Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for February, 2020

Inquiring Readers:

Chris Brindle, who lives in Colchester, England, is a prolific writer of music and books, and also a producer. Chris has written the following post (a compilation of information on his website and from the emails & materials he sent me.) He postulates that as Austen was dying in 1817, she deliberately wrote ‘Sanditon’ as a challenge and inspiration for other people in her family to finish, particularly her niece Anna (Lefroy) and nephew James-Edward (Austen-Leigh). Here, then, is Chris’s article.

Steventon Rectory. Image Wikimedia Commons

Steventon Rectory. Image Wikimedia Commons

Sanditon was Jane Austen’s last, partially completed, novel of around 24,000 words, written in 1817 between January 27th and March 18th. Jane’s niece Anna, the daughter of Jane’s eldest brother James, had been brought up in her youngest years at Steventon where her aunt, who was 18 years older, also lived. Anna remained at Steventon with her father until she married Ben Lefroy at 21. After a brief interlude, Anna moved back to Hampshire to live two miles away from Jane, then living at Chawton.

Jane Lefroy's biography pages by Chris Brindle in his book Hampshire, Vol 2, pp. 72-73. Image courtesy of Chris Brindle. His book is available via Amazon.

Jane Lefroy’s biography pages by Chris Brindle in his book Hampshire, Vol 2, pp. 72-73. Image courtesy of Chris Brindle. His book is available via Amazon.

Anna was surely the first ‘Janeite’ and harboured a life-long ambition to emulate and honour her aunt. In March 1845 she inherited Jane’s manuscript in the will of Jane’s sister Cassandra, and set about writing her continuation [of the unfinished novel], which is of similar length and is similarly unfinished.

By the time Austen put down her pen and finally her pencil, she had introduced all the characters that the story needed—apart maybe for a good villain, as Lefroy realised in her continuation, when she invented Mr Tracy as one of Sidney Parker’s friends (friends Austen told us would join Sidney at the Hotel). I don’t believe Austen intended Sir Edward Denham to be a villain, rather just a sexually frustrated character answering to Lady Denham’s will, who, as dowager, controlled Sir Edward’s estate.

When Austen realised she was dying, I believe she worked out a way in which her books and letters would not die with her, but would live on as the next generation took up the baton as her literary heirs. Her book and letters were her children and she wanted them to live forever.

This is the lyric in my ‘Song For Jane Austen’–YouTube link

When did you realise that your life would soon come to its end ?

Did you always know your life would be so short ?

What is a life, what is it worth ?

Is it what you leave behind you at the end ?

Your books and letters were your children

Left to others to inspire, and maybe carry on your work

Do you die if a little bit of you will live in others ?

Or memories of you will still remain ?

How do you spend your last few moments on this earth

When your journey has to come to its end

One last display of brilliance in three tiny booklets

Your sketches on a canvas for others to fill in

Your gift to God and to the world

And those you leave behind you at the end

In your pain you left us biting satire

A town built on sand in need of hope

But you left us characters who could save it

If in our imagination we could see how they would cope

May the Lord look on you with grace and favour

For this was the world you created

Reaching out for your future

A century or more away

When your pain was most intense

And your time was running out”

Anna Lefroy, whose mother died when she was two, was largely brought up with Jane at Steventon in her early years.  Thus she most probably earns the right to be known as Austen’s first fan. Anna’s life was devoted to an effort to emulate her aunt. We know most about Jane’s approach to writing from the exchange of letters between her and Anna, as Anna sent the latest piece of dialogue to Jane for her comments.  From the letters it was clear that Anna had no idea how to plot a novel, or to start with a strong enough idea to drive an interesting story, so Sanditon was most probably written as a starting place for Anna to complete the novel.

In 1817 Anna was starting a family and had no time to write. In any case, Anna would need to earn the right to be Austen’s literary heir by being a published author. Thus, after Jane’s death in 1817, all the letters and manuscripts went to her sister Cassandra. To keep Austen’s memory alive, it would be for Cassandra to decide who should get what. Anna Lefroy inherited the unfinished manuscript of Sanditon on Cassandra’s death in 1845.

I tell this story in my Documentary (YouTube link)  and how, although Anna failed to complete Sanditon (Click here to read her unfinished text), her half brother James Edward Austen-Leigh went one better and wrote the first biography of Austen. A Memoir of Jane Austen put the life of Austen together with her fiction and made her a mega-star. It was the competition that Austen created between her nieces and nephews that made the Memoir happen. (Click here to read the Memoir.)

I came to realise what Sanditon actually was when writing the illustrated story of the life of my great great great grandfather R.H.C. Ubsdell (1812-1887), the Portsmouth miniaturist, portrait painter and early photographer. Ubsdell had a studio and art gallery in Old Portsmouth opposite the theatre. He painted portraits of Jane Austen’s sailor brothers Charles and Francis (Frank) and the miniature of Anna Lefroy, delivered to her in the Autumn of 1845. He probably also drew the disputed portrait in graphite on vellum of Austen (the property of Paula Byrne) as an ‘identikit reconstruction’ for Anna Lefroy circa 1845 (probably to serve as a frontispiece for her intended completion of Sanditon together with her own portrait.)

'Unseen' Portrait of Jane Austen (Paula Byrne), Miniature of Charles Austen, and miniature of Anna Lefroy. Images courtesy of Chris Brinkle.

‘Unseen’ Portrait of Jane Austen (Paula Byrne), Miniature of Charles Austen, and miniature of Anna Lefroy. Images courtesy of Chris Brinkle.

These illustrated books, entitled Hampshire, are available on Amazon. Click on this link to view the books.

History of the Church and Rectory at Ashe

A page in Hampshire, a book by Chris Brindle. This one discusses the history of the church and Rectory at Ashe, a village close to Steventon. Image courtesy of Chris Brindle.

I think it is only when one puts the Lefroy continuation together with the Austen original that one truly understands why Austen wrote Sanditon. My conclusion comes from studying the life stories of Austen and Anna Lefroy, and Anna’s diary and life story that her daughters copied out. (One copy was kindly lent to me by descendant Helen Lefroy).  So perhaps one cannot complain if ITV chooses Andrew Davies to write a very modern ‘Love Island’ ‘take’ on the book.  Having invested our time in a couple of episodes, most people will probably want to know how it ends.

Sanditon, the ITV/PBS Masterpiece television mini-series

Davies does little more than take the names of some of the characters, however, whilst ignoring most of the content of Austen’s original fragment, niece Anna Lefroy’s continuation, and the financial relationships between the characters that Austen very clearly outlines, and which Lefroy clearly understood. Austen’s story should be about property speculation and money, inspired by her time in London with brother Henry, when the bank of which he was a partner, Austen, Maude & Tilson was collapsing because of their ill-considering loans.

Davies and the production studio also fail to present the main character properly–a South Coast English seaside resort in its earliest stages of speculative development. Trafalgar House (Tom and Mary Parker’s house) is not part of ‘New Sanditon’, a bold new development on the cliff, instead in the TV show it is stuck down in a very squalid looking village.

The other thing that is unsatisfactory about the ITV/PBS Masterpiece production is that it ignores the actual history and real-life detail of the development of the English seaside resorts such as Brighton, Worthing and Southsea. It wasn’t an accident that Austen chose the setting of an English Seaside Resort, because she saw that this was a character in its own right. From its infancy, Sanditon would grow up over time. Therefore, for any future ‘completer’ there would be so much actual historical detail of the financial machinations to draw upon.

Chris Brindle’s works and productions

I am very gratified that people looking for something more authentic have been viewing on YouTube my original solution to the completion clues that Austen and Lefroy left, my 2014 Play:

and my Documentary filmed in Hampshire in the same year that tells ‘The Story Behind Sanditon‘:

Austen left us so little of Sanditon that I think rather than rushing ahead and inventing new story lines I thought it might be better to look at Austen’s characters in more detail, using as many of her actual words as possible, and thus my idea for a musical was born. This built on the duet ‘Blue Briny Sea’ that I had written for the original stage show  (filmed at Chawton Great House) https://youtu.be/2gmrFrEdMBg

and  ‘Song For Jane Austen’ (filmed in Bath) that I had written for the 200th Anniversary of Jane’s death:

My first script for the musical was a grand stage musical with a cast of 19, which I then reduced to an actor musician musical performed by 11 players that I produced and filmed at ‘The Other Palace’ Theatre in London in July last year:-

In this musical the songwriter for a modern 21st Century Pop Band persuades the members of her band to take on Austen’s words, the characters in Austen’s novel, tell the story behind the novel, and reflect on what the novel means to them ‘200 Years Later’.  The carriage ride from Willingden to Sanditon then becomes this song as Tom & Mary Parker and Charlotte Heywood give their respective views on the resort:

Whilst an Austen story with modern popular music might seem a strange mix, another example of a musical doing very well on tour in the UK at the moment is “Pride & Prejudice” (Sort Of ), which features the Pride & Prejudice story told by the Bennet’s servants, but in broad Glaswegian with added karaoke songs!

