Last year, looking forward to the release of a new Andrew Davies’ TV adaptation of Sanditon, I thought it was high time I read Jane Austen’s unfinished manuscript it was to based on. I was lucky enough to pick up a cheap copy of a collection of Austen’s short/unfinished works, on World of Books, so I have Lady Susan and The Watsons to look forward to reading later.
Sanditon, Austen’s last, incomplete fiction, is set in a small, up-and-coming seaside town, where the young Charlotte Heywood is brought for a visit by new acquaintances, Mr and Mrs Parker. Mr Parker is an enthusiastic entrepreneur, who dreams of making little Sanditon into the latest bathing resort. As Charlotte arrives the Parker family and their few neighbours are enthused with rumours that a large party from London are to arrive soon, including Miss Lambe, a ‘half-mulatto’ heiress from the West Indies. And sadly that’s where the surviving draft ends…
Many have taken from this fragmentary beginning of a novel that Austen was starting a new phase in her writing, as the style and content does seems a little rougher and edgier than her previous, finished novels. Backed up by the fact that Austen started writing this in 1817, when she was already very ill, which perhaps could have given her a new perspective to on life and writing. The content could also be explained by the changes in society and the rise of the speculative consumer at this time: a foreshadowing to the great upheaval of the impending Industrial Revolution.
This seems very plausible to me as the reason for the change in direction in Jane’s content and setting choice, as we know that Austen prided herself on writing commentaries that rang true on the society and times she lived in. However I think the slight change in writing style could probably be simply explained by the fact that this is just part of a first draft, and after reading Lucy Worsley’ brilliant Jane Austen at Home, I know that Austen was meticulous in her drafting, re-drafting and revising of her work: making sure to get the details and exact wording just right.
And that is all I can say really. Inconclusion, I thought Sanditon was a good, if teasingly cut-short read, which had the potential for more of Austen’s trademark wit and romance, but also perhaps a glimpse into the more decadent and potentially seedier side to Georgian England’s pleasure towns. Good read.
For those interested in the TV adaptation, it was lovely to have Charlotte’s trip fleshed out further. And even with the couple of sex scenes, that I don’t think Austen would have approved of, I was really enjoying myself until the end… What was with that end?! It better mean there is another series to come. If not, I am going to have to belatedly throw my TV out the window!
I’d love to hear your thoughts: Have you read Sanditon? Or any of Austen’s other short/unfinished works?
This is book #13 for my Classics Club II.