is no blame associated with eating toast which is not dry :)

We are also very briefly introduced to some further characters. A Mrs Griffiths brings her pupils, the Misses Beaufort and the rich Miss Lambe, a 17 year old heiress ‘half-mulatto’. A ‘mulatto’ means a mixed race person, usually with one black parent and one white. I don’t think that is was an offensive term at the time. I think this is the only non-white character in all of Austen. On a personal level, Austen may have heard of Dido Belle who was another mixed race person whose fortune placed her in a higher level than her race would otherwise have allowed. It would have been fascinating to see where Austen had taken this character! If only!

The Beaufort sisters seem fine enough, though they are clearly anxious for displaying both their talents and their persons. We only have a fleeting acquaintance with them.

The last character we meet is the remaining Parker sibling, Mr Sidney Parker, who apparently is 4th in the family, as he is older than Arthur. We know from his brother’s reports that Sidney makes him laugh despite himself so he sounds like a fun character. In addition the narrator tells us that:
Sidney Parker was about seven or eight and twenty, very good-looking, with a decided air of ease and fashion and a lively countenance.
From this description I have decided that Sidney was the possible hero, but what happened after that is uncertain!

As a beginning, the fragment is very satisfactory. There are some very interesting characters, and the possibility of an intrigue between Miss Brereton and Sir Edward. This is particularly interesting because it’s clear that he doesn’t have honourable intentions and it’s also clear that she’s quite aware of this and is determined not to be taken in. You get the impression that she is stringing him along, and given the fact that he doesn’t mean well by her, I have no problem with this at all!

Given the fact that Austen didn't have the chance to edit the fragment, it contains some of her acerbic wit. It was visible in her letters, and there are smidges of it here too. If she had been able to write Sanditon more, perhaps these delicious snippets would have been lost forever, but I enjoyed such lines as the following, which reminded me of the lines in Pride & Prejudice, where Elizabeth states, that one good sonnet will use up all of a person’s attraction for another:
I have not faith in the sincerity of the affections of a man of his description. He felt and he wrote and he forgot.
There was also such biting social commentary and ‘punmanship’ as:
The Miss Beauforts were soon satisfied with "the circle in which they moved in Sanditon," to use a proper phrase, for everybody must now "move in a circle" ~ to the prevalence of which rotatory motion is perhaps to be attributed the giddiness and false steps of many.
Also the chortleworthy one liners for the reader to enjoy:
The more wine I drink in moderation the better I am.
It’s such a shame that Austen lived such a short time. Who knows what would have happened in this story, and what else she may have written. It’s pointless to dwell on it though, we just need to be thankful for what she DID write.

Sanditon by Jane Austen, Completed by Another Lady (Marie Dobbs)
Have you read any Sanditon completions? The one I read was great, and I’d certainly recommend that (you can read my review of Sanditon, by Jane Austen and completed by Marie Dobbs here). The only shame is that you can’t get it on kindle. I got it second hand, which I think is the only way to get it at present, and currently the prices appear to be quite high, no doubt due to the adaptation. I’ve also read a short story by Abigail Bok based in Sanditon, which forms part of the Sunkissed: Effusions of Summer Anthology, but nothing else. While looking for links to add to this post I found a list of Sanditon continuations, but I haven’t read any more of them myself.

Let me know about any Sanditon recommendations that you have in the comments!


  1. I am very excited about this Andrew Davies adaption, too. I've read only one completion, but it was a while ago and I should probably go back and refresh my memory.
    Love the way you reviewed the fragment. It was fun remembering them as you went.
    I've read two JAFF based on Sanditon- Abigail's story which was fun and then Brinshore, too.

    1. I still haven't read Brinshore, Sophia, it's on the TBR though. I have both that one and Emma and Elizabeth, but don't have the third book in the trilogy yet.

  2. I have read the fragment and several finished versions but cannot at the moment remember the titles. I would have to dig in my long list of "books read" to find out. I am looking forward to the movie. Thanks for sharing here.

    1. Hi Sheila. If you ever get a chance to dig into your long list and find the titles of the Sanditon ones, I'd love to know what they are called and if you thought they were any good!

  3. Thanks for this great post, Ceri! the snippet Jane Austen left us is so fascinating! I too would have loved to know where she planned to go with it. If only...

    I've read a Sanditon continuation published in 1975 by Peter Davies (another Davies :) ), and the authors feature only as Jane Austen and Another Lady (who, as mentioned on the dust cover, 'has published books of her own, but in this case prefers to follow JA's own example of anonimity'). So I'm not sure if it *is* indeed the same author. But I'm hugely excited about the adaptation. I trust Andrew Davies implicitly and I enjoyed the 1st episode immensely (except perhaps the dancing :D Hmmm, not so sure about that, looked rather modern to me. But it was post 1815 so who knows...). Looking forward for more, either way.

    1. Hi Joana. I think the book that you've read is the same one that I have. Both 1975 and according to the inner cover of mine, it was originally published by Peter Davies. The version I have is a 1998 reprint from Arrow, which names Marie Dobbs, but the cover of the book says it's by Jane Austen and Another Lady.

      I watched the second episode yesterday. It's not Austen, that's for sure, but I'm quite enjoying it. Not as much as the 1975 completion story, though! I would have loved it if they'd adapted that.


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