Everything I’ve done has been on a tiny budget driven by my fascination for the subject matter.  I’m currently working on plans to develop the big stage production in the amateur sector.  More details can be found on my website www.Sanditon.info, which I’ve updated.

On my website you will find the links to

  • The texts of both the Austen and Lefroy fragments of ‘Sanditon’ (An entirely different perspective opens up if one asks oneself line-by-line, why did the author include ‘that bit’?  (If you read the Austen fragment in this way, Austen clearly leaves so many plot openers and clues in her work for future ‘completers’ to solve.  This is probably what is most unsatisfactory about the Andrew Davies / ITV dramatisation in that Davies chooses not to solve any of Austen’s clues and just ‘does his own thing’.)
  • My 2014 Film of The Play of Jane Austen’s and Anna Lefroy’s Sanditon.
  • My 2014 Documentary filmed in Hampshire & Berkshire with piano music by American Composer and JASNA delegate Amanda Jacobs
  • My 2019 Musical  “200 Years Later”  Jane Austen’s ‘Sanditon’ The Pop/Rock Musical as premiered at ‘The Other Palace’, Victoria London on 26th July 2019

Additional information from other sources

Photo of Chris Brindle

Chris Brindle 

Chris is a writer (see www.Ubsdell.com) and in 2014 produced a play, short film and documentary that completed and told the story of Jane Austen’s last unfinished novel Sanditon. Read more of his biography at this link.

Read Full Post »

Inquiring readers: This is a long recap. Eight episodes of a mini-series deserve a thorough discussion of the finale.

Spoiler Alert: We’ve invested many hours in Davies’ Sanditon on PBS Masterpiece and where did it get us? Before we rush to the comment section to share our opinions, let’s analyze the final show. At the end of my, er, analysis, we’ll finish with a poll to measure our collective satisfaction quotient.

Announcement: According to PBS and ITV, there are no plans to film a second season of Sanditon.

Dancing on a cloud

The episode opens with our lovely Miss Charlotte walking on air through the one intersection of the Sanditon set that viewers have seen repeatedly. Thoughts of Sidney’s sweet talk and proposal interruptus swirl in her head.

She knocks on Mrs. Griffith’s door to visit Georgiana and espies Sidney nearby talking to Tom. He sees her as well. They exchange smoldering looks. Charlotte’s heart beats as fast as mine.

The scene segues to Georgiana’s bedroom. For the first time in many episodes, Miss Lambe is dressed in a lovely gown. Her complexion glows. She and Charlotte chatter like close girlfriends are wont to do, giggling and exchanging highly personal information.

Then Charlotte drops a bombshell – “Sidney is a wonderful man. He’s kind. He’s so dreamy. I couldn’t sleep last night just thinking of him.”

Quelle horreur!

Georgiana is beside herself. “You aren’t (gag) in love with him!? Please say you are not.”

“Well, uh, maybe, perhaps. Recall that he trotted out Otis to say goodbye to you. Wasn’t that nice?”

“You cannot trust a word he says!”

Sanditon intersectionEnd of discussion. The viewer is immediately transported to the same intersection of the Sanditon set that they have seen repeatedly. This time a stagecoach takes center stage to deliver passengers and the mail. James Stringer receives a letter stating that he has received an offer of an apprenticeship in London. It’s everything he’s ever dreamed of. Now all he has to do is tell his Da.

Something jolly

The camera pans to Sanditon House. My head spins from the many scene changes and from my low blood sugar. I reach for crackers with sharp New Zealand cheddar cheese and a fine red Australian wine and watch Lady D and Esther playing cards. Esther’s bored and pays scant attention to the game, which prompts Lady D to complain,

“You are playing like a nincompoop. What is the matter with you?”

Esther is honest. She couldn’t care less about cards.

“Don’t give yourself airs,” says Lady D, “You haven’t got my money yet! Go over and play the piano. Play me something jolly.”

Esther resists, saying she can’t play or sing.

At that moment, Lord Babbington is announced and he enters smiling and smug, and asks Esther to accompany him for a ride.

Esther: “No”

Lord Babb: “Yes”

Lady D: “Go!”

babbington and estherIn the next scene we see Esther and Lord Babb sitting side by side in a curricle (a dandy’s vehicle, much like today’s ultra sleek sports car for the uber rich). The horses gallop along a beautiful stretch of beach. Esther feigns boredom, but Lord Babb urges the horses on. She basically calls him a wuss and says:

“You are the world’s worst carriage driver.”

“Do you want to take over the reins?”

“Why not?” As she drives the horses even faster we gain insight into their future relationship. Esther is the alpha of the two—a bitch in a bonnet. (Thanks, Robert Rodi for the title, which I borrowed from your book.)

The horses increase their speed, their manes and tails flying in the wind. Esther laughs joyously and for the first time viewers watch her blossom into a fun-loving young woman whose worries disappear with a man who loves her more than she loves him.

First kiss

Tom Parker is happy. The WHOLE WORLD wants to come to Sanditon (a slight exaggeration) just in time for the Midsummer’s Ball.

Sidney visits Tom in the drawing room and catches Charlotte going out to adjust the final finishes to her ball gown. Sidney expresses interest in joining her in her perambulations. She says, coyly, “Sure why not?” And off they go—in the exact opposite direction of her destination. There is no urgency to her dressmaking, she says. Hah!

charlotte SidneyThe couple meanders along the Downs, lost in tender emotions and lust. Then they kiss.

Heartstrings tug. Violins violin. The music climaxes in volume. We viewers KNOW this maiden has won the final rose from her very eligible bachelor and that all is right in Austenland.

*Sigh.*

At the Midsummer’s ball

I give the third ball in this series a rating of 2. (#1 goes to the London ball, and #3 to the assembly ball at the beginning of the series.) The midsummer decorations are more than adequate and the beau monde & villagers look smashing—kudos to the costume and prop departments.

Our main protagonists and characters are assembled, beautifully dressed and ready to party, except for Georgiana, who confronts Sidney. “What are you up to with Charlotte?

Arthur interrupts to ask Miss Lambe to dance. Sidney quickly answers, “She’d be delighted.”

Off they go.

Then Sidney is way laid by Tom. James Stringer takes this moment to ask Charlotte for a dance. Across the ball room, Charlotte and Sidney exchange glances of frustration, but she can’t refuse Stringer, for she was not engaged to dance with another gentleman. Regency manners require her to accept this invitation or bow out from dancing for the rest of the evening. Unfortunately, a dance in formation can take up a considerable amount of time and Sidney will have to bide his time before he can talk to his sweet Charlotte.

As James and Charlotte dance, he tells her he’s found an excellent situation in London as an apprentice. She’s so delighted with the news—so pleased for him—so gushing—that he must be disappointed with that overenthusiastic reaction.

Lord Babb talks to Sidney as they eye the dancers. He leaves his friend as soon as he sees Lady D and Esther enter the ball room, fashionably late as great ladies were wont to do.

The dancing continues, with Lord Babb and Esther, Arthur and Georgiana, and the rest of the assembled guests having great fun.  After what seems to be an age, Charlotte’s dance with Stringer finally ends.

Balcony scene

We now have a Romeo and Juliet moment in reverse, with Sidney looking down at Charlotte on the ballroom floor. They finally meet and greet. In their scene together he says all the words that a hero would say at the VERY END of a romance, but we are only halfway into the story!

And so, Sidney says, “What a brute I was.”

Charlotte, who, once upon a time was a feisty opinionated woman, says, “I deserved it.”

He then confesses he’s the same man. She ripostes, “But much improved.” Really, Charlotte, really? I reach for more wine and learn to my surprise that one can gulp 3 ounces in one fell swoop.

Then comes the piece de resistance in romance dialogues—“If I’ve changed at all it is in no small part down to you. I’ve never waited to put myself in someone else’s power before.”

Violins violin. Hearts flutter.

I think: *WTDFJH?* (What the Dr. Fuchs just happened?) This denouement is occurring too soon!

I forgot about deux ex machina, a literary device used to derail the reader or viewer, and that is discouraged by professors who teach Writing Romance Novels 101.

Ashes to ashes

For some reason, the elder Stringer, instead of attending the ball, works late by candlelight on a stepladder to complete the Crescent all by his lonesome. James Stringer sought him out before the ball to tell him about his acceptance letter in the apprenticeship program

Dad is not pleased. “It’s for Charlotte and (eyeing his ball attire), you look like one of THEM! Well, off you go, then.”

James, such a sweet and likable character, stomps out, calling his father a miserable old man.

The night is dark and only candles light up the space when Old Stringer touches his chest, then his left arm. Uh, oh. My knowledge of medicine, learned in lifeguard training classes in college, kicks in. This is not looking good. Plus, why is the elder Stringer working for a gentleman when he hasn’t been paid in an age?

The next thing we know, someone yells, “Fire!” Poor Mr. Stringer is toast. Scant resources existed in the early 19th century to fight fires in buildings made largely of wood, and the structure is swiftly destroyed.  James Stringer is aghast at the loss of his father, and he recalls his angry last words with profound regret.

Tom, who was riding high a few hours ago with visions of profits dancing in his head, is utterly destroyed financially. He has no idea of how to save his dream for a seaside resort. Worse, how could he face his Mary?  His stupidity and naiveté are revealed when Sidney uncovers his true crime—not investing in insurance to save a few quid.

Lady D swoops down upon the hapless brothers and sister, saying she wants her investment back or else they’ll all be put in the poor house. The Parkers’ combined resources cannot cover the disastrous cost of  ‎£80,000, or £6,323,574.23 in today’s money. Is there no hope?

Yes! Deus ex machina.

Everything has changed. Sidney rides off in the sunset to London to find funds. In ancient Greek theatre, this DEM device came in the form of an angel or god of sorts lowered onto a stage who would save the protagonists. A chorus echoes in my head with the refrain, “Lady Campion, she’s the champion, richest widow in the land.”

Before Sidney leaves, he visits Charlotte and holds her hand: “When I return, we’ll finally have a chance to finish our conversation. I’ll be back in a week.”

Is that so, kemo sabe? We’ll see.

Old Stringer is buried. We learn his name was Isaac. James is beside himself with grief and regret.

In another scene, Tom grovels in front of Mary and she, milquetoast, er, loving wife, that she is, forgives him.

Charlotte writes a letter to her sister saying that it’s been weeks since Sidney left in an attempt to save Sanditon…and so the plot goes on.

The wedding is celebrated by … the wrong couple, or the right couple, or half the couples who are eligible to marry. Take your pick.

I must confess my happiness when Lord Babb and his Esther marry. It’s the same feeling I had when Lady Edith married her Bertie in Downton Abbey, making her a marchioness.

I love it when Story B makes it to the A list and emerges front and center. In this instance, the viewer is treated to the morning after the wedding night, when we see that Esther is not disappointed. In fact, she anticipates a happy future with her Lord, who unleashed emotions in her and feelings of pleasure that Sir Ed would never have liberated.

Well done you, Lord Babb. I love rich, huggy-bear types who adore their headstrong women.

Good news, bad news: the hero returns to save the day but sacrifices his lovely damsel and his own happiness.

The Parkers’ financial future lies in Sidney’s quick return, and they gnash their teeth as they await news of his success. He hies back to Sanditon several weeks after his departure, causing ulcers and sleepless nights for kith and kin. It turns out, he has saved them all—except for he, himself and Charlotte.

Their meeting stinks, in my humble opinion. At least he’s gutsy enough to tell her in person of his actions.

Saint Sidney takes her hand in his.

“Charlotte, my dear Charlotte…I had hoped that upon my return I’d be able to make you a proposal of marriage, but it cannot be…the fact is I have been obliged to engage myself to Mrs. Eliza Campion.”

*Yeah, whatev,* I think. Charlotte is stunned, however.

“Please believe me there was no other way to resolve Tom’s situation”

Sidney’s words turn Charlotte into a boneless mass of compliance.

“I understand. I wish you every happiness,” she says like an automaton.

Adding salt to the wound of rejection

Lady DenhamAfter Lord Babb’s weddng to Esther, Lady D turns to Charlotte. “Well Miss Heywood? Are you still proclaiming your independence? Or is it that none of our young men have taken your fancy?” She turns to Sidney: “What do you say, Mr. Parker?”

Lady D is called away, before he can formulate an answer.

Charlotte and Sidney soldier on, exchanging polite conversation. “How are your wedding preparations?” she asks, her face immobile, as if injected by botox

“Elaborate.”

Lady Campion, all noxious graciousness, insinuates herself into the conversation.

“Perhaps we should plan a simple country wedding. Although I don’t think it would be our sort of thing.”

At this point I’ve eaten all my crackers and cheese, texted my Janeite friends with my observances, and poured another glass of an outstanding 94-point Fox in the Hen House wine. I take care not to throw that precious liquid at the screen whenever Lady C smirks.

Charlotte folds in on herself like a wet noodle

Charlotte visits James Stringer. Feeling the weight of guilt for his last angry words to his father, he now lives in his Da’s cottage.

“I gather Mr. Sidney Parker is engaged,” he says.

“Yes, I wish for his happiness.”

“She’s not half the woman you are…if he doesn’t see that he doesn’t deserve you.”

“Thank you, Mr. Stringer.” Charlotte obviously has no desire to flirt with James or embark on a relationship with him. More fool she.

We then see her saying goodbye to the Palmer family and leaving Sanditon in a lovely carriage pulled by four magnificent horses. Once again, the scenery of the Downs is sublime.

The camera pans to Sidney chasing after Charlotte on his powerful steed.

“Whoa, whoa,” says the coachman, prompting Charlotte to peer out the window.

The viewers instantly know why Sidney needs to see her when he says, “Tell me you don’t think badly of me.

Screen Shot 2020-02-23 at 1.49.20 PMCharlotte says without inflection, “I don’t think badly of you.”

He then says, “I don’t love her, you know… I’m just fulfilling my side of the bargain.”

This is the UNFAIREST cut of them all. “Sir,” I shout at the screen, “You are no gentleman!”

Charlotte meekly steps inside the carriage and Sidney watches until it disappears over the horizon

I splutter. THAT’S IT?! What did I just invest my time in?

Davies and his team have an obligation to viewers to end this mini-series without a cliff hanger. He was hoping for but was not assured a second season.  His attitude towards us is disrespectful.

My plea to the powers that be is to think of your audience and order up at least one more episode to tie up loose ends and provide Charlotte with the logical ending she deserves.

Now, gentle reader,  it’s your turn to vent, either in the comment section or in this poll.

Thank you for visiting this blog. It’s been a pleasure reading your thoughts, pro, con, or indifferent.

Viewer satisfaction poll of Sanditon

Read Full Post »

Episode 7: At the regatta: Diana, Lady Campion, Charlotte, and Mrs. Parker

At the regatta: Diana, Lady Campion, Charlotte, and Mrs. Parker

As popular television fare goes, Davies’ Sanditon is quite entertaining. In the first 16 minutes of Episode Seven, so many dizzying plot developments are introduced, that they left this viewer’s head spinning. By the end of the episode, everything but the kitchen sink had been thrown into the mix to keep viewers hungering for more. (The last episode is a doozy, but we’ll get to it next week.)

 

Davies’ sledge -hammer approach felt so heavy handed at times, that (honestly) I ran to my bookshelf to retrieve Pride and Prejudice. Reading Austen’s delightful, familiar words gave me a sense of calm. I put down the book and continued to watch the episode.

 

As certain characters in Davies’ Sanditon reveal their distasteful ambitions, such as when Clara Brereton told Esther Denham about her sexual gymnastics with Sir Edward on the drawing room floor after burning Lady Denham’s will and divvying up her fortune (as that lady lay dying), I reached for my first glass of wine, but I am getting ahead of myself.

 

Let’s face it. Austen did not hesitate to create nasty characters. Think of Sense and Sensibility.  Fanny Dashwood, John’s wife, is a piece of work plotting to oust Mrs. Dashwood, John’s stepmother, and his stepsisters from Norland Park almost as soon as the elder Mr. Dashwood was buried. Her machinations were despicable, but under Austen’s skillful pen, Fanny’s method to drive them out was masterful, awesome, ruthless, and nuanced. John, her husband, is a manipulated fool and yet a willing conspirator in disregarding his father’s express desire for his stepsisters’ and stepmother’s future security.

