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Sanditon by Jane Austen book coverAs almost all Jane Austen enthusiasts know, her unfinished novel, Sanditon, has been adapted for a limited television series by Andrew Davies. It aired on ITV in Great Britain in the fall and will be shown on PBS Masterpiece Classics starting January 12, 2020. It seems that after the first episode, Mr. Davies deviated from the complex world Jane Austen created to insert his male sensibilities into the plot, but I am getting ahead of myself. (More to come in January.) The intent of this review is a plea for Jane Austen fans to read Sanditon before watching the PBS series. You will be doing yourself a favor.

Oxford World Classics has published a new edition of Sanditon, which was edited by Austen scholar Kathryn Sutherland. This slim volume contains 71 pages of the unfinished manuscript, an introduction and informative note on the text, also by Professor Sutherland, a helpful chronology of Jane Austen’s life and publishing history, and explanatory notes.

Austen began the novel fragment in Chawton Cottage, January 27, 1817. On March 18, when she reached Chapter 12, she laid the manuscript aside, too ill to continue. She died in Winchester on July 18, 1817. As she wrote Sanditon, she must have known that she had little time left, for in her haste to set her ideas on paper, her words tumbled over the pages. She failed to divide her sentences into paragraphs and scratched out words and added phrases as she went along. Her dashes and mid-sentence capitalizations are telling, as are her misspellings. As I read the facsimile of the manuscript online, I was in awe to view a master writer at work at the height of her power.

Page 1-Sanditon

Page of a digitized version of the novel fragment of Sanditon, Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts, Downloaded December 11, 2019

Sutherland edited Sanditon using Cassandra Austen’s copy of her sister’s handwritten manuscript. Cassandra had proofed her sister’s writing to some extent, inserting paragraphs, correcting the spelling (not all, for spelling rules were still fluid in the early 19th century), and generally cleaning the words up here and there. Sutherland kept much of Cassandra’s changes, but reversed a few of them. She describes this process in detail in her Notes to the Text, which I found utterly fascinating.

More fascinating is that Jane’s working title for the manuscript was The Brothers. There were three: Tom Parker, the eldest and an enthusiastic Sanditon sales promoter – to use a modern term – of the new seaside resort (based on Worthing, as some surmise); Sidney, the possible hero of the piece (the reader does not meet him until Chapter 12); and Arthur, the youngest brother and a confirmed but questionable hypochondriac who lives with his two sisters, Diana and Susan.

The reader meets Tom Parker first and he his the most fully fleshed brother of the three. While Sidney is described extensively by Tom and sister Diana, Austen does not provide the reader with a detailed description of the man, for she stopped writing her novel shortly after introducing him. The brothers are so different in character that it would have been fascinating to know how Austen intended to weave their story lines into her plot, or what her plot would have been, for that matter.

At the start of the novel we meet Tom and his wife, Mary. Tom is the dreamer who conceives of great prospects for Sanditon, a new and developing seaside resort. Mary is more sensible, but unable to temper her husband’s fanciful ideas and grandiose hopes for the future. When their carriage breaks down in the middle of nowhere on their way to Sanditon, Mr. Parker twists his ankle. They encounter Mr. Heywood, a gentleman farmer, who helps the Parkers out of their dilemma by providing hospitality under his roof until Mr. Parker’s injury mends. During the Parkers’ stay at the Heywood’s farm, Austen nimbly contrasts the traditional, settled way of life that the Heywoods represent with the progressive, more modern, and speculative future that Mr. Parker envisions,.

To thank the Heywoods for their hospitality, the Parkers invite one of their daughters, Charlotte, to return with them to Sanditon. Her early role in the novel is as an observer. Her sensible estimations echo our thoughts as we learn about Mr. Parker’s fulsome, at times unrealistic ideas about Sanditon’s bright future and of the people she encounters, such as Lady Denham, an imperious and self-important woman in the vein of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. I guffawed every time this rich woman, who owned a few asses, mentioned selling their milch for profit to new visitors to Sanditon.

Lady Denham’s nephew-in-law, Sir Edward Denham, is a vain, silly man who imagines he has exquisite literary taste, but Charlotte, the observer, concludes that the handsome Sir Edward does not by nature have a very strong head.  He does, however, consider himself a seducer and pursues Lady Denham’s comely companion, Miss Clara Brereton, a single woman of no means who must take care to preserve her reputation. Add to the mix Miss Lambe, a young West Indian heiress, who Jane introduces with tantalizing hints just before she laid the manuscript aside.

Finally, I was struck by Jane’s invention of Susan, Diana, and Arthur Parker, three hypochondriacs with the most ridiculous symptoms and “cures.” The satire in these passages is biting and without mercy. Diana, while suffering a variety of ailments, takes charge of situations, insinuates herself in other peoples’ concerns, and walks long distances vigorously in order to do both. One can only guess what went through Jane’s mind as she developed characters with imagined or exaggerated illnesses when her own medical situation was so dire. While writing these scenes, did she have her condition in mind, or her mother’s chronic ailments and physical complaints, a mother who ironically survived her by a decade?

This edition of Sanditon by Oxford University Press is a perfect gift for the Janeite in your life (or for yourself) this holiday season and I highly recommend it.

Look for more Sanditon posts in the near future!

Order the book:

Oxford University Press:

Sanditon, Jane Austen, Edited by Kathryn Sutherland, 2019 $5.95

Amazon: Kindle, Hardcover, Paperback

Sanditon, Jane Austen, Edited by Kathryn Sutherland

Kathryn Sutherland is the editor of Austen-Leigh’s Memoir of Jane Austen and Other Family Recollections and Jane Austen’s Teenage Writings for the Oxford World’s Classics. She has created a digital edition of Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts (2012), the print edition published by Oxford University Press (OUP) in 2017. She is the author of Jane Austen’s Textual Lives: from Aeschylus to Bollywood (OUP, 2005).

PBS Masterpiece Theater: Sanditon. Click here for details.

First airing January 12, 2020

Also:

Jane Austen’s Satire on Hypochondria, Jocelyn Harris, Corpus: conversation about medicine and life, November 21, 2016

 

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