By the Seaside with Sanditon: Guest Blog with Julie of Austenonly on Regency-era Seaside Resorts

Joining us today to extend the Sanditon celebration across the Internet is a very special guest, Julie the very affable and talented blog mistress of Austenonly. Her expertise in Georgian and Regency era culture and history is astonishing. Her extensive library of resource books would make even Mr. Darcy envious. To tie into to our ‘By the Seaside with Sanditon’ event this week, she will be blogging about the development of Regency-era seaside resorts similar to what our Mr. Parker and Lady Denham are attempting to create at Sanditon. Enjoy! 

Jane Austen’s unfinished fragment, Sanditon, is set in a small Sussex seaside resort, a place that is being ruthlessly and relentlessly “improved” by Mr Parker, a man obsessed with his creation and the money-making opportunities it affords: 

Mr. Parker`s character and history were soon unfolded. All that he understood of himself, he readily told, for he was very openhearted; and where he might be himself in the dark, his conversation was still giving information to such of the Heywoods as could observe. By such he was perceived to be an enthusiast — on the subject of Sanditon, a complete enthusiast. Sanditon, the success of Sanditon as a small, fashionable bathing place, was the object for which he seemed to live. A very few years ago, it had been a quiet village of no pretensions; but some natural advantages in its position and some accidental circumstances having suggested to himself and the other principal landholder the probability of its becoming a profitable speculation, they had engaged in it, and planned and built, and praised and puffed, and raised it to something of young renown; and Mr. Parker could now think of very little besides…  Sanditon, Chapter 2 

Sanditon is also under the patronage of Lady Denham, the wealthy widow of Mr Hollis and a baronet, a social climber though marriage and a woman rather in the mould of  Lady Catherine de Bourgh of Pride and Prejudice,. Here she is described by Mr Parker: 

“There is at times,” said he, “a little self-importance — but it is not offensive — and there are moments, there are points, when her love of money is carried greatly too far. But she is a good-natured woman, a very good-natured woman — a very obliging, friendly neighbour; a cheerful, independent, valuable character — and her faults may be entirely imputed to her want of education. She has good natural sense, but quite uncultivated. She has a fine active mind as well as a fine healthy frame for a woman of seventy, and enters into the improvement of Sanditon with a spirit truly admirable. Though now and then, a littleness will appear. She cannot look forward quite as I would have her and takes alarm at a trifling present expense without considering what returns it will make her in a year or two. That is, we think differently. We now and then see things differently, Miss Heywood. Those who tell their own story, you know, must be listened to with caution. When you see us in contact, you will judge for yourself.” Lady Denham was indeed a great lady beyond the common wants of society, for she had many thousands a year to bequeath, and three distinct sets of people to be courted by: her own relations, who might very reasonably wish for her original thirty thousand pounds among them; the legal heirs of Mr. Hollis, who must hope to be more indebted to her sense of justice than he had allowed them to be to his… Sanditon, Chapter 3 

In this satire on developing seaside resorts, commercial greed, hypochondria and the type of people these place attracted, it is perhaps no mere coincidence that Jane Austen ensures that Mr Holllis, the first husband of Lady Denham, shares the name of the man who began the development of Lyme Regis from small fishing village to a seaside resort. 

Lyme Regis from A Guide to all the Watering and
Sea-Bathing  Places etc (1803) by John Feltham

Thomas Hollis (1720-1774) was an interesting character. He was a political propagandist and a radical but also a supporter of the house of Hanover. He was a benefactor, amongst other institutions, of Harvard University and owned an estate of 3000 acres at Corscombe near Beauminster. He kept, however, a suite of rooms in the Three Cups Hotel at Lyme and bought up much of the slums and derelict property in Lyme in order to demolish them and improve the town. He created the first public promenade by purchasing land on the shore to create what Jane Austen would have referred to as The Walk ( it is now part of Marine Parade). He knocked down a series of warehouses to clear a site for the building of Lyme’s Assembly Rooms complex and these were completed in 1775 just after Hollis’s death. These are the Rooms that Jane Austen visited in 1804. 

Continue to full post 

Upcoming event posts

Day 4 – March 18 Group Read Chapters 5-8
Day 5 – March 19 Regency seaside fashions
Day 6 – March 20 Group Read Chapters 9-12
Day 7 – March 21 Sanditon Completions

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21 thoughts on “By the Seaside with Sanditon: Guest Blog with Julie of Austenonly on Regency-era Seaside Resorts

  1. I love these Regency engravings of seabathing resorts showing Georgian buildings ( not Victorian !) and the sea bathing machines- actually, I think they’re hilarious looking old things; yet, clearly most novel and fashionable in JA’s time; and allowed genteel ladies more freedom. I know Jane Austen enjoyed seabathing; I suppose she used a seabathing machine too.
    On reading JulieW’s blog; I speculate on Mr Parker publishing his own Dissertion on healthfull benefits of Saline Air to attract potential visitors to the resort…or his own Guide to Sanditon enthusing on Improvements; ‘light, elegant’ buildings, Sir Edward Denham’s cottage ornee, the Terrace; shop goodies, library hotel & lodgings and sea bathing machines. .. ;)

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  2. What a feast for the mind and eyes! I especially loved the map as I only had a vague idea of the English channel coast and the actual layout of the coastal towns. Nice to know that Worthing is the possible inspiration for Sanditon.

    I had not realized that sea-bathing towns – Brighton, Weymouth, Ramsgate – have been the backdrop for several of Austen couples’ secret rendezvous! Mr. Parker should include that as another positive aspect of sea-air and sea-bathing in Sandition: Nobody could be Sick of Heart. =)

    (On second thoughts, is this a positive? Since only one of those affairs really turned out well! ;P)

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    • I love it that whenever one of Austen’s characters goes to a seaside resort, something notorious or dangerous happens! It give the impression that Regency-era society let loose on vacation OR that the bracing sea air brought out the baser instincts! LOL, yes this is an attraction or selling point for Mr. Parker – the finest sea breezes on the Sussex coast to spark romance or some such slogan!

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  3. What an interesting guest post! And thanks for introducing me to a new blog.

    I’d like to go to the seaside for a long vacation in the hopes of preserving my sanity! LOL Need an excuse to get away from work.

    I’m looking forward to reading more of Sanditon this evening. I’m certain the hypochondriac storyline will be interesting.

    –Anna

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  4. What great background information! It always requires such a leap of the imagination to understand the mindset of a particular period in history. And then you have Jane Austen, whose satirical mind picks apart and mocks the common beliefs of the time. I wonder if anyone saw anger and frustration behind the satirical tone of the novel, or if I’m projecting, knowing she was ill at the time?

    It makes me shudder to think that it was considered healthy to bathe a young child in sea water in the middle of winter. Living as I do not too far from the white cliffs, I can tell you, the wind is bone-bitingly cold, and the sea is icy. Brrr. But maybe there’s something to be said for cold water immersion.

    And of course in every time-period there are those who take advantage of people who are genuinely sick.

    Thank you Julie for giving me a grip on Sanditon, which always seems to elude my understanding, like sand…

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    • I did not see anger nor frustration, but I did sense that the satirical tone is sharper and more pronounced, as if she wanted to delineate her thoughts clearly, with no room for second guessing for the reader. There’s less gradual unfolding of impressions… But then perhaps I am also projecting.

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      • I agree; Jane’s satirical tone is playful not bitter; clear and more pronounced. Ofcourse, she may’ve felt some frustration regarding her own worsening illness.
        When viewing the MS I was thinking her handwriting neat, yet with ‘stumblings’ or crossouts– as if she’s rushing to complete this last work or make a clear statement on her ideas regarding sickness & sea resorts…but I am only projecting my personal speculations too.

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  5. Wow, that was quite a post to visit ~ nice friendly Austen blog too – thank you for the treat of sharing Julie with us! I lurved all the pictures and her details about the character of Arthur Parke! ha ha

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