 

We felt the Dashwood women’s pain and grief. We understood their pride and anger as they chose to leave an impossible situation as soon as possible. We felt for Marianne Dashwood when she fell for Willoughby, a flawed but smooth-talking and handsome character. Readers knew, along with Colonel Brandon, that he had gotten a virginal girl pregnant and then abandoned her to a life of shame.

 

Elinor Dashwood, a sensible character, at first had difficulty seeing through Lucy Steele, a conniving little witch. When Elinor finally figured her out, she was trapped into listening to information about Edward Ferrars that felt like knives stabbing her heart. More than once I wanted her to bitch slap that girl, but Elinor has more class than me.

 

Who can forget Fanny Dashwood’s mother? She was an outspoken battle-ax and manipulator of the worst sort, whose conversation provoked Marianne to defend her sister with a truthful artlessness that was bold and threw caution to the wind.

 

The difference between Austen’s villains and Davies’ is that Austen laid a careful groundwork for their motivations and behavior. The dark undertones of conflict between Willoughby and Colonel Brandon resonate with us. The secrets the two men withheld from Marianne, and the complexity of their love and longing for her add to the suspense of the plot—who will she choose? Which choice makes sense to the heart of a young girl? Which is the more mature, sensible choice? How do experience, suffering, and maturity add to a character’s growth and understanding?

 

In Davies’ Sanditon, secondary characters and villains tend to be one dimensional, almost cartoon-like. The main protagonists, Charlotte and Sidney, are given more complex motivations, which I appreciate, especially in this episode as they attempt to overcome their misunderstandings and grow closer. Their longing for each other is palpable, as Lady Susan and Young Stringer notice.

 

Now, let’s examine the salient plot lines in this second to the last episode.

 

Stupid is as stupid does

 

While Lucy Steele’s devised her trap for Elinor with evil genius, she kept her plans to herself until she approached Edward. Clara Brereton is just plain dumb. She lords it over Esther, who is unable to hide her emotions for her stepbrother. A gloating Clara reveals that she and Edward found the will, agreed to 50% of the cut, then burned it. Seeing Esther’s disbelief, she adds salt to the wound to reveal that she and Sir Ed sealed the deal with a quickie on the drawing room floor. Charlotte Spencer, the actress who plays Esther, stepped up her acting chops and gave a superb performance throughout this episode. We feel her pain, her horror, and then her understanding of the situation.

 

Most of all, we (I) cheered her hard slap to Clara’s face. Then, when Clara figures out that Esther is still a virgin, she says,”No wonder he was so keen to take his pleasure elsewhere.” We (I) wished that Esther had knocked her unconscious to the floor. (I’ve been watching too many Marvel movies.)

 

As for Clara, she’s no Jane Fairfax. Her situation as Lady D’s dependent companion is precarious. Falsely confident, she assumes the mantle of the victor prematurely. Jane Fairfax kept silent until all the dominoes fell safely in place before Frank Churchill revealed their romantic bond. Clara, who has just as much to lose, could not stop herself from gloating.

 

A vengeful phoenix arises from the ashes and swoops on her victims with talons outstretched

 

Esther, in her misery, pays a final visit to Lady Denham. Her confession to the comatose lady is revealing. She says:

 

You should know there’s not a single person alive who holds you in the least affection. Not Edward, Clara, not me…“You will die unloved, and Edward, my Edward—she holds Lady D’s hand—“Truth is, he’s betrayed us both. He betrayed us when he and Clara lay with each other on the drawing room floor. He betrayed us when he and Clara conspired to burn your will and share your fortune. I truly hope that you find happiness in heaven, because this earth has become a living hell.”

 

Hours or days later, Esther sits waiting in the hallway as Sir Ed awakens from a couch just outside of Lady D’s bedroom. He yawns and says,

I did not know it was going to be this drawn out [or] I would have been in bed.”

Esther replies sarcastically,

Perhaps you would have been more comfortable on the floor.”

He shoots her a curious look. Then, wonder of wonders, the unfortunately named Dr. Fuchs runs towards them.

Her fever broke!…She may yet recover altogether!”

While Clara blanches, as if the ghost of Northanger Abbey has come to attack her, Sir Ed’s collar grows three sizes too small.

 

Somewhat later, he and Clara simper up to Lady D, who’s still abed. Sir Ed says unctuously,

Words cannot express our belief. Dr. Fuchs has our eternal gratitude.”

Lady D, holding a glass with a milky substance, says,

Why? If anyone deserves credit, it is the ass who restored my strength.”

Austen created the running joke of Lady D’s milch asses, from whom that wealthy widow planned to make much money. Davies and his team hardly used that funny material, an opportunity missed.

 

Clara adds timidly,

We have kept constant vigil.”

A steely-eyed Lady D then gives the two of them her what for.

Mmmm. Well, you can dry your eyes. Dying is highly disagreeable…although it has to be said there is nothing like imminent death to focus the mind. I have under-estimated the boundless depth of your venality.”

The two blather and bluster, but Lady D waves them off.

Enough, you feeble parasites…Get out, and needless to say, I shall be laying a new floor in my drawing room, since the old one has been indelibly stained!”

Gentle readers, who’d have thunk a wood floor would become such an important character in a mini-series? Oh, the drama! Sir Ed is disinherited. Clara is banished to London post haste. And Esther appears to be the sole remaining heir to the Denham fortune. At this point, I poured my second glass of wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon, and munched copious amounts of Utz Party Mix, which contains not one wholly natural ingredient as far as I can tell.

 

Turbo recap of the rest of the story

 

Tom Parker is beside himself when he gushes that all the beau monde in London have traveled to Sanditon. He greets Lady Susan with an obsequiousness that is cringe worthy. When he tells her that Sanditon has the finest situation on the south coast, she pooh-poohs the idea,

 

Oh, shush. Never mind all that. If I gave a fig about the sea, I’d have gone to Brighton.” (A delicious cut.)

It turns out that she’s come to continue her conversation with Charlotte, which, to my mind, was nothing more than artless chatter at a fancy ball from a simple girl from a simple farm near an undeveloped town. One can never divine the whims of the rich and famous, so we’ll have to take Lady Susan’s word at face value.

 

She and Charlotte chatter, and the lady’s keen observation tells her that she’s in love. Her discernment also tells her that Lady Eliza Campion, one of the richest women in the country and an old connection to Sidney Parker, stands in the way of Charlotte’s happiness. Lady S, a kind busybody, will see to that. She’ll find a chink in Lady Campion’s armour and put a stop to her designs on Sidney Parker. Anything for a friend she’s known for all of two hours.

 

Charlotte, upset at seeing Lady C, turns away from the assembled company and encounters Young Stringer in the woods. We learn this late in the series that his first name is James. James Stringer. Had Davies and his team meant for Stringer to be a likely love interest for Charlotte, we would have learned this important fact earlier. In the course of their conversation, James realizes that while he yearns for Charlotte, she yearns for someone else. Like the stoic man he is, he holds his feelings to himself and lets her go. C’mon, James! Fight for your woman!

 

We then see the three Parker brothers strolling towards the regatta. As they converse, we learn that Sidney has loved Eliza Campion for a decade and that his broken heart drove him to the West Indies. (Another bit of news that comes late in the series.) Sidney only says that it’s a strange feeling to want something that is impossible and to find that it’s suddenly in your grasp. For once Arthur sounds intelligent and says that while he admires Sidney’s spirit of forgiveness, if it were him, he would never trust that lady again.

 

As a quick aside, Miss Lambe, who has been strangely delegated as a secondary character in the background, shows signs of deep depression. Arthur Parker visits her and insists that she join them in the festivities. She goes unwillingly, but it is obvious that he has a crush on her.

 

The regatta is a letdown. There’s a sandcastle competition, a fisherman’s boat race, and a gentleman’s rowing race that James Stringer and his crew win. Tents provide food and drink, but I see nothing that would attract the beau monde to return a second time.

 

Before the rowing competition, Sidney and Charlotte make goo goo eyes at each other on the boat as he practices his strokes and shows her how to row along with him. (I do so love symbolism.) Eliza Campion watches them from the banks, jealous and suspicious. After the race she makes a pitch, telling him she never lost hope and that fate is giving them a second chance. 

