Sanditon by Jane Austen

Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside…

😀 😀 😀 😀

Sanditon is a fictional little village on the south coast of England, and local landowner Mr Thomas Parker dreams of turning it into a health resort like its bigger neighbours, Brighton and Eastbourne. The current fad among the fashionable is for sea-air and sea-bathing, both promised to cure any number of ills. Mr Parker and his wife invite the young daughter of a friend to visit, Charlotte Heywood, and it’s through her sensible eyes that the reader sees the inhabitants of Sanditon, with all their foibles, kindnesses and hypocrisies.

This is known as Austen’s unfinished novel but it would be more accurate to describe it as barely started. We get a mere 70 pages – just enough to introduce us to some of the many characters and to begin to see the various plot strands on which Austen’s health never permitted her to follow through. It’s a pity, because it looks as if it would have been fun, and rather different from her finished novels. There’s a more cynical tone about it – the same bright wit but with a harsher, less forgiving edge. It’s not nearly as polished as her usual writing but that’s hardly surprising since in reality this couldn’t have been much more than a first draft.

It begins with the meeting between Mr Parker and Charlotte’s father, and we quickly see that Sanditon is an obsession of Mr Parker’s – he is determined to improve it, whether it wants to be improved or not, by building bathing machines and upgrading houses to be suitable for the fashionable people he hopes to attract. He has a partner in his enterprise – Lady Denham, the great lady of the neighbourhood, having inherited wealth from one husband, a title from another and a pack of relatives from both. Mr Parker’s extended family includes two sisters and a younger brother, all suffering from debilitating ailments according to themselves, or from hypochondria, as the more cynical might see it. There is another brother, Sidney, who, it appears, would likely be the sensible one and possibly a love interest for Charlotte, but I fear we catch only a glimpse of his handsome features before the fragment ends. We also know that new visitors to the town are expected, including a “half-mulatto” heiress from the West Indies, but again we are left tantalised but with our curiosity unsatisfied.

Sea bathing at Brighton

There’s a lot of humour in the portrayal of the Parker siblings, rather less subtle than Austen’s usual. There’s no knowing, of course, how the book would have developed, but I felt that it would probably have had a lot of filler added later – this felt very rapid for Austen as if she were getting down the main elements of the characters and setting up the plot, possibly with the intention of then re-working it to add in more of her delightful social observation. But perhaps she was trying a new style intentionally. The introduction by Kathryn Sutherland in my Oxford World Classic’s edition (which is about a third as long as the entire fragment of story) puts it in its historical context, in an England looking to the future now that the long Napoleonic Wars are finally over. Perhaps Austen was reflecting the new modernity and process of rapid change that tends to follow a long war.

Obviously it can’t be wholly satisfying as merely the start of a story, but I enjoyed reading it nevertheless, and had fun deciding for myself who would marry whom and be happy and who would be taught the folly of their ways and so on. I can see the appeal for people who like to have a go at finishing it, although I’m not sure there’s enough there to give a real indication of where Austen would have taken us. I’m delighted to hear that Andrew Davies is adapting it for television next year. He’s clearly going to have to come up with a plot since this fragment won’t be enough to make a TV series out of. I remember Alan Bleasdale adding in a lengthy backstory for Oliver Twist when he adapted that book many years ago, and while I enjoyed it I wasn’t convinced it felt like Dickens. I’m intrigued to see if Andrew Davies will manage to make this one feel like Austen. He is, of course, the man behind my beloved 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, so he certainly has the credentials. Meantime, I’m desperately avoiding all advance publicity.

Fear not, my Darcy – Sidney will never steal my heart from you…

If you haven’t already, you have plenty of time to read this before the adaptation comes out and invent your own story before Davies tells us his. Personally, I shall be very annoyed if he doesn’t allow Charlotte and Sidney a chance at romance… (if you know, please don’t tell me!)

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Oxford World’s Classics.

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61 thoughts on “Sanditon by Jane Austen

  1. Dont worry the advance publicity doesn’t give anything away. Most of what Austen left behind feels like scene setting so I wasn’t surprised to hear Andrew Davies used all that material in just the first episode.

    • Thank you – glad you enjoyed it! The good thing is that it’s short – of course, that’s also the bad thing! But I still found it very enjoyable – hope you do too. 🙂

  2. I find it really interesting, FictionFan, and a tribute to Austen’s talent, that this was as good as it was, and still not much more than a draft. And it does sound like the buildup to an interesting novel. A fashionable seaside resort is a great setting for the characters you describe, too. It does sound interesting, but don’t worry: not one of us would ever suspect you’d be unfaithful to Darcy…

    • Yes, I don’t know what her writing style was – whether she edited and tidied as she went along – but it’s certainly publishable quality even in its present form. These seaside resort towns were such a feature of English life over the last couple of centuries until quite recently, and lots of the old buildings dating back to Austen’s time still exist, so it really would have been a great setting. Hahaha – I had a sneak peek at Sidney – nice chap, but no competition for my Darcy… 😉

  3. I enjoyed your take on this, FF. I’m wondering what Andrew Davies will do to complete the story. Hope it fares better than the ending of Game of Thrones, which was so divisive to the fans.

  4. I think Austen was very thorough with her own editing process, so this sounds very much like an early draft/work in progress, but still excellent, of course. I came across an article the other day which pointed out that Austen’s novels, with the possible exception of Mansfield Park had very little reference to political events of the time. I wonder whether with this novel, she was perhaps planning to place greater emphasis on issues out with social interactions. If so, this could potentially have ended up as one of her most interesting novels from a historical context point of view. Such a shame we’ll never find out.

    • Yes, I thought it was amazingly polished for a draft while not being as polished as I’d have expected a finished Austen novel to be. That’s intriguing, but I’m not sure I completely agree with the article. When I re-read Persuasion a couple of years ago, I felt it had a fair amount to say about politics in the sense of how political and social changes were impacting people. All those decayed gentlefolk being shoved out of their ancestral homes to make way for the soldiers and sailors who made their fortunes in the Napoleonic Wars, and women being freer somehow to make choices about their own lives, within limits of course. Perhaps she was becoming more politically aware as she aged – she was so young when she wrote her first couple of novels.

  5. As a writer, I have a horror of starting a work like this, then dying off before finishing it — only to have the public-at-large attempt to second-guess where I was heading with it! That said, it sounds like an enjoyable “first draft.” Still, I rankle that they’re not only going to finish Jane’s work for her but adapt it for television?!? *shudders, then swoons*

    • Haha – well, the worst that will happen to me is that I’ll die halfway through writing a review! It would be much worse to die with an uneaten stash of chocolate… 😉 Hahaha – that’s my reaction too! I kinda hate the idea, but I won’t be able to resist watching it! 😂

  6. Unless an author leaves extensive notes for a novel, I’m not sure how I feel about someone else finishing one for them. (though I still grieve that the alphabet stops at Y as far as Sue Grafton mysteries go) I know I’ve admitted this before, but I’ve not read any Jane Austen. I know, I know. 😱 My daughter’s boxed set is still on my shelf, but I don’t see myself dusting it off unless one becomes a choice in my book club. (so any suggesting and/or shaming will be wasted breath) 😉

    • Yes, I’m not keen on the idea of other people finishing an unfinished novel either, but I still won’t be able to resist watching it! I’m shocked to my socks!! Somehow I must tempt you – hmm. A readalong? Lots of pictures of my Darcy? Bribery? Or how about my favourite blog post of all time… bound to make you wish you’d read the book… (the comments are much more creative and fun than the actual post… 😀 )

      https://fictionfanblog.wordpress.com/2015/08/14/friday-frippery/

      • Well thank you for providing that… it certainly kept me entertained! (and wishing I could write clever limericks!) I might have seen parts of a film adaptation once when scrolling through the TV channels, but I can’t remember who was playing Mr. Darcy. Maybe Colin Firth? Perhaps I’ll get to her someday, but it might be something other than P&P. I’m thinking my daughter’s favorite is Persuasion.

        • I haven’t done a fun post in ages – must try to revive my sense of humour! 😀 For me, the Colin Firth adaptation is by far the best and a great alternative to reading the book. I also love the Emma Thompson version of Sense and Sensibility. As far as the books go, I love them all. P&P is probably my overall favourite, but I actually think Sense and Sensibility is a better book – the society feels more realistic. And Northanger Abbey is the lightest and most fun. Persuasion is great too, but it’s a late one and more serious than some of the others – more depth maybe, but perhaps less humour…

  7. Hmmmm 🤔
    I read something (somewhere) about Davies’ script which left me wondering. ‘Really?’ I thought. ‘Austen?’ 😱 Then I remembered P & P and thought, ‘Ok. Maybe it’s just a step on from Darcey in the pond…’ As requested, I shall say nothing more 😂 (And maybe my source is wrong!)

    • Hmm, yes, my brother was complaining that Davies had “sexed up” the last couple of adaptations he’d watched, neither of which I’ve seen. Oh dear – he better be careful. I can see hordes of Austen fans coming after him looking for revenge… 😉

  8. I came across an article about ITV’s Sanditon – it will indeed ‘finish’ Jane Austen’s book. She had written 12 chapters before she died and ‘ITV’s eight-part drama takes these chapters as a starting point before spiralling off in directions that are all its writers’ invention.’ It also adds ‘Sex, nudity and slavery’.

    Screenwriter Andrew Davies says:

    “I aim to please myself when writing these things,” says Davies, who admits “sexing it up comes fairly naturally”.

    “If it’s not there, I think ‘let’s put some in,’” he explains. “I like to write it and I like to watch it.”

    Mmm – not sure I like the sound of this – but then I’m not a fan either of finishing an unfinished book, or film/TV adaptations (there have been exceptions though) of books I love.

    • Oh, dear, dear! If it’s going to have sex and nudity in it, I fear it will have to live without me then! Oh well – I was quite looking forward to it too. Pity the BBC isn’t making it – they’d have been a bit more likely to try to keep it within the bounds of common decency… maybe!

  9. Thanks for the review. I have seen more talk about Sandition lately but rarely in such a complete manner. It remains the only Austen I haven’t picked up, so maybe I’ll change that now.

    • Thanks for commenting! It’s well worth reading even if it does just leave you wishing she’d had time to write the whole thing. I still haven’t read Lady Susan, so that will probably be my next one. Though I’m overdue a re-read of Mansfield Park…

    • From what Margaret says, the adaptation sounds as if it’s going to be horrid. Think I’ll skip it – pity, I was kinda looking forward to it too. But the book’s still well worth a re-read… 😀

  10. I was surprised that there was an Austen book I’d never heard of (even though I’m not a huge Austen fan) but this makes sense. But what is a bathing machine and why would you need one?

    • Bathing machines were a kind of sop to Victorian prudery and the fact that so few people could swim. You got into it fully clothed on the beach, and while you changed into your voluminous bathing costume inside, a horse hauled the thing out into the water, where you were met by attendants who helped you to float about for a while. Then back in, dry off and change, and by that time the horse had you safely back on land! It all sounds quite fun to me… but maybe not so much for the horse!

  11. Reading it right now, and looking forward to the tv adaptation. Mourning her early death, she would have given us so much. But grateful for what we have from her.

    • Yes, a tragically early death, and I suspect her later books might have been even better – each one seemed to have more depth than the one before. I’d have loved if she’d been able to finish Sanditon… 😀

    • This is so short it can easily be read in a couple of hours – and I’m not a very fast reader. And then at least we’ll all have our own ideas about what should happen and can send angry tweets if Andrew Davies gets it wrong… 😉

  12. I am usually always disappointed if I read a book before seeing the adaptation on screen. Luckily the TV adaptation is on TV this weekend so I don’t have enough time to read the book. It’s a shame our Jane Austen never got to finish it but I suppose it will be interesting to see what Andrew Davies has done, looking forward to it. Thank you for your review.

    • Oh, I hadn’t realised it was this weekend so thanks for the heads-up! Somehow I’d got the idea it wasn’t going to be on till next spring. I’ve loved some of his adaptations in the past – Pride and Prejudice, Bleak House, Vanity Fair – but his last couple haven’t thrilled me so much. So I have my fingers crossed but will keep the off-switch handy… 😉

      Thanks for popping in and commenting. 😀

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