A Preview of Sanditon: A New Television Adaptation of Jane Austen’s Novel


Premiering Sunday, August 25 on ITV, Sanditon will be the first television series inspired by Jane Austen’s final, unfinished novel.

Jane Austen fans in the UK have much to celebrate. Austen’s seaside Regency drama is being given the red-carpet treatment by the co-production team of Red Planet Pictures in the UK and MASTERPIECE PBS in the US. Adapting and continuing the eight-part series will be veteran period drama screenwriter Andrew Davies (Pride and Prejudice (1995) and Sense and Sensibility (2008)), and a cast of accomplished and emerging British actors will portray the lively and diverse characters that Austen established in her novel, with a few additions to the roister as well. The new series will air on eight consecutive Sundays at 9:00pm August 25 through October 13, 2019.

Inset of the first page of the manuscript that would later be titled Sanditon: “A Gentleman & Lady travelling from Tun-bridge towards that part of the Sussex Coast which lies between Hastings & E. Bourne being induced by Business to quit the high road, and were overturned in half rock, half sand toiling up its long ascent.” Via Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts

Sanditon was written in 1817 when Austen was seriously ill. She was only able to finish twelve chapters and about 24,000 words before her poor health prevented her from completing it. Four months later she would die on July 18, 1817, of what is generally believed to be Addison’s disease. The manuscript was passed down through family members until it was donated in 1930 to King’s College in Cambridge where it now resides. The fragment of the novel is classified as one of her minor works.


Image of a map of Hastings on the English coast, from A Guide to all the watering and sea-bathing places, with a description of the lakes, a sketch of a tour in Wales, and various itineraries, illustrated with maps and views (1815)

In comparison to Austen’s other popular novels such as Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, which have been previously adapted numerous times for television and movies, Sanditon has received little attention. Those familiar with her work will feel at home in the seaside world she created full of comical characterizations and jabs at society, while new readers will appreciate this fragment more after reading any of her other six major novels. Its exuberance is bracing and represents a new direction for Austen as a writer—moving from the focus of “three or four families in a country village,” to a whole community.

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 oligarchs of the community: Mr. Parker (Kris Marshall) a local landowner with grand designs of turning a fishing village into a fashionable watering-place offering the therapeutic and curative benefits of sea-bathing, and his partner Lady Denham (Anne Reid), the local great lady who has “a shrewd eye & self-satisfying air” and cares little about the community and only her pocketbook.


Rose Williams stars as Charlotte Heywood, a young woman visiting Sanditon and the sea for the first time.

The story unfolds from the perspective of Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams), a young lady experiencing her first trip away from her family as a guest of Mr. and Mrs. Parker. From the press release of the casting announcement last February, it appears that Davies has given Charlotte a modern twist:

Rose Williams will star as Charlotte. Excited by the promise of adventure that Sanditon offers, Charlotte is a young woman of enormous energy who builds a reputation as an integral part of the new town. Open and optimistic in spirit, she’s excited by the changes the nineteenth-century promises and she’s ready for a new life; she’s a truly modern Austen heroine. Confident in her opinions but unfamiliar with the rules of high society, Charlotte’s self-assurance is knocked when she meets Sidney. Will Sanditon give her somewhere, and someone, to love?

Sanditon is populated by a comical ensemble of residents and visitors who upon Charlotte’s first acquaintance are altogether different than they later appear. Lady Denham’s nephew Sir Edward Denham (Jack Fox) is handsome, amiable and titled but is prone to long inflated speeches in the most pompous and affected style in an attempt to reinforce his own notion that he is a romantic character born to seduce women “quite in the line of Lovelaces.” (Lovelace refers to the villain Robert Lovelace in Samuel Richardson’s 1748 novel Clarissa who rapes and ruins the young heroine.) He has designs upon Lady Denham’s companion Clara Brereton (Lily Sacofsky) who he shall either woo with affection or carry off. Clara is a poor relation of Lady Denham’s who is maneuvering to be her heir and in direct competition with Sir Edward for her favor.

Theo James as Sidney Parker, a bit of a rake and a rattle.