 

Sir Ed fails in his quest to woo Esther back and share her fortune. The once confident man is drunk and disheveled as he encounters Clara with her packed bags at the docks. He tells her off harshly and brags that he’s still a gentleman and titled. “Yes,” she says, “but I had nothing to lose…You’re alone and unloved.”

 

After a revealing conversation with Sir Ed, who spoke in derogatory terms about Esther, Lord Babbington hurries to see her. He tells her that he can’t forget her and that he has her back, always.

I feel I could spend a thousand years in your company and still not have enough.”

 

Esther begins to cry.

You…know nothing.”

 

He replies,

I think you’ve been his prisoner for too long.”

The background music swells in my head as he continues talking to her in this romantic vein.

 

In the last scene, Sidney approaches Charlotte.

I thought you and Mrs. Campion would be heading back for London,” she says.

 

She’s already left. I decided against joining her. On reflection, I realized I would rather be here…I believe I’m my best self—my truest self when I’m with you.”

 

The music crescendos. My heart’s a flutter. Perhaps from the wine, but it might be that all this romantic stuff is making me feel all puddly inside.

 

Next week: the conclusion. Or is it? (Gentle readers, those of you who binge watched this series, please include no spoilers in the comments. Thank you!)

 

Read Full Post »

The plot goes on, the plot goes on
Twists keep pounding confusion to my brain
La de da de de, la de da de da

Inquiring Readers,

I apologize for reworking Sonny and Cher lyrics and adding them to my recap of Sanditon: Episode Six, but when the Davies’ writing team had 19th century Charlotte saying “Anyway, she’s safe” in discussing Georgiana to a stranger named Susan at a London ball, I was instantly transported out of the Regency era to our own time. Like, you know. Wha’s up with dat?

Our classy Miss Jane did not have any characters say “anyway” in her novel fragment of Sanditon This phrase, uttered late in the episode by Rose Williams, an accomplished and very likable actress, stood out like a gluten-free, plant-based dish at a smoked meat barbecue. Am I nitpicking? Well, yeah. You betcha.

The production values of the ball were gaspingly beautiful, and I loved the dances, although the music was somewhat off putting. While I liked the folksy music at the assembly ball in Sussex, a rural area, I would think that a prestigious London ball would feature more sophisticated airs and the latest musical trends from the continent.

With all the plot twists and confusing goings on in this episode, I imbibed two glasses of pinot noir. Just now I’m having a hard time deciding which plot elements to cover and which to gloss over. I’m sure you’ll mention some I missed in the comments.

Bear with me as I condense 8 pages of notes into a short-ish review. At the start of the episode we see virginal 22-year old Miss Charlotte Heywood galivanting alone to London by stagecoach with only a vague idea of where to find her friend, Georgiana Lambe, who planned to run off with Mr. Otis Molyneux and free herself from the shackles of her guardian, Sidney Parker.

Never mind that no single 19th century lady like Charlotte (or Miss Lambe) would venture forth without a chaperone (recall that dastardly General Tilney cast Catherine Morland out alone from Northanger Abbey on a long journey home and how this appalled Henry and his sister). Disregarding conventions or the services of a maid, our stubborn and loyal heroine is determined to find her friend without an address in a city of a million people. Somehow, in a dark, dank alley, without a GPS, she *happens* to meet Mr. Sidney Parker. Plot-wise, this is not Deus Ex Machina. It is Deus Ex Coincidenta.

Sidney, after an awkward exchange with Charlotte in which he mentions that he despises slavery, suggest that they might find Mr. Molyneux at a meeting of the Sons of Africa, a movement to which he belongs. There they find him speaking at a pulpit. Deus Ex Coincidenta.

Here’s where the plot twists and bends It turns out that Mr. Otis Molyneux never received the letter from Georgiana stating where she would meet him. Someone else met her and abducted her. Speaking to Otis, they discover he owes gambling debts to a Mr. Beecroft.

Sidney and Charlotte rush over to Beecroft’s gambling den and learn that in order to satisfy Otis’s debt, Mr. Beecroft kidnapped Miss Lambe and sold her to a Mr. Howard, a repulsive and dangerous man. This individual, upon learning that Sidney is hot on his heels, absconds with Georgiana to Scotland in order to force her into marriage and gain full access to her fortune.

Sidney, along with Charlotte, chase after Howard in a scene reminiscent of a classic Hollywood movie with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. Sidney’s horses heroically overtake Howard’s carriage, which allows our hero to jump onto the villain’s vehicle. The camera follows Sidney, not the horses, who have probably collapsed on the side of the road from exhaustion after their herculean efforts. It’s hard enough for two horses to pull a heavy vehicle for twelve miles at regular speed, but to ask them to run at a full clip with 2-3 people on board for however long, well, that’s zany. Why did Sidney not go on horseback alone and return with Miss Lambe after rescuing her? Oh, yes, I forgot. Stubborn Charlotte insisted on coming along.

At this point, Davies’ Sanditon, which many episodes ago had left the sophisticated structure of Austen’s unconventional forward-thinking novel fragment, goes backwards in time to gain inspiration from Austen’s fun but melodramatic Juvenilia stories, which were filled with outrageous characters, situations, and histories.

I reached for my second glass of wine while watching the drama unfold among the Denhams and Clara Brereton. As Lady Denham lies dying (she is as mean-spirited as ever), Edward searches for her will in every nook and cranny, room or desk he can think of. Papers are scattered everywhere (one would have thought a servant might have alerted their lady to this dastardly search, but Lady D probably alienated them too.)

In Jane’s novel fragment, Edward is a self-centered buffoon, one who quotes poetry and literature inspired by nature with doltish misunderstanding. In quoting his favorite poets and authors, he blathers reams of nonsense.

Sir E also fancies himself a ladies’ man and a seducer. His personality under Austen’s hand is that of an ineffectual dilettante, one without a fortune. To save himself from poverty, his hopes depend solely on an inheritance from Lady D or a marriage to an heiress. In Davies’ Sanditon, Edward is intentionally malicious. He is a villain, plain and simple – handsome and dangerous – but a plotting SOB.

My attitude towards Esther in Davies’ Sanditon has softened somewhat, since her treatment of Babbington in Episode 5 was not altogether atrocious, but she’s captive to her longing for Edward, which makes her a weak character. Still, I cannot forget her coarse conversations with Clara Brereton, more reminiscent of women in a brothel than maidens reared in privileged environments.

It’s not as if Esther has no prospects. Lady D is more than willing to team her up with Lord Babbington, Sidney’s friend, who possesses the trifecta of a title, estate, and fortune. Hormones have overpowered Esther’s common sense, however, and she prefers to moon over her stepbrother and wait for good fortune to save and unite them.

Jane Austen’s take on the situation differs from Davies’s. In Austen’s Sanditon, Lady D tells Charlotte about Esther:

Miss Esther wants me to invite her and her brother to spend a week with me at Sanditon House, as I did last summer. But I shan’t. She has been trying to get round me every way with her praise of this and her praise of that; but I saw what she was about. I saw through it all. I am not very easily taken in, my dear.”

&

“And Miss Esther must marry somebody of fortune too. She must get a rich husband. Ah, young ladies that have no money are very much to be pitied! But,” after a short pause, “if Miss Esther thinks to talk me into inviting them to come and stay at Sanditon House, she will find herself mistaken. Matters are altered with me since last summer, you know. I have Miss Clara with me now which makes a great difference.”

Then there’s Clara Brereton, Lady D’s companion, whose enviable skill is in her ability to keep Lady D happy. This is how Austen describes her:

…in selecting the one, Lady Denham had shown the good part of her character. For, passing by the actual daughters of the house, she had chosen Clara, a niece—more helpless and more pitiable of course than any—a dependent on poverty—an additional burden on an encumbered circle—and one who had been so low in every worldly view as, with all her natural endowments and powers, to have been preparing for a situation little better than a nursery maid.

Clara had returned with her—and by her good sense and merit had now, to all appearance, secured a very strong hold in Lady Denham’s regard. The six months had long been over—and not a syllable was breathed of any change or exchange. She was a general favourite.”

