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Posts Tagged ‘Anna Austen Lefroy’

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.

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