Mr. Parker has only three siblings in this version whom Charlotte is told are sad invalids, but after their arrival, talk a great deal about their maladies but exhibit little consequence of their afflictions. Diana (Alexandra Roach) is the elder and Arthur (Turlough Convery) is the younger of the siblings still at home. Here we see Austen at her comedic height characterizing the foibles of those who attach illness as an identity and hypochondria as their religion. The one bright ray of hope is Mr. Parker’s brother Sidney (Theo James) who we know of only through letters and descriptions by others in Austen’s version. From an advance press release this is Davies take:

Theo James plays Sidney, a man never the same from one moment to the next. Unpredictable, roguish and restless – seemingly never settling in one place for very long – self-made man Sidney finds his responsibilities to his family in Sanditon somewhat tiresome. And yet his cynicism masks a sensitive soul wounded by a broken heart that has never fully healed. In the company of Charlotte, Sidney must rediscover who he is and crucially, learn to trust again.

Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams) and Miss Georgiana Lambe (Crystal Clarke) become fast friends.

Screenwriter Andrew Davies has revealed that he used up Austen’s story in about the first thirty minutes of the first episode—so that leaves a wide-open stage for him to send Austen’s characters off in all directions. He has also added that nude sea-bathing has been brought forward, the story has been “sexed up” (oh my), and characters have been greatly expanded; one of which I am thrilled to see receive a bigger role. Miss Georgiana Lambe (Crystal Clarke), a visitor to Sanditon who Austen described as a young half-mulatto (Austen’s words exactly) from the West Indies of large fortune in delicate health. It has also been disclosed that part of the storyline takes place in Jamaica, so one assumes there are flashbacks.


Anne Reid as Lady Denholm, the great lady of Sanditon.

And of course, the queen of the community is Lady Denholm (Anne Reid) who lauds over everyone a la Lady Catherine in Pride and Prejudice. She certainly knows the importance of an advantageous marriage having buried two husbands; her first was Mr. Hollis who left her a fortune, and the second was Sir Harry Denham of Denham Park who gave her a title. That kind upward mobility was greatly admired and envied in the Regency world.

Anne Reid will play the deliciously direct Lady Denham. Two husbands dead and gone, Lady Denham received money from the first and a title from the second and expects to be treated with a great deal of deference. Notoriously tight-fisted, she seems to delight in the power that she wields over the town, particularly those waiting to cash in from her death.

The spikey relationship between the “joyously impulsive, spirited and unconventional Charlotte” and “the humorous, charming (and slightly wild!) Sidney Parker” is the fuel that drives the plot. Second in line is the town of Sanditon which exposes her to “the intrigues and dalliances of a seaside town on the make, and the characters whose fortunes depend on its commercial success.” The promised twists and turns of the plot take the viewer from “the West Indies to the rotting alleys of London, exposes the hidden agendas of each character and sees Charlotte discover herself and ultimately find love.” Well then. My eyebrows are duly raised, Mr. Davies.


Davies is calling his creation a free adaptation. In a recent London Times interview he stated that he was “interested in the illicit thrill of the seaside and believes that the louche ambience of Sanditon is the ideal setting for this drama about Charlotte coming to realise that the world of money and power is often venal.” Along with the aforementioned nudity and sex scenes, and the wide-open territory of plot and character development available, I am all anticipation of a Regency romp exhibiting more than Austen could have expressed on the page but wholly true to the times. This new Jane Austen adaptation/continuation will also air in the US on MASTERPIECE Classic. No air date has been announced yet.

Hey-ho, Janeites!

The Chilbury Ladies Choir: A Novel, by Jennifer Ryan — A Review

The Chilbury Ladies Choir x 200Set in an English country village at the onset of WWII, The Chilbury Ladies Choir is told through letters and journal and diary entries by four female characters who are faced with keeping the home fires burning while their menfolk are off fighting Nazis. The first-person format intrigued me, and the subject sounded promising. However, it was the anticipation of escaping into the lives of “three or four families in a country village” that really hooked me. If English-born author Jennifer Ryan could dish out endearing and foibled characters I was in for a great read.

Ominously, the novel begins with the funeral of Commander Edmund Winthrop, the first casualty of the war from this tight-knit community. The reality of his death hits the remaining residents hard, coupled with the fact that the vicar decided to close the church choir due to the lack of male voices. The ladies rebel. They are done with being told what to do by the few men remaining. Disobeying the vicar, they form the Chilbury Ladies Choir led by Miss Primrose Trent, a music tutor from the local university.

“First, they whisk our men away to fight, then they force us women into work, then they ration food, and now they’re closing our choir. By the time the Nazis get here there’ll be nothing left except a bunch of drab women ready to surrender.” Mrs. Brampton-Boyd (3)

Continue reading

The Work of Art, by Mimi Matthews—A Review

The Work of Art Matthews 2019 x 200From the desk of Katie Patchell

Recently, I discovered the joy that comes from not reading the description on the back of a book prior to opening page one. When I was asked to review The Work of Art, I heard “Regency” and “Laurel Ann recommends” and I was all for it. After downloading this novel, I opened my Kindle edition to a story as beautiful, atmospheric, and arresting as its haunting cover—one that captured me from the very first line…

“Captain Arthur Heywood had never seen such an ill-mannered assortment of canines in his life.”

…to the very last line, with its soul-satisfying conclusion.

When Phyllida Satterthwaite’s grandfather dies, she is plucked from her freedom in the Devonshire countryside and sent to Town to the constrained, shallow world that her vile aunt and uncle and odious cousins bask in. She lives for the few nature-filled walks she can take, with her dogs as her only companions. When she meets the solemn but kind Captain Heywood, Philly discovers that she’s not the only one yearning to be free from London society’s iron rules.

Captain Arthur Heywood, ex-Corinthian and ex-soldier, is facing his own bleak future. His life is ruled by the terms set by his injuries. His memories of the Napoleonic Wars and what gave him his scars haunt his dreams, as do the visions of the carefree life he’s lost. When Arthur meets Philly by chance he finds someone who quietly treats him with the same intuitive kindness she treats her dogs—which he quickly finds is a compliment of the highest sort. Continue reading

Ayesha At Last: A Novel, by Uzma Jalaluddin— A Review

Ayesha At Last 200From the desk of Natalie Jenner

I am a firm believer that the love story at the heart of Pride and Prejudice is the best-constructed romance arc in all of literature. Author Julian Barnes once said of Darcy and Elizabeth that “the lovers are really made for each other—by their creator. They are constructed for each other: interlocked for wedlock.” The result for so many of us is the need for an occasional new hit of these two characters and their lust-versus-logic dynamic. So, when a promising debut author pens a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in my very own city of Toronto, Canada, I quickly find myself attending her local book signing and grabbing up several copies for the Austen lovers in my life.

In Uzma Jalaluddin’s Ayesha at Last, the setting is Scarborough, a suburban and diverse community in eastern Toronto full of townhouses and waterparks and strip malls. Our Darcy and Elizabeth are Khalid and Ayesha, two young Muslims who are both fatherless, both still living at home, and both experiencing the typical career angst of the millennial generation. After the meet-cute, not at a local assembly but rather an open-mike poetry slam night at a local bar, Khalid and Ayesha engage in a series of almost wilful misunderstandings as they both end up working on a Muslim youth event for the local community centre. Yet Khalid, in particular, is drawn to Ayesha and does not protest when he thinks that his mother has orchestrated an arranged marriage between him and the young teacher. But then events start to spiral comically out of control as Khalid’s mother intervenes in his life Caroline Bingley-style, one of Ayesha’s many young female cousins falls prey to a modern Wickham, and the community centre faces a financial and ethical crisis. As the two most level-headed, attractive and charismatic characters in the plot, Khalid and Ayesha must learn to work together for the sake of their families, their community, and their own romantic destiny. Continue reading

Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors: A Novel, by Sonali Dev—A Review

Pride Prejudice and Other Flavors 2019 x 200Recently I pulled Pemberley, or Pride and Prejudice Continued, by Emma Tennant off my bookshelf. I was feeling nostalgic after looking at my “to be read” pile of new Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice retellings that have or will hit bookstores this year. It was one of the first P&P inspired novels that I read way back in 2002. Published in 1993, the author was forging virgin territory. At this point there were very few Austen-inspired books in print and readers did not know what to expect. It received a tepid reception from critics and the public. One recent Amazon reviewer called it “a real nightmare.” Ouch! You can read my detailed review of Pemberley from 2013, or read it and decide for yourself.