One critic compared Clara’s situation to Jane Fairfax’s. Both young women, dependent on the kindness of relatives and strangers, had to walk a tightrope in their respective situations. No hint of scandal could be attached to their conduct. Jane Fairfax was successful in hiding her romance with Frank Churchill, but in Davies’ Sanditon, Clara makes brazen movements towards Sir Edward. She’s seen by Charlotte giving him a hand job and in this episode the viewer is given the distasteful experience of watching her writhe with Edward on the floor after they found Lady D’s will and wrangled over their take of the inheritance. What if the servants had walked in on them? How stupid could a single woman with no fortune be?

Austen does hint at Edward’s desire to have Clara for a lover. She writes:

Miss Heywood, or any other young woman with any pretensions to beauty, he was entitled (according to his own view of society) to approach with high compliment and rhapsody on the slightest acquaintance. But it was Clara alone on whom he had serious designs; it was Clara whom he meant to seduce.”

What is Clara’s part in his plans for her seduction? Evidently, she wasn’t born yesterday. Jane describes the following:

Clara saw through him and had not the least intention of being seduced; but she bore with him patiently enough to confirm the sort of attachment which her personal charms had raised. A greater degree of discouragement indeed would not have affected Sir Edward. He was armed against the highest pitch of disdain or aversion. If she could not be won by affection, he must carry her off. He knew his business. Already had he had many musings on the subject. If he were constrained so to act, he must naturally wish to strike out something new, to exceed those who had gone before him; and he felt a strong curiosity to ascertain whether the neighbourhood of Timbuctoo might not afford some solitary house adapted for Clara’s reception.”

Sir Edward’s plans are ambitious and nonsensical, for he has not a sou to his name, and so Austen states:

But the expense, alas! of measures in that masterly style was ill-suited to his purse; and prudence obliged him to prefer the quietest sort of ruin and disgrace for the object of his affections to the more renowned.”

Austen’s rather extensive description of the Denhams in her short twelve paragraphs exceeds her description of Sidney Parker and Miss Lambe, to whom Austen had not given a first name. So the story of the Denhams and Clara Brereton as it unfolds in Davies’ Sanditon is partially Austen’s invention, but in the series’ explicit vulgarity it is all Davies’s.

Episode six ends with the ball. Weeks before, Lord Babbington entered Trafalgar House with invitations to a masked ball in Grosvenor Square, a high end Mayfair address in London. Tom Parker immediately seizes on the idea of taking his friends to the ball and asking them to advertise the regatta in Sanditon to all the ball goers they encounter. This is bad form, but Tom is desperate and his friends’ support might be his last hope for salvaging his finances and reputation.

In a Deus Ex Coincidenta moment, Charlotte meets a lovely older woman named Susan, who shows extraordinary interest in the artless young woman. As Charlotte leaves her new acquaintance, she spots Sidney Parker in deep conversation with a lady. Since Charlotte’s and Sidney’s adventure in rescuing Georgianna, they’ve bonded and become close. Their dance brought them even closer, so one can imagine her shock at seeing him so intimate with a strange woman.

Stay tuned for Episode 7 to see what develops. I, for one, am somewhat miffed that a new character has been introduced so late in the series.

What say you?

Read Full Post »

Inquiring readers,

Unmarriageable new paperback edition cover

Unmarriageable, new paperback edition out on February 5

Soniah Kamal has written a fascinating version of Pride and Prejudice set in Pakistan, Unmarriageable. The book has become very popular in a wide variety of circles, and, almost a year after its appearance, the author is still busy meeting with book clubs and speaking at book festivals and conferences.

Soniah calls Unmarriageable a parallel retelling of Pride and Prejudice since it includes all the characters and plot points of the original book, albeit in a different setting. Elizabeth became Alysba Binat, an English literature teacher in a British School in Pakistan, and Darcy became Valentine Darsee, wealthy head of the British School Group.

I’ve read the book twice, and enjoyed it very much each time! I asked Soniah to tell us more about her book.

Brenda S. Cox: How have Jane Austen fans responded to Unmarriageable? I know you spoke about it to the Georgia chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA).

Author Soniah Kamal, photo by Indus Kamal Wasti

Author Soniah Kamal, photo by Indus Kamal Wasti

Soniah Kamal: You know I’m a huge Jane Austen fan myself and I actually ran a special book club for all six novels during the 200th commemoration year, so I know Janeites and how revered Jane Austen is. Austen connoisseurs aren’t hesitant about expressing their opinion when they don’t like something, and so I really wondered how Unmarriageable would be received, considering what I’d set out to do. My first taste was at the Georgia JASNA meeting for which they’d decided to read Unmarriageable and I was going to be interviewed. I was so nervous when I saw the full room and then, when I stepped in, everyone stood up and clapped, and I realized I’d been holding my breath–that validation was really, really gratifying and the best endorsement. Some of the members told me that they’d been hesitant to read Unmarriageable because they weren’t very fond of takes on Austen’s novels, but that they loved Unmarriageable.

I think Unmarriageable has resonated so amazingly with Janeites because they’re reading it for Jane Austen, they know Pride and Prejudice, and so when I mention real characters like Harris Bigg-Wither and Thomas Fowle, they get it. When I discuss Jane Austen in Unmarriageable, it’s fun and extra. They see the little inside jokes. When I bring up that Darcy’s wet T-shirt scene is not in the novel, they appreciate that stuff–it’s like diving into a really rich cake for them, I think.

One of the loveliest things I’ve heard so far from Janeites is that in reading Unmarriageable, because it is a parallel retelling, it’s as if they are reading Pride and Prejudice for the first time and it’s bringing back all their joy in reading Austen for the first time. So that was lovely unexpected feedback. And then another one was that readers who have never read Pride and Prejudice or Austen have picked up Unmarriageable, and then they are going to read Pride and Prejudice through that. Never did I think that my book would be a gateway for readers to get to Pride and Prejudice; I always thought obviously it would be the other way around.

Soniah at the Jane Austen Summer Program in North Carolina

Soniah at the Jane Austen Summer Program in North Carolina

Since the Georgia JASNA meeting, I’ve been invited by the Northern California JASNA Chapter to deliver Jane Austen’s Birthday Toast, and I spoke at the Jane Austen Summer Program in North Carolina. I will be the 2020 Keynote Speaker at the Jane Austen Festival in Louisville, Kentucky, as well as a featured Plenary Panelist at the 2020 JASNA AGM in Cleveland.

If you are a Janeite you will get a lot of the “Easter eggs” and inside jokes in Unmarriageable, and if you’re not, it’s a stand-alone novel in its own right.

Brenda: What kind of “Easter eggs” will Janeites discover in Unmarriageable?

Soniah: In Unmarriageable I put Easter eggs in for all the novels. So the quote which opens Unmarriageable is itself a variation of Austen’s opening sentence in Pride and Prejudice as well a nod to the beginning of Mansfield Park. Mansfield Park opens with three sisters and the directions their lives take based on who they marry, and so Unmarriageable opens with: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a girl can go from pauper to princess or princess to pauper in the mere seconds it takes for her to accept a proposal.” In Unmarriageable, the discussion about books from the Western and Eastern traditions is a nod to Northanger Abbey which I see as Austen’s book about books. Emma comes up because Valentine Darsee asks Alys who her favorite hero is and she says Mr. Knightley, and you’ll have to read Unmarriageable to find out why that’s so. Mr. Knightley is my favorite character, too. Persuasion comes through in my making Jena (Jane) and Alys (Elizabeth) older than Valentine Darsee (Darcy) and Bungles (Bingley). Sense and Sensibility is the most obvious, when Alys thinks that Bungles carrying Jena is like Willoughby carrying Marianne when Marianne slips. But she realizes that didn’t go well, because they did not enjoy a happy ending. I would have done Lady Susan and the rest also, but I thought, this could go on forever!

Brenda: Why a parallel retelling?

Unmarriageable, hardback cover

Unmarriageable, hardback cover

Soniah: As I say in the essay included with the novel, I needed to give myself an identity inclusive of both my Pakistani culture as well as the English language I grew up in, which is a linguistic legacy of Empire, of colonialism, and comes with all the complications of that. If I had written an “inspired-by” rather than a parallel, I would have had Jane divorced and with a kid, Lydia would have ended up not married and pregnant, I would have gone my own different way and allowed my characters to be different. But it wasn’t an inspired-by; my intent was to literally write Pride and Prejudice in Pakistan through a postcolonial lens. So the basic characters of each character are all the same, I didn’t deviate from anything. In fact, the challenge was how not to deviate from Pride and Prejudice and still make it my own. Let me tell you, on the face of it, it might seem simpler to write a parallel retelling, but really to stick within the boundaries of what your source material has given you was tough.

