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sanditon-first-look-icon-01-3200x1800Sanditon on PBS Masterpiece exceeded my expectations in some respects and not in others. It seems that a mixed reaction to this mini-series is not unusual. Many viewers in the UK loved it. Many did not. Some loathed it. Reading and hearing the opinions of my Janeite friends overseas, I approached reviewing this series with some trepidation. I had an extreme reaction to Episode One at first, then viewed all the episodes in two days’ time. Seeing them back to back gave me a new perspective.

First, I wondered why Andrew Davies, the writer, used so little of Austen’s actual material. In my copy of Sanditon, the unfinished manuscript is 75 pages long. Austen completed the first draft of 11 chapters and began the 12th, where both Sidney Parker and Miss Lambe made their first appearances. Before that, the readers knew them only through conversations from other characters. Mr. Davies admitted that he devoted half of Episode One to Jane Austen’s plot as he did not think there was enough “story material” in her manuscript for more. Persuasion’s length was 24 complete chapters. Could Davies not have stretched Austen’s excellent material to two episodes? Instead he tossed aside the complex themes she was developing in favor of straightforward cinematic storytelling, which explains why so many Janeites were disappointed with the series.

As I watched the mini-series, I realized that it wasn’t an Austen adaptation. This televised tale was inspired by a tantalizing beginning that Austen did not complete. Davies used the unfinished novel merely as an outline for his plot. In online interviews he spoke about modernizing the story and sexing it up. In his foreword to the official companion book to the series, The World of Sanditon, Davies was forthright about rushing through the first three episodes as he worked against a deadline. He states:

I’m thrilled with what we have achieved: a period drama that feels utterly fresh and modern – Jane Austen, but not as you knew her.”

If you keep this statement in mind, you will watch the series for what it is and what it was meant to be – entertainment with many references to Jane Austen’s other novels and characters.

Rose Williams, who plays Charlotte Heywood, is adorable. She resembles an adolescent Austen heroine. Fresh-faced, yet wise and well-read, with a young-sounding voice, she has the qualities that I imagined for Charlotte Heywood and Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey. (Ms. Williams is 25 years old, but she looks and sounds much younger.)

I’ve read of complaints about Charlotte’s hair as being inauthentic in this series. At the assembly ball, however, and at formal gatherings, her hair and its accessories are appropriate for the occasion. I think that by keeping her hair loose and wild during walks, seaside outings, and less formal times, Davies is reminding viewers of her humble country origins. As a guest of the Parkers, she would have help from servants for formal occasions but would most likely be left on her own at other times.

Crystal Clarke as Miss Lambe, a woman of mixed-race, is given the delightful name of Georgiana, reminiscent of Mr. Darcy’s sister. Austen’s introduction of a West Indies heiress is a new development in her novels. The topic of mixed races and fantastic wealth achieved on plantations in Antigua is one she must have known well through her sailor brothers. I love the developing friendship between Georgiana and Charlotte.

I’ve not been as bothered by the music mentioned by some. Sanditon is located along the coastline of Sussex, a rural region, and the setting is not as fashionable or royal as Brighton, where fancy orchestras could find ample work. The folksy music complements the rustic, unfinished streets and buildings in Sanditon and supports the more modern treatment Davies sought.

The photography is lovely, the sets are lush, and I love how the costumes identify people by their wealth and status. Charlotte’s clothes are simple and homemade, although she owns more dresses than I though her parents with 11 children could afford. Miss Lambe, Miss Denham, and Clara Brereton wear clothes of a finer quality, and so forth.

Now we get to the part that I find problematic. I know Davies wanted to sex up the plot, but, really, a hand job? I was not amused. What if I wanted to introduce my young nieces to Jane Austen? How would I have explained that scene?

As to the nudity, male and female beaches were separated at the time. Both sexes knew the demarcation lines and where or where not to walk or swim. Charlotte happening upon Sidney Parker rising out of the ocean full frontal naked caused me to laugh, not out of embarrassment, but because the audience manipulation was so obvious. Jane Austen was no prude. A country woman, she had probably witnessed sex among animals, nursed her male relatives back to health, and helped family members and neighbors with birthing, but she was never crude. Ever.

Young Stringer, the foreman, is a likable character, but I thought almost from the start that he was created to be a “second stringer,” someone to throw us off in the romance department. His background and ambitions are suited to someone of Charlotte’s station, but Sidney Parker has been cast in the role of hero, and so Young Stringer’s purpose seems likely to go nowhere.

Theo James’s performance as Sidney Parker was quite good. He is a darkly handsome hero, one whose sparring with Charlotte in the first two episodes reminded me of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth.

To sum up this review, Davies chose to follow his own instincts in developing this miniseries If viewers watch the first two episodes of Sanditon on their own merit and not as an Austen adaptation, they’ll enjoy the experience.

Sanditon for streaming and binge watchers

The debut episode of the series will begin streaming on the MASTERPIECE PRIME VIDEO CHANNEL on January 12, with new episodes debuting Sunday of each following week. On February 23, fans can binge-watch the program in its entirety.

The subscription rate for the PBS MASTERPIECE Prime Video Channel is $5.99/month with an Amazon Prime or Prime Video subscription. Every purchase helps supports public television for all.

See sidebar for links to PBS, a description of the full cast, and a link to the companion book.

Links to Music

 

 

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Inquiring readers,

Happy New Year! Are U.S. Austen fans ready for the countdown to Sanditon on PBS? Only 11 days remain until this eight-episode mini-series based on Jane Austen’s final novel fragment airs on Sunday nights. You can also stream each episode. The subscription rate for the PBS MASTERPIECE Prime Video Channel is $5.99/month with an Amazon Prime or Prime Video subscription. On February 23, you can binge watch the entire series. The DVD is also on sale.

Now, on to the poem, written by Robert Bloomfield “In a Letter from a Beast of Burden to Her Brother Jack.” It’s a lovely early 19th century description from a beast of burden to her brother about her “work” in a seaside resort.

Image of Robert Bloomfield's Letter from a Beast of Burden to Her Brother Jack, 1807, along with an image by I. Cruikshank ?

Brother Jack I am going to inform you
Of things that ne’er enter’d your head,
And I hope the narration will charm you
Wherever you’re driven or led;

For it grieves me to think of your hampers,
And the cudgel that thumps you behind;
To have none of my frolics and scampers,
My labour’s as light as the wind.

On a fine level form’d by the tide,
The beach and the ocean between,
Fashion here tells young lasses to ride
On the best walk that ever was seen,

The sands, brother Jack, that’s the spot
Where the ladies exhibit their graces;
There they push me along till I trot,
‘Midst a circle of giggling faces.

Not one of the party stands idle,
For, when I move just like a snail,
One half of them pull at my bridle,
And t’other half push at my tail.

Then up, full of frolic and glee,
One will mount, and will scold, and will strike,
And ride me knee-deep in the sea,
Where I stop—just as long as I like.

For what are their tricks and manoevres?
They may pull me, and haul me, and teize,
But I plague them as they plague their lovers,
O, I like to do just as I please!

Don’t be envious—Hark what I tell—
You would never do her for a prude,
Because Jack, you know very well,
You were always inclin’d to be rude;

And if you should set up your braying,
And give them but two or three staves,(willow sticks?)
You would stop all the children from playing,
Or frighten them into the waves!

Sometimes a sick lady will ride me,
More tender and delicate still,
And employ a poor boy just to guide me,
Where I cannot go wrong if I will;

Then back through the town gently creeping,
We stop at some library-door,
Where, nonsense preferring to sleeping,
She loads me with novels a score.

And, dear Jack, by the bye, I’ve long guest,
Tho’ good ladies I’ve no wish to spite ‘em;
That ‘tis we bring these book in request,
And that some of our family write ‘em.

But who’d go to boast about that?
No, I’ll finish by telling you true,
That at Worthing we all might grow fat,
And keep the best company too.

So love to you Jack till next season,
I’ll be happy as long as I can;
For an ass that complains without reason,
Becomes—just as bad as a man!”

Published 25th May, 1807.
By Laurie and Whittle,
No. 53, Fleet Street, London

Detail of the illustration by I. Cruikshank (?) News from Worthingo In a Letter from a Beast of Burden to Her Brother Jack By Robert Bloomfield, 1807

Image detail. One can see the chaos in the background with asses that were uncooperative. The maid on the ass is obviously stuck and unhappy.  Chaos reigns, which the onlookers love. Notice the woman at the middle, who is about to be bounced off her ass. Cruikshank (?) shows her bare legs with high stockings. Women in that era did not wear underpants. Ooh la la! The muslin cloth of the woman’s white dress front and center indicates how thin it is as evidenced by her nipples. She is trapped in her position until the ass decides to move. Hah!

I especially like the reference to circulating libraries, which abounded in resort cities.

Many scholars think that Worthing, a seaside resort Jane Austen visited in 1805, could have been the inspiration for the town of Sanditon twelve years later.

  • This interesting article, “Could Worthing have been the inspiration for Jane Austen’s Sanditon?,” by Donna Fletcher Crow, Jane Austen UK, July 24, 2019, and downloaded 12/31/2019, is reproduced on the site by the author’s permission.

About the author: “Donna is a novelist of British history, and a traveling researcher who engages people and places from Britain’s past and present – drawing comparisons and contrasts between past and present for today’s reader. “

Sources:

  • Bloomfield, Robert. “News from Worthing. In a Letter from a Beast of Burden to Her Brother Jack,” Published 25th May, 1807, by Laurie and Whittle, No. 53, Fleet Street, London. Credit Line: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Cartoon Prints, British. https://www.loc.gov/resource/ds.03595/. Rights Advisory:  No known restrictions on publication. (Color cartoon)

The rich and wealthy collected color cartoons. People not as flush in the pocket as purchased black and white cartoons, as shown in the following print from Yale University:

  • Bloomfield, Robert,  “News from Worthing: in a letter from a beast of burden to her brother Jack (from the Monthly mirror for April, 1807). Cruikshank, Isaac printmaker., Laurie, Robert and Whittle, James, publisher, 1807. Digital collection: Lewis Walpole Library. Downloaded 12/31/2019 at this link.

In addition: Jane Austen’s World links to

 

 

 

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Cover of Sanditon by Jane Austen, Oxford World Classics, and edited by Kathryn SutherlandInquiring readers, It is confirmed!! Sanditon, Jane Austen’s last unfinished fragment of a novel has been adapted for television as an 8-episode mini-series by Andrew Davies, who adapted 1995’s Pride and Prejudice for the small screen. Mr. Davies uses his talents and knowledge of Jane Austen and British history to finish the novel that Jane laid aside months before her death. The mini-series includes nude bathing (an historically accurate touch) and, to paraphrase Mr. Davies, is somewhat “sexed up.” (Town and Country Magazine.)

British audiences: Sanditon begins on ITV on Sunday 25th August 2019 at 9pm for 8 episodes.

U.S. audiences: The PBS Masterpiece Sanditon will air some time in 2020. Look for announcements later.

What is Sanditon? According to Oxford World Classics…”Jane Austen writes what may well be the first seaside novel: a novel, that is, that explores the mysterious and startling transformation that a stay by the sea can work on individuals and relationships.”

…”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 and eccentric assortment of people who drift to the new resort, the town built upon sand.”

Read about the novel, newly released by Oxford World’s Classics and edited by Kathryn Sutherlund at this link. Look for my review of the unfinished novel soon.

Tony Grant, a frequent contributor to this blog, has written a post in anticipation of the series:  SANDITON ( an unfinished novel by Jane Austen) is coming to our screens. What might we see?

View the trailer below on PBS’s site:

Sanditon: First Look on PBS Masterpiece: Click here

Sanditon on ITV: Click here

Additional Sanditon information:

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