Since Tennant’s Austenesque-trek to boldly go where no author dared to go, there have been hundreds, possibly thousands, of Pride and Prejudice prequels, sequels, continuations, and inspired-by books. Recently we are in a retelling cycle—all presented with an ethnic twist. Last year we had Pride, by Ibi Zoboi, a contemporary retelling of Austen’s classic hate/love romance set in Brooklyn, NY featuring an all-black cast of characters. This year we have three new novels: Unmarriageable, by Soniah Kamal set in 2000 in Pakistan; Ayesha at Last, by Uzma Jalaluddin in which Darcy and Lizzy are transported to contemporary Canada featuring Muslim characters; and Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors, which after this long and winding introduction is the book I will discuss today.

Another contemporary retelling, PPAOF is set in the “bay area” of San Francisco, California. Loosely based on Jane Austen’s spikey romance where the roles of the rich, proud Fitzwilliam Darcy and the much-less-rich, prejudiced Elizabeth Bennet are reversed. Meet Dr. Trisha Raje, a brilliant thirty-something neurosurgeon specializing in cutting-edge microsurgery at a prominent hospital, who also happens to be an Indian Princess by default. Her father was the second son of the royal line of an Indian Principality which is no longer in power. When he immigrated to the US, his wealth and royal mien came with him. At the premature death of his older brother, he became HRM in name only. The family live like royalty in their Woodside estate with multiple servants and the exotic air of old-world nobility with all its privileges and baggage. Even though Trisha is a successful and highly prestigious doctor she is a disappointment to her parents, who cannot forgive her for a fifteen-year-old social faux pas against her brother, a rising Politician, and, the fact that she remains unmarried. Continue reading

Lost Roses: A Novel, by Martha Hall Kelly – A Review

Lost Roses 2019 x 200Are there any historical fiction readers out there who have not read the insanely popular Lilac Girls yet? Hello!

Martha Hall Kelly’s debut novel was published in 2016 – and like all book fledglings was sent out into the world with high hopes. Early reviews were rather mixed, but it hit the NY Times bestseller list immediately, a phenomenon for a debut novel. It has become one of those rare books in publishing that has an enormous wingspan, remaining on the bestseller lists for years.

One cannot even imagine the pressure on Kelly’s shoulders to produce her second novel, Lost Roses, released last month by Ballantine Books. A prequel to Lilac Girls, many of her readers will have high expectations. If she was smart, she would stick to her winning formula: base the story on real-life women facing challenges during historical events; transport readers into their lives and times through first-person narratives that are impeccably researched; offer page turning-prose that keeps you up into the wee hours; and finally, develop characters that we can empathize and care about. A very tall order, indeed.

Again, the story features a tryptic of women struggling on the home front during a world war. Lilac Girls introduced us to Caroline Ferriday in the 1940’s WWII. Lost Roses begins a generation earlier in pre-WWI and features Caroline’s mother Eliza Ferriday, an American socialite and philanthropist, her friend Sofya Streshnayva, a Russian aristocrat, and Varinka Kozlov, a Russian peasant. Continue reading

A Modest Independence: Parish Orphans of Devon Book 2, by Mimi Matthews – A Review

A Modest Independence Matthews 2019 x 200The second book in the Parish Orphans of Devon series is a historical romance road trip novel with an intriguing premise; can two unlikely companions travel together from London to India under false pretense to join forces to find a lost friend?

In A Modest Independence, author Mimi Matthews’ explores an improbable romance of an impertinent, strong-willed woman and an equally independent bachelor who are thrown together under eyebrow-raising circumstances. There are so many impediments to their success, on several levels, that I was compelled to discover if they could overcome all the obstacles that the author had placed in their path.

Starting in Victorian-era London, England we meet spirited heroine Jenny Holloway who has recently come into a small fortune. Determined to remain independent and never marry, she wishes to travel to India to find the Earl of Castleton, the missing brother of the woman who gave her a modest independence. Her attorney Tom Finchley, who holds her purse strings, is concerned for her safety and hesitant to release her funds so she can travel. Raised in a Devon orphanage, he is a self-made man who now has a very prosperous London practice. We were introduced to this couple as supporting characters in the first book in the series, The Matrimonial Advertisement. Tom harbors feelings for Jenny and decides to travel with her to protect her, help her find the missing brother, and explore the possibility of a romance. Continue reading