For those who don’t know Austen, a lot of them think any story where the main characters bicker is Pride and Prejudice, in which case everything on earth is Pride and Prejudice! What book or movie doesn’t have a romance, and where do the protagonists not bicker? I actually don’t think of Austen as a romance writer. None of her novels start out with boy meets girl, or end with proposals and elaborate marriage scenes per se. In fact, Austen glosses over both. She seems least bothered with love stories. For me, she’s a social satirist interested in exposing the hypocrisies and pretensions of her time and exploring the choices women, and even men, had and the lives women were able to fashion for themselves at a time when marriage was a financial necessity.

Brenda: Several of your characters are similar to, but somewhat different from, the original characters. Why did you choose to make Kaleen (Mr. Collins) a physician, rather than a clergyman like Mr. Collins? Perhaps he could have been a Muslim cleric?

Soniah: Islam has no clergy like in Christianity and each Muslim’s relationship is directly with God. However, there are mullahs who are schooled in Islam and the Quran. In Pakistan, traditionally the mullah class comes from the poorer, lower rungs of society and would not have been readily welcomed by the likes of Beena dey Bagh (Lady Catherine de Bourgh) into her drawing room. Therefore, it was a social class decision to make Kaleen a doctor who would be treating Annie (Anne de Bourgh) and therefore get an in with the family.

Brenda: Sherry Looclus (Charlotte Lucas), who marries Kaleen, seems to do much better in Unmarriageable than she does in Pride and Prejudice. Why is that?

Soniah: I think Charlotte deserves just as much respect as Elizabeth does, even though one marries Mr. Collins and one marries Darcy. Charlotte’s my favorite character because she’s really independent. I think Austen sometimes gives short shrift to Charlotte’s intelligence. Charlotte is very much a modern heroine for me, since she literally decides what is best for her life and then makes it happen. There’s one sentence in Pride and Prejudice where Charlotte sees Mr. Collins coming down the lane and she orchestrates accidentally running into him, but we don’t see the proposal, next thing we know they’re getting married. Charlotte’s made a huge decision by marrying Mr. Collins: she’s going to inherit Longbourn, she’s not languishing at her dad’s house, she’s dining with Lady De Bourgh; for her time period, given that she had could not work for an income, she’s made a wise choice for her life/financial security. At the end of Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte is pregnant, and I think that also shows a life that is moving on and not static like her life as an aging spinster at her father’s house had been. The first time I read Pride and Prejudice I was a teenager, and like most teenagers, friends and their opinions could matter so much. But even though Elizabeth is horrified at Charlotte’s marrying Mr. Collins, Charlotte is not swayed. She does not succumb to peer pressure. She knows her mind, she knows what is best for her, and she is not influenced by her friend. I admired that. Charlotte is one strong, practical, independent, progressive modern woman and I wanted to show the full extent of that in Unmarriageable.

As for Elizabeth and her choices within the time period, for us modern readers she comes across as wonderful. But for Austen’s time period she’s rather unpractical because she does not secure Longbourn for her family, or immediately marry the wealthy suitor who would have again secured a roof over her head for herself and her mother and sisters. As modern readers, we respect that Elizabeth says no to Darcy because he’s really pompous and full of himself and we respect that she doesn’t marry someone just because it’s practical and he’s wealthy; we appreciate that she has more important values than wealth. But in her time, that was being foolish, and her father was being very foolish, too. We like Mr. Bennet because he comes across as a strong dad who says my daughter will not marry Mr. Collins. But in the realities of their time, he’s just set his family up for destitution since, in the event of his death, he can’t afford to take care of them. As modern readers we’re really happy that Elizabeth marries for love and that Darcy’s money plays no part in it. However, as much as we like to think that money shouldn’t and doesn’t matter, imagine that there are two Mr. Darcys exactly alike; however, one has a lot of money and the other has none. Now, which Darcy would you advise Elizabeth to marry? In Mansfield Park, Austen offers a window into the prospects of marrying into different financial classes through choices Lady Bertram, Mrs. Norris and Mrs. Price make.

Brenda: Yes, if Darcy had been poor, Elizabeth might have ended up like Fanny Price’s parents in Mansfield Park, marrying for love and ending in poverty. You said earlier that the opening of Unmarriageable was like Mansfield Park. In Unmarriageable, Alys and Jena’s father, Bark Binat, has married beneath him and fallen on hard times, while his brother married well and is wealthy. How is that like Mansfield Park?

Soniah: It’s the princess and pauper quote above, a direct nod to Mansfield Park since in the opening of Mansfield Park we see three sisters who marry Sir Thomas Bertram, Mr. Norris the clergyman, and Lieutenant Price. One marries wealth, one stability, one squalor. But Austen in those first paragraphs of Mansfield Park captures the traditional state of women across time, and even today for many from traditional cultures where a man is expected to fulfill his traditional role of paying the bills, etc. Who you marry is often going to determine whether you end up vacationing at all, and whether it will be in France or the beach in Destin (laughing). It’s that simple. Of course, now we have the modern complication of women being able to afford their own vacations, and thankfully that makes a big difference in our choices.

Mansfield Park also gets into religion, Edmund who’s going to be a clergyman, and Mary doesn’t think that’s good, and Edmund gives Fanny a cross to wear. It’s Austen’s most religious novel. And it really goes deeply into her values and ethics. Mansfield Park is my favorite novel just because she dives deeply into the meaning of family in that novel. She really skewers family values in Mansfield Park. It’s her grimmest and most realistic novel. But even within Mansfield Park there’s so much humor.

Brenda: In an essay at the end of your book, you tell us, “I first immersed myself in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice when I was sixteen years old. As interesting as its marriage plot was, I was spellbound, rather, by Austen’s social criticism and how it was conveyed through her pithy wit. Here was a centuries-old English writer who may as well have been writing about contemporary Pakistani society. . . . I wanted to write a novel that paid homage to Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice, as well as combined my braided identification with English-language and Pakistani culture, so that the ‘literature of others’ became the literature of everyone. Therefore, Unmarriageable.”

Soniah: Thank you, Brenda. The paperback edition of Unmarriageable (out Feb 5th) includes an updated version of that essay, as well as essays on how the fictional setting of Dilipabad got its name, why I named the characters as I did, questions for book clubs and more.

Brenda: Thank you, Soniah, for sharing your world with us, in a way that any Jane Austen fan can enjoy!

____________________

Image of Brenda Cox

Brenda S. Cox

Brenda S. Cox also loves Jane Austen. She is a member of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA). She has written articles for its magazine, Persuasions On-Line, and presented at its national conference as well as regional meetings. She has done extensive research for her current work-in-progress, a nonfiction book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England. Follow her on Facebook or on her blog, Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen.

Follow Soniah Kamal on: Instagram Twitter FB www.soniahkamal.com

Unmarriageable: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan, a novel–available everywhere. order

2020 Townsend Prize Finalist

A 2019 Book All Georgians Should Read

Financial Times: A 2019 Best Book Pick

NPR Code Switch 2019 Summer Read Pick

A New York Public Library Summer 2019 Reads Pick

BoobBub A 2019 Best Book

Library Reads Pick, January 2019

STARRED Review Publishers Weekly “must-read for devout Austenites.

STARRED Review Shelf Awareness “If Jane Austen lived in modern-day Pakistan, this is the version of Pride and Prejudice she might have written

STARRED Review Library Journal “enlightening and entertaining

An Isolated Incident, a novel–coming in the UK, July, 2020.

Townsend Award Finalist

KLF French Fiction Prize Finalist

Read Full Post »

A good friend, after watching all episodes of Andrew Davies’ Sanditon, wrote to express the thought that Young Stringer was more suited for Charlotte than Sidney Parker. Young Stringer, played by Leo Suter, is an actor as handsome as Theo James, who played Sidney Parker, although Theo is darkly handsome, whereas Leo has a kinder face.

Young Stringer and CharlotteYoung Stringer

Young Stringer is an ambitious working man who aims to use his talents as a designer and architect to move up in life. Stringer ‘s infatuation with Charlotte reminds me of Robert Martin’s unquestioning love for Harriett Smith in Emma.The difference is that Charlotte is no one’s fool and so much smarter than Harriett. Her common sense and insights fascinate Sydney, who is attracted to her despite his inner misgivings.

At the time my friend chose Young Stringer over Sydney, I thought that the former was an invention of Andrew Davies and his team. It turns out I was wrong. Austen briefly describes him through Tom Parker. He says:

“But, my dear love, as to garden stuff, you were saying that any accidental omission is supplied in a moment by Lady Denham’s gardener. But it occurs to me that we ought to go elsewhere upon such occasions, and that old Stringer and his son have a higher claim. I encouraged him to set up, you know, and am afraid he does not do very well. That is, there has not been time enough yet. He will do very well beyond a doubt. But at first it is uphill work, and therefore we must give him what help we can. When any vegetables or fruit happen to be wanted—and it will not be amiss to have them often wanted, to have something or other forgotten most days—just to have a nominal supply, you know, that poor old Andrew may not lose his daily job—but in fact to buy the chief of our consumption from the Stringers.”

“Very well, my love, that can be easily done. And cook will be satisfied, which will be a great comfort, for she is always complaining of old Andrew now and says he never brings her what she wants.”

Old Stringer and his son are struggling fruit and vegetable farmers in Austen’s version. Tom and Mary Parker are discussing this situation as they pass by  their old, snug house, which they had abandoned in favor of an exposed location in Sanditon without protection from the sun and wind. Mary is nostalgic for the old days; Tom is a forward-looking enthusiast, an early 19thcentury term that meant someone who was full of enthusiasm for a cause or a passionate belief in something that has merit. In Tom Parker’s instance, it is Sanditon, the sort of seaside town that sprouted all over the Sussex Coast in late 18th– early 19thcentury Britain.

Tom Parker feels responsible for the Stringers’ situation, since he recruited them to set up business in Sanditon – a future town that is half finished and has yet to attract important clients. Mary agrees that purchasing their goods would provide some compensation. And that’s the end of the Stringers’ participation in Austen’s unfinished novel.

Andrew Davies and his team turned the farmers into builders, with Old Stringer employed as stone mason and foreman. Tom Parker has run out of funds, and thus Old Stringer works as a laborer to help get the job done. Young Stringer demonstrates his talent by designing a beautiful Pagoda that would be the centerpiece of the newly built crescent. He believes his talent will provide him with an upwardly mobile life. Sadly, Tom informs him that the pagoda will not be built and Young Stringer burns his plans in frustration. Every time he sees Charlotte, his face lights up. They have a casual friendship, mostly from her side since it is obviously that Young Stringer is hopelessly infatuated, but I can see how my friend still hopes that they will get together romantically.

Sidney ParkerSidney Parker

Now, onto Sydney Parker. In Emma, Austen built up the reader’s expectations of Frank Churchill by providing information about him in dribs and drabs and through Emma’s assumptions, many of which (upon a second reading of the novel) were erroneous and wrong. In a similar fashion, she built up the reader’s knowledge of Sidney in the novel fragment of Sanditon. In the first nine chapters the reader learns about him through his siblings Tom Parker and Diana as they conversed with each other and with others. Tom and his wife, Mary, first discussed Old Stringer’s financial situation. They then moved on to the old house, the family seat, which they had abandoned for Trafalgar House in Sanditon. Mary speaks nostalgically of the house and its snug situation, which sheltered the house from damaging winds and storms. On seeing her former home, she says to Tom and Charlotte, who they are taking to Sanditon in gratitude for the Heywood’s hospitality,

“There now the old house is quite left behind. What is it your brother Sidney says about its being a hospital?”

“Oh, my dear Mary, merely a joke of his. He pretends to advise me to make a hospital of it. He pretends to laugh at my improvements. Sidney says anything, you know. He has always said what he chose, of and to us all. Most families have such a member among them, I believe, Miss Heywood. There is someone in most families privileged by superior abilities or spirits to say anything. In ours, it is Sidney, who is a very clever young man and with great powers of pleasing. He lives too much in the world to be settled; that is his only fault. He is here and there and everywhere. I wish we may get him to Sanditon. I should like to have you acquainted with him. And it would be a fine thing for the place! Such a young man as Sidney, with his neat equipage and fashionable air. You and I, Mary, know what effect it might have. Many a respectable family, many a careful mother, many a pretty daughter might it secure us to the prejudice of Eastbourne and Hastings.”

Tom is certainly impressed by his younger, middle brother. Then in Chapter 5, Mr Parker looks over letters before dinner.

“Not a line from Sidney!” said he. “He is an idle fellow. I sent him an account of my accident from Willingden and thought he would have vouchsafed me an answer. But perhaps it implies that he is coming himself. I trust it may. But here is a letter from one of my sisters. They never fail me. Women are the only correspondents to be depended on. Now, Mary,” smiling at his wife, “before I open it, what shall we guess as to the state of health of those it comes from or rather what would Sidney say if he were here? Sidney is a saucy fellow, Miss Heywood. And you must know, he will have it there is a good deal of imagination in my two sisters’ complaints…and our youngest brother, who lives with them and who is not much above twenty, I am sorry to say is almost as great an invalid as themselves. He is so delicate that he can engage in no profession. Sidney laughs at him. But it really is no joke, though Sidney often makes me laugh at them all in spite of myself. Now, if he were here, I know he would be offering odds that either Susan, Diana or Arthur would appear by this letter to have been at the point of death within the last month.”

Jane has established that Sidney has no use for hypochondriacs and that he isn’t above making fun of his youngest brother and two sisters, who were condensed into one woman in Davies’ Sanditon. Later in the same chapter, Tom continues talking to Charlotte as he reads a letter from one of his sisters, Diana, most likely, who attempts to recruit women from a boarding school, including a West Indian from Surrey (Miss Lambe), in order to increase visitors to the practically empty town.

I have heard nothing of Sidney since your being together in town, but conclude his scheme to the Isle of Wight has not taken place or we should have seen him in his way. Most sincerely do we wish you a good season at Sanditon, and though we cannot contribute to your Beau Monde in person, we are doing our utmost to send you company worth having and think we may safely reckon on securing you two large families, one a rich West Indian from Surrey, the other a most respectable Girls Boarding School, or Academy, from Camberwell. I will not tell you how many people I have employed in the business—Wheel within wheel—but success more than repays. Yours most affectionately.”

“Well,” said Mr. Parker, as he finished. “Though I dare say Sidney might find something extremely entertaining in this letter and make us laugh for half an hour together.”

The reader receives the impression that Sidney is busy with his own schemes and is much admired by his siblings. Tom mentions Sidney one more time at the end of Chapter 9 and says gratefully:

“I got this man a hare from one of Sidney’s friends; and he recommended Sanditon.”

The reader finally meets Sidney in Chapter 12, just before Austen set the novel aside.

It was a close, misty morning and, when they reached the brow of the hill, they could not for some time make out what sort of carriage it was which they saw coming up. It appeared at different moments to be everything from a gig to a phaeton, from one horse to four; and just as they were concluding in favour of a tandem, little Mary’s young eyes distinguished the coachman and she eagerly called out, “It is Uncle Sidney, Mama, it is indeed.” And so it proved.

Mr. Sidney Parker, driving his servant in a very neat carriage, was soon opposite to them, and they all stopped for a few minutes. The manners of the Parkers were always pleasant among themselves; and it was a very friendly meeting between Sidney and his sister-in-law, who was most kindly taking it for granted that he was on his way to Trafalgar House. This he declined, however. He was “just come from Eastbourne proposing to spend two or three days, as it might happen, at Sanditon” but the hotel must be his quarters. He was expecting to be joined there by a friend or two.”

The rest was common enquiries and remarks, with kind notice of little Mary, and a very well-bred bow and proper address to Miss Heywood on her being named to him. And they parted to meet again within a few hours. Sidney Parker was about seven or eight and twenty, very good-looking, with a decided air of ease and fashion and a lively countenance. This adventure afforded agreeable discussion for some time. Mrs. Parker entered into all her husband’s joy on the occasion and exulted in the credit which Sidney’s arrival would give to the place.”

Austen’s build up of this potential hero (which is still in question among scholars) intrigues the reader. Would he turn out to be a disappointment like Frank Churchill, or a hero and love interest worthy of Charlotte? Unlike Austen, Davies introduces Sidney in the first episode and rushes his introduction to Charlotte. They clash at an assembly ball. While I found Austen’s introduction of Sidney intriguing, Davies’ treatment of Sidney resembles more the hero of a bodice ripping Harlequin romance novel than a complex Austen character.

What say you in this very simple poll? Sidney or Young Stringer? What are your thoughts of the series so far?

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: