Jane Austen Sanditon
In late July 2019, 'Sanditon' became my summer reading choice. My husband discovered that a new period drama of that name was to be aired on ITV. What's it about I asked? Well he wasn't too sure of the subject matter but it's called "'Sanditon' - ever hear of it?" I replied, "You mean 'Sanditon' the last unfinished novel by Jane Austen - that one! The novel I read over ten years ago and a copy of it is on the bookcase in your office!" He had actually given me a pre-warning that the television series was imminent and having read the novel many years earlier, my copy being By Jane Austen and Another Lady, Corgi Edition 1976, I wanted to refresh my memory of the book - which was all sea-bathing and carriage rides. Timescales were a bit tight as I wanted to re-read the book before watching the series and having a busy life and being a slow reader I set myself the task of just keeping a few chapters ahead of each televised episode - what could possibly go wrong?
As already stated I don't consider myself a particularly fast reader and when the first episode was aired on 25th August I had only managed the first seven chapters. Obviously Charlotte Heywood and Mr. and Mrs. Parker had been introduced, Lady Denham and her fortune discussed and the rather unlikeable Sir Edward Denham, a future suitor perhaps had enjoyed rather ridiculous conversations with Charlotte, "She began to think him downright silly." The mysterious Mr. Stanley Parker had only been referenced and other supporting characters had appeared. However while watching the first episode it was obvious that my reading speed was not up to the task. Jane Austen's novels do need a certain level of concentration as her style is of her time, and she very often uses subtle hints of a characters personality through dialogue, and very often by another character's thoughts of that person - "And as for Miss Brereton, her appearance so completely justified Mr. Parker's praise that Charlotte thought she had never beheld a more lovely or more interesting young woman. Elegantly tall, regularly handsome, with a great delicacy of complexion and soft blue eyes..."
By the end of episode one Charlotte and her new companions were attending a Ball! I seemed to be so far behind. But after episodes two and three I realised that this was not my version of Sanditon at all. The book I had read was published in 1975. This was another story altogether based only on Jane's original characters. Having watched the whole series and starting to get slightly irritated with myself for constantly repeating - Jane Austen wouldn't have written this! - I decided that it would be unlikely to become a television classic such as the BBC's version of "Pride & Prejudice" in 1995 most certainly did.
In fact with this version of Sanditon we did not get the happy ever after ending that Jane usually provides we were left with a possible second series hanging in the balance and our romantic leading man heading into a loveless marriage! And here lies the problem with this novel , left unfinished a few months before her death in July 1817. Jane had only started the novel in January that same year and was in failing health while writing. The title is accredited to her sister Cassandra, Jane may have preferred "Two Brothers" but we now know it as Sanditon, in keeping with her previous novels. Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice titles being based on the emotional theme running through the novel, and Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey - the physical settings of the drama. What we will never know is the plot lines Jane had devised and how she would develop the relationship between the two main romantic leads. There are a number of themes we can only guess that Jane may have wanted to explore, maybe the first being change, the development of the new seaside resort and its affect on the English countryside and the fact that Great Britain was entering a new era. Jane having lived through the Napoleonic Wars, and with members of her family being involved in the conflict that lasted over 12 years, it actually only warrants a brief mention in the novel, "You will not think I have made a bad exchange when we reach Trafalgar House - which by the bye , I almost wish I had not named Trafalgar - for Waterloo is more the thing now." chapter four, Mr. Parker.
Sanditon the town and Mr. Parker's expectations could be an integral part of the story. In the television adaptation it's costly development, financial challenges and associated stress also caused more problems on a romantic level for Charlotte. It would not stretch the imagination too much to claim that Sanditon would have had a romantic theme - true to all Jane's novels - and Charlotte Heywood would be the heroine. Jane has previously acknowledged that she would create a heroine named Charlotte - "I admire the sagacity and taste of Charlotte Williams. Those large dark eyes always judge well . I will compliment her by naming a heroine after her." letter to Cassandra 1813, and Stanley Parker would make a likeable leading man. One theme I am sure seemed to be appearing is physical health - in Regency England visiting seaside resorts and sea-bathing was encouraged in the higher social circles - "taking the waters" for the improvement of health, and was a new extension to the already established Georgian past-time of spa-bathing. However Jane also introduced the hypochondriac characters brother and sisters Arthur, Diana and Susan Parker, as her way of laughing at certain people who tend to wallow in their ailments. At this stage in her own life Jane was in ill-health and her many companions and family members were also ageing and suffering with sickness, daily correspondence would most certainly concentrate on the writers illness. Health or lack of it would have been a daily topic of conversation.
Jane also introduced Miss Lambe a black female character in her novel, with only a small reference to the British colonisation of the West Indies and the trade routes. The slave trade is not mentioned only that Miss. Lambe is "a young West Indian of large fortune and delicate health."
Her final ironic line in chapter eleven - "Poor Mr. Hollis! It was impossible not to feel him hardly used; to be obliged to stand back in his own home and see the best place by the fire constantly occupied by Sir Henry Denham." reminds us of Jane's wit, in fact the standard of her writing remains as good as ever considering the state of her health
But eleven chapters are all we have, many authors have continued where Jane left off, and it is a purely personal choice as to which ending is preferred.
"Sanditon - Set In The Silver Sea by Jane Austen and a Gentleman" is available to purchase at www.thejaneaustenshop.co.uk:
The ITV version of Sanditon and its accompanying book are available to purchase at www.thejaneaustenshop.co.uk: