The Watsons and Sanditon, by Jane Austen (Naxos Audiobooks) – A Review

From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress: 

“One abandoned and the other uncompleted.” The Watsons and Sanditon may be fragments in Jane Austen’s literary canon, but they still deserve due deference. Composed over a decade apart in 1803-4 and 1817, each represents Austen’s desire to continue writing during two challenging times in her life.

Written During Challenging Times in Austen’s Life

The Watsons was started when Jane was living in Bath with her parents and sister Cassandra. Raised at Steventon rectory in Hampshire, her father Rev. George Austen’s retirement from the clergy in 1801 prompted a relocation of his family to the resort town known for its healing waters and social activity. There she and her sister found a wider social circle, assembly balls and other diversions but dearly missed the pleasures of the country and her large family and circle of friends that she was forced to leave behind. Her few remaining family letters during this period reflect her unhappy situation. Austen began Sanditon in 1817 during a brief remission in an illness that would ultimately take her life seven months later.

An Evolution of Style

Although gravely ill, the tone and freshness of the novel is comical and upbeat and reveals an evolution in style that displays her genius as a writer and an innovator of the British novel. We may never know why Jane Austen put The Watsons aside and did not return to it as she did with her other manuscripts. Moreover, her untimely death at age 41 parallels Sanditon’s abrupt halt after 12 chapters. They both fail to reach their full potential and it is our great loss and literature’s sad regret.

The Watsons: Familiar Austen Themes

The Watsons touches upon one of Austen’s familiar themes: unmarried ladies challenged by their families and financial deficiencies. The heroine Emma Watson has been raised by a wealthy aunt with the advantages of education and refinement. Her two elder brothers and three sisters remained with their widowed father, a sickly and impecunious clergyman barely able to discharge his parish duties and definitely not in control of his three quarrelsome unmarried daughters who reside with him in the Surrey village of Stanton. When Emma’s aunt remarries, she is sent back home to find mercenary husband-hunting the order of the day for her two sisters Penelope and Margaret who think nothing of stealing others beaus. Her solace is with her eldest sister Elizabeth who attempts to keep the family afloat with frugality and cheer. Residing in the neighborhood is a titled family whose loutish son Lord Osborn is attracted to Emma while her sister chases after his social-climbing friend Tom Musgrave.

Sanditon: Unfamiliar Austen Themes

Sanditon takes an entirely different direction from Austen’s usual fare of 3 or 4 families in a country village by turning the narrative away from the individual’s struggles to an entire 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 minions of the community: Mr. Parker a local landowner with grand designs to turn a fishing village into a fashionable sea-bathing 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.

An Amusing Lark

Given that there are very, very few commercial recordings of Jane Austen’s minor works, I was very pleased to see Naxos Audiobooks’ continue to add new titles to their already impressive catalog of Austen’s six major novels and Lady Susan in abridged and unabridged formats. This brand new recording of The Watsons and Sanditon maintains its impeccable quality. Amusingly read by the acclaimed BBC Radio personality Anna Bentinck, the diversity of the plots and the numerous characters could have been a challenge to a lesser accomplished reader, but I admired her energetic interpretations of the female roles. She has a fine touch with Austen’s nuanced humor and I appreciated her pregnant pauses as much as her rapid-fire delivery when warranted. A must-have addition for any Austen enthusiast, download this to your iPod or pop it into your car CD player for an amusing lark.

4 out of 5 Stars


  • The Watson and Sanditon, by Jane Austen, read by Anna Bentinck
  • Naxos Audiobooks USA (2010)
  • Unabridged, 4h 29m
  • ISBN: 978–9626342817
  • Genre: Literary Classics


We received a review copy of the audiobook from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Cover image courtesy of Naxos Audiobooks © 2010; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2010, Updated 23 March 2022. 

15 thoughts on “The Watsons and Sanditon, by Jane Austen (Naxos Audiobooks) – A Review

Add yours

  1. LA, thankyou for this audiobook review; the sample listen is promising with clear eludication. I’d love to be in the draw for this one, please !
    What tickles me on Sanditon is Mr Parker hawks fresh air … ‘The finest, purest seabreezes on the coast’ are not free as nature marked Sanditon as a resort. Bonnets, gloves & parasols are items offered for walking and for taking the air…who said fresh air was free ? ;-)
    Yet, the Parkers & Denhams suceed at selling fresh air & seawater ! New buildings, a library, seabathing machines- and people come to Sanditon…JA saw social & economic change already underway.


  2. I’m not really all that familiar with either work, but as a Jane Austen fan I would love the chance to listen to these productions. Thanks for the opportunity!


  3. I think it is so humorous how the ridiculously melodramatic Sir Edward is convincing himself he is a dashing ‘novel’ villian. I wonder if he ever does attemp to kidnap Clara? I’m so sad the book doesn’t have an ending….


  4. Oh, this sounds wonderful! I’d love to hear Austen on audio.

    I’m intrigued by The Watsons because its theme was common in Austen’s novels, and I’m curious to see what makes this work different from her others.



  5. I think that Sanditon is just hilarious. I wish that Jane would have been able to finish this novel. The family of hypochondriacs are so funny.


  6. I’ve been sick this last week with a bad cold so I’ve lost my reading mojo, but I’m going to catch up this weekend and I’ll answer the question.


  7. I have yet to read The Watsons, but the most memorable character in Sanditon for me is Sir Edward Denham. He is hilarious as a self-styled Lovelace! In a way, he reminds me of a Mr. Collins and Willoughby rolled into one… a man I would dearly love (and dread) to meet. =)

    But the most intriguing part of Sanditon is the change of tone in the narrator, and especially through Charlotte’s eyes. It is sharper, cutting, and more ironic than JA’s previous novels, an evolution that I would have loved to witness in dear Jane’s hands. In the midst of reading Jane’s Fame, the writer observes that Jane’s reluctance to accept her fame so openly was that she became ‘a poker whom everyone is afraid’ and certainly, no one, high or low, escaped the sharp point of her quill.

    Thanks for this opportunity to complete my Naxos Audiobooks of Jane Austen’s works. I have everything except this one! =)


  8. Okay, I’m back! I’m enjoying the comedy / irony of the story in each days reading. I am beginning to see Charlotte’s character develop now and she is my favorite at the moment! Oh my, what a lurvely giveaway, please count me in!


  9. I think that my favorite characters in Sanditon and The Watsons are the heroines, though, of course, all of the characters are interesting and amusing in different ways. Even in the few chapters we have of these two works, Jane Austen manages to create heroines who are likable and interesting—that we want to know more about, how they would act in the various situations that come their way.


  10. If anything, I love that we (the readers and fans of Jane Austen) get a chance to read pieces of her unfinished work. Nothing can be better than turning her works into our own.


  11. I have been enjoying reading Sanditon and The Watsons very much because I am unfamiliar with the two stories, never having previously seen them in movie form, as I have all the other major Jane Austen stories.


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