By the Seaside with Sanditon: Sir Edward Denham’s Sentimental Stirrings about the Sea & Seduction

He began, in a tone of great taste and feeling, to talk of the sea and the sea shore; and ran with energy through all the usual phrases employed in praise of their sublimity and descriptive of the undescribable emotions they excite in the mind of sensibility. The terrific grandeur of the ocean in a storm, its glass surface in a calm, its gulls and its samphire and the deep fathoms of its abysses, its quick vicissitudes, its direful deceptions, its mariners tempting it in sunshine and overwhelmed by the sudden tempest — all were eagerly and fluently touched; rather commonplace perhaps, but doing very well from the lips of a handsome Sir Edward, and she could not but think him a man of feeling, till he began to stagger her by the number of his quotations and the bewilderment of some of his sentences. Sanditon, Chapter 7

Jane Austen’s anti-hero in Sanditon, Sir Edward Denham, Baronet of Denham Park is a bit of rake and a rattle. He is prone to long inflated speeches in the most pompous and affected style all 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. With Sir Edward, Austen is poking fun at the dramatic and sentimental heroes and villains of the novels of her times.  

During his speech to Charlotte Heywood, he rambles on about the sea describing in quite unoriginal phrases its “terrific grandeur” of glass surface, gulls and samphire. When I originally read the novel years ago, I had no idea what samphire was, what significance it had and why Jane Austen used as and example of describing the sea. Understanding the cultural context of Austen’s novels can be so enlightening and I asked Julie of Austenonly, a fellow Austen enthusiast and expert on the era to explain it all for me. She has graciously obliged and you can read her excellent post on samphire at her blog.

In addition to his rattling’s about the sea we are treated to his lengthy effusions on poets as he incorrectly attributes Scott to have written about the sea, which Charlotte quickly corrects him on.

“Do you remember”, said he, “Scott’s beautiful Lines on the Sea? — Oh! what a description they convey! — They are never out of my Thoughts when I walk here. — That Man who can read them unmoved must have the nerves of an Assassin! — Heaven defend me from meeting such a Man un-armed.”  

“What description do you mean?”, said Charlotte. “I remember none at this moment, of the Sea, in either of Scott’s Poems.”

“Do not you indeed? — Nor can I exactly recall the beginning at this moment.”  Ch 6

This blunder does not deter him in the least and he continues quoting other poets: Burns, Montgomery and Campbell. Our observant heroine is having none of it and calls him out again.

“I have read several of Burns’ Poems with great delight”, said Charlotte, as soon as she had time to speak, “but I am not poetic enough to separate a Man’s Poetry entirely from his Character; — & poor Burns’s known Irregularities greatly interrupt my enjoyment of his Lines. — I have difficulty in depending on the Truth of his Feelings as a Lover. I have not faith in the sincerity of the affections of a Man of his Description. He felt & he wrote & he forgot.” Ch 8

One wonders if Charlotte has learned that Sir Edward’s “known irregularities greatly interrupt” her enjoyment of his speech? She has difficulty believing the truth of Burns’ poetry because of his personal life. A man’s actions reflect upon his reputation and character. I love the parallel between what she describes as Burns’ faults, “He felt & he wrote & he forgot” with Sir Edward’s want of being a seducer, who we well know are all about the conquest and not the results or consequences!

More on the insincere and insalubrious Sir Edward Denham as he expounds upon “The mere Trash of the common Circulating Library” when ‘By the Seaside with Sanditon’ continues this week.

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

10 thoughts on “By the Seaside with Sanditon: Sir Edward Denham’s Sentimental Stirrings about the Sea & Seduction

  1. Sir Edward Denham’s constipated quotations made me laugh outright! And I loved Charlotte’s silent conclusion on him:

    This was very fine; — but if Charlotte understood at all, not very moral — and being moreover by no means pleased with his extraordinary stile of compliment, she gravely answered ‘I really know nothing of the matter. — This is a charming day. The Wind I fancy must be Southerly.’ ‘Happy, happy Wind, to engage Miss Heywood’s Thoughts!’ — She began to think him downright silly. (Chapter 7)

    That wins best zinger award for me. =)

    And Edward self-styling himself as a Lovelace made me laugh even harder! I’m currently listening to Clarissa on BBC Radio 3 and Edward couldn’t be further from Lovelace. Lovelace is a big bad wolf… Edward is a sheep in wolf’s clothing.

    Regarding Charlotte’s opinion that she cannot reconcile Burn’s work with his personal life… I wonder if that’s a reflection of Jane’s own opinion? She often quoted Byron’s The Corsair in her works, but to me always in unflattering light… There’s that oft quoted incident that: After reading Byron’s poem The Corsair: A Tale, Austen wrote in a letter to her sister, “I have read The Corsair, mended my petticoat, and have nothing else to do.” Am I misreading this?

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    • You make an interesting point on Jane’s own opinion on these poets… in Persuasion, Anne Elliot advised lovelorn Benwick to read less Scott & Byron for more rational prose.
      Actually, the JA Info. Pages says Scott’s lines on the sea do not exist, except in Sir Edward’s overheated imagination and it’s doubtful Jane Austen was impressed by these particular poems.
      JA may’ve include this line from Scott; “Oh ! Woman in our hours of ease-” to allude to Sir Edward Denham’s view of Clara as ‘uncertain, coy, and difficult to please’ or, perhaps, the determined seducer sees all women as difficult. ;)
      I don’t think you are misread JA’s comment; it may well reflect anti-sentimentalist tendencies.

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  2. I absolutely loved the passages about Sir Edward. What a character! And Charlotte’s assessment of him had me nearly laughing out loud on the train this morning. My favorite is the passage you posted about Scott’s poetry. Too funny!

    –Anna

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  3. A wanna-be Lovelace ? I think Sir Edward maybe intended as a burlesque by JA on the novel villain.
    ‘Sir Edward’s great object in life was to be seductive’ (ch.7) lolol !
    I wonder if he’s determined to seduce Clara Brereton and ruin her reputation & deter Lady Denham from leaving Clara her fortune ?
    Too much sea air is gone to the head of this sentimentalist !

    I am vaguely reminded of Henry Crawford wanting to make a hole in the heart of Fanny Price. (MP)

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    • Ooh, Mandy N, if Sir Edward turns out to be that devious, well, he may yet turn out to BE a Lovelace… But as you said, I agree JA intends him to be a burlesque on the novel villain (who Victorian women turn out to prefer!).

      And another thing working against him… an impoverished purse… it’s very expensive to be a reputable rake! ;)

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        • Maybe due to expense, Sir Edward will opt for a prudent course with his rival in Lady Denham’s favour and propose marriage to Clara to acquire her possible inheritance from Lady Denham ?
          And Sir Edward may still get to play Lovelace; at least in his imagination- as Lovelