Over the next week will be delving into Jane Austen’s last work, her uncompleted novel Sanditon. Considered one of her minor works, Sanditon has not received much attention in comparison to her major novels since it was first published in 1925. Because it has not been adapted to the screen, most of the general reading public is not aware of it. Some classify it as a scholarly tidbit, but I know that if you have not read it before that it might surprise you. You may be asking yourself why you should read a fragment of a novel that leaves the story unresolved. Two words. Jane Austen. Nuff said.
On the 27th January, 1817 Jane Austen began work on a novel that is now known as Sanditon. It was never completed. Her declining health robbed her of what she dearly loved most, writing, and on the 18th of March 1817 after penning 22,000 words she wrote the last lines of chapter twelve and put down her pen. Four months later at age 41 she would succumb to what is generally believed to have been Addison’s disease.
Set in the emerging seaside village of Sanditon on the Sussex coast we are introduced to a large cast of characters dominated by the two minions of the community: Mr. Parker a local landowner with grand designs to turn a fishing village into a fashionable seabathing spa for the invalid and his partner Lady Denham, the local great lady who has ‘a shrewd eye & self satisfying air’ and cares little about the community and only her pocketbook. There are several young people to add a spark of romance, character foibles galore, plot ironies to raise an eyebrow at business speculation, hypochondria, and a sharp jab at the effluvia of novels and poetry to keep the narrative whizzing along until an abrupt halt just when we are hooked.
The uncompleted novel is a great loss to literature but also to the characters who after a bright and comical beginning are left with uncertain futures. What does remain is more than a novelty of Austenalia. Sanditon’s levity despite the author’s failing health when it was written is quite remarkable. On my first reading years ago I thought it quite energetic and satirical, similar to the burlesque humor of Northanger Abbey. I then put it aside and did not reflect on it further. On my second reading after twenty five years, of what I hope has been a period of enlightenment and appreciate of the author and the era, brought an entirely new reaction. Austen has taken a new and fresh direction from her usual 3 or 4 families in a country village and sets her novel not about an individuals struggle but an entire community. Money is still the fuel that powers the plot, but her physical descriptions of the landscape and town are entirely new in her cannon foreshadowing what may have been an evolution in her style.
I hope that you can join us as we discover the delights of seabathing and leeches during ‘By the Seaside with Sanditon’ event this week. You can check out the event schedule and join in the group read of the novel fragment which begins tomorrow, March 16th. Bring your green parasol.
Main Characters in Sanditon
Mr. Thomas Parker: of Trafalgar House, Sussex. Age about 35. No profession. Eldest son and succeeded to family property. In partnership with Lady Denham in developing Sanditon. Brother to Mary, Diana, Arthur and Sidney. Married 7 years to Mary, father of four children. An amiable man with more enthusiasm than judgment.
Mrs. Mary Parker: wife of Thomas Parker, mother of four children, Mary & 3 other siblings. Regrets the changes her husband’s enthusiasm produces.
Mr. Sidney Parker: Age about 27. Single. Younger brother of Thomas Parker. Witty, fashionable, young man possibly to emerge as the hero.
Miss Susan Parker: Single. Elder of two Parker sisters. Hypochondriac
Miss Diana Parker: Age about 34. Single. Younger of two Parker sisters. Hypochondriac. Active organizer.
Mr. Arthur Parker: Age about 20. Youngest Parker brother. Stout, broad made with a lusty appetite for hot chocolate and buttered toast. Cosseted into believing himself to be of delicate health.
Lady Denham: of Sanditon House, Sussex. Age 70. Née Brereton with £30,000 dowry. In partnership with Mr. Parker in developing Sanditon. Twice widowed: first husband Mr. Hollis, second Sir Harry Denham of Denham Park. Rich old lady with ‘many thousands a year’. Has ‘a shrewd eye, & self satisfying air’ She knows the value of money.
Miss Clara Brereton: of Sanditon House, Sussex. Poor cousin and companion to Lady Denham. Elegantly tall, regularly handsome, with great delicacy of complexion, soft blue eyes, sweet modest and yet graceful address.
Sir Edward Denham, Baronet: of Denham Park, Sussex. Single. Nephew of Sir Harry Denham (dec), brother of Esther. Handsome, but a rake and a rattle. Thinks that he was born to be a villain ‘quite in the line of Lovelaces’.
Miss Esther Denham: of Denham Park, Sussex. Single. Sister of Sir Edward, niece of Sir Harry Denham (dec). A fine young woman, but cold, reserved and superficial.
Mr. Heywood: of Willingden, Sussex. Age 57. Well looking, hale, gentleman farmer. Married with 14 children including Charlotte, and at least one son. Never leaves home unless to collect his dividends in London.
Mr. Heywood: Age 31. Son of Mr. & Mrs. Heywood of Willingden. Brother of Charlotte and 12 other siblings.
Miss Charlotte Heywood: of Willingden, Sussex. Age 22. Single. Eldest daughter at home of Mr. & Mrs. Heywood. Quiet, perceptive, observing heroine. Sensible and level headed.
Mrs. Griffiths: of Camberwell. Proprietress of a Ladies Seminary. Brings her three changes to Sanditon for the cure. Visitor to Sanditon.
Miss Beaufort: of Camberwell. Elder of two sisters. ‘just such young ladies as may be met with, in at least one family out of three, throughout the Kingdom’ Visitor to Sanditon.
Miss. Letitia Beaufort: of Camberwell. Younger of two sisters. Visitor to Sanditon
Miss Lambe: of Camberwell. About age 17. A young West Indian of large fortune in delicate health. Half mulatto, ‘chilly and tender’. Visitor to Sanditon.
Minor Characters in Sanditon
Merchants, tenants and servants:
Andrew: gardener at Sanditon House, William Heely: shoemaker in Sanditon, Hillier: tenant in Thomas Parker’s old house, Jebb: shopkeeper of Jebb’s in Sanditon, Morgan: Butler to the Parkers, Mullins: ‘Mullins’s, the poor’, Sam: old servant at Sanditon Hotel, Stringer: market-gardeners. There are two Stringers, referred to as ‘old Stringer’ and ‘young Stringer’. One is a shopkeeper in Sandition, Mrs. Whitby: librarian of Circulating Library. Has a ‘Miss W.’ and also ‘a young W.’ and Woodcock: hotel-keeper in Sanditon.
Mr. Beard: of Gray’s Inn, Dr. and Mrs. Brown, Mrs. Davis, Mrs. Jane Fisher & daughter, Rev. Hanking, Capt Little: of Limehouse, Matthews family, Miss. Merryweather, Richard Pratt, Miss. Scroggs and Lt. R.N. Smith.
By the Seaside with Sanditon: Giveaway Day 1
Enter a chance to win one copy of Penguin Classics Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sanditon by leaving a comment stating what intrigues you about Sanditon, or who your favorite character is by 12:00 pm PDT Friday, March 26th, 2010. Winner to be announced on Saturday, March 27th. Shipment to continental US addresses only.
Day 2 – March 16 Group Read Chapters 1-4
Day 3 – March 17 Regency seaside resorts
Day 4 – March 18 Group Read Chapters 5-8