Sanditon: the Austen Novel You Don’t Know About

By Eleanor Dye, Second Year English Literature.

Sanditon is Jane Austen’s unfinished novel from 1817. Austen tells the story of young Charlotte Heywood, her impromptu move to Sanditon, and encounter with the unpredictable and restless Sidney Parker, who begins the novel with the burden of past hurt. The novel is due to have its own TV adaptation with filming having already begun in Bristol and due for release later this year. Standing at a length of only eleven chapters and having been made fully available to the public as late as 1925, Sanditon is a novel arguably overlooked. Unlike Austen’s other works, it has never before had its own televised adaptation. Writers have already seized upon Sanditon’s potential success however as there have been numerous attempts to continue Sanditon by writers emulating Austen’s style, most famously “Sanditon by Jane Austen and Another Lady’, completed by Marie Dobbs. This move to televise Sanditon comes as no surprise, with ‘Austenmania’, numerous Austen adaptations emerge to satisfy the country’s endless appetite for period dramas. This is shown by the fact that even Austen’s juvenilia such as Lady Susan in the form of ‘Love and Friendship’ have been televised

a spirited young heroine, a couple of entrepreneurial brothers, some dodgy financial dealings, a West Indian heiress and quite a lot of nude bathing

– Andrew Davies, Screenwriter

Sanditon will be adapted into an eight-party series by ITV and Andrew Davies, the notable screenwriter of Pride and Prejudice. The cast will feature the likes of Rose Williams (of ‘Reign’ fame) as Charlotte Heywood and Theo James (of teen dystopia ‘Divergent’) as Sidney Parker. Davies notes that the adaptation will emcompass ‘a spirited young heroine, a couple of entrepreneurial brothers, some dodgy financial dealings, a West Indian heiress and quite a lot of nude bathing’. This description seems rather apt, considering its aim to adapt the incomplete novel for the audience of the twenty-first century. Perhaps a reason for Sanditon’s late publication was that it was deemed unseemly by the relatives of Austen, who were keen to establish and preserve her ‘dear Aunt Jane’ image. Austen herself was constantly revising her works, beginning Pride and Prejudice in 1796 but revising it continually up to its publication in 1813, so it is unclear whether she actually intended Sanditon for publication in the long run

Sanditon itself has lacked critical attention, and the little attention is has received has been decidedly divided in opinion. Stopped only four months before Austen’s death, presumably due to illness, critics have argued that this sense of fatigue seems to dominate the novel. E.M. Forster critically remarks ‘are there any signs of new development in Sanditon? Or is everything overshadowed by the advance of death?’. Illness is certainly a dominant theme in the novel itself with the presentation of hypochondriacs, and Austen even opens the novel with Mrs Parker’s sprained ankle and the urgent need for medical attention. However, Brian Southam remarks that Sanditon is ‘the most vigorous of all Jane Austen’s writing’. The text itself still brims with Austen’s earlier vitality and is alert to human failings and inconsistencies, as is clear in Mr Parker’s obsession with Sanditon.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Notably, Sanditon bears comparison to much of Austen’s fiction. Her previous novel, Persuasion, has a similar seaside setting taking the form of Lyme. Much like Elizabeth Bennet, Charlotte has to deal with themes of appearance and reality and seeks to discover the truth in what she has been told. Austen sustains her attack on hypochondriacs and her anti-urban bias from previous novels such as Emma, as well as her attack on sentimental reading, as in Northanger Abbey, through the character of Sir Edward who had ‘read more sentimental novels than agreed with him’. Yet Sanditon, though unfinished, also seems to mark a shift in Austen’s writing. Austen focuses, for the first time, on a place rather than a specific person, house or concept. Sanditon is in a state of change, being renovated by Mr Parker into a modern seaside town, marking a shift towards the Victorian novel from a discussion of individual depth to wider issues of society which would be explored by later writers such as Elliot and Dickens.

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