Friday, May 29, 2020

Sanditon by Jane Austen and Another Lady

Reviewed by Jeanne

With the recent PBS airing of ”Sanditon” and a Book Bingo square I needed to fill, I decided to give Sanditon a try.  I had some trepidation about starting it because I knew that Miss Austen had written only 11 chapters before her death. In these chapters, she sets up the story.  A gentleman and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Parker, have an unfortunate carriage accident near the village of Willingden, leaving him with an injured leg and a disabled carriage.  They are taken in by the hospitable Mr. Heywood whose wife and daughters show them every courtesy and care.  Charmed, the Parkers insist on taking one of the Heywood daughters, Charlotte, to stay with them at their new beach side resort, Sanditon.  Mr. Parker has high hopes that Sanditon will become a fashionable holiday spot and he will recoup his investment.

Once at Sanditon, Charlotte is introduced to some of the other inhabitants, including Lady Denham and her companion, Clara Brereton; Sir Edward Denham and his sister; and of course, other members of the Parker family, which includes two other brothers, Sidney and Arthur, and two sisters, Diana and Susan. The latter three are held to have very delicate constitutions, while Sidney seems to spend most of his time away on business and—presumably—drumming up interest in Sanditon.  The town is about to receive visitors, including an heiress from the West Indies, Miss Lambe, who is "half mulatto."

Readers of Austen will recognize the excellent mix of eligible young men and ladies available; but alas, we will never know what matches would have been made.  For me, there is also a different feel to Austen's fragment, as the Parkers could be said to be entrepreneurs. While money is important all throughout Austen's work, mostly it is inherited or earned through landowning or else the military. To be "in trade" is not considered quite respectable.  I would very much like to have known how Austen viewed this trend; most agree that the book was influenced by an 1805 visit to Worthing, which was a seaside town being turned into a vacation destination much as is Sanditon in the book. 

 The “Another Lady” co-author was Marie Dobbs, who was born in Australia in 1925 before moving to England. She worked as a journalist and wrote novels under several pseudonyms.  Her continuation of Sanditon earned a great deal of praise when it appeared in 1975.

I did enjoy the book, though I admit more than once I wondered if this or that is what Miss Austen would have intended. I do think that Sidney would have been the love interest for Charlotte, though he had barely appeared at the end of the original manuscript.  Dobbs did seem to capture some of the feeling of an Austen story, more so than have many more modern authors who have taken it upon themselves to continue Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility

More perplexing in some ways was watching the TV adaptation while reading the book. The series has some elements of Dobbs’ continuation (I am not suggesting plagiarism!)  but diverges in other significant areas.  It also omits one character all together, changes some relationships, and creates new characters. The ending caused some controversy but I also enjoyed it, though I admit there were some elements I found a bit modern.  (No spoilers!)

I think it is indeed a testament to Jane Austen that her work, even incomplete, can still command such attention.  My advice is to read (or watch or both!) it for yourself and decide how you think the story would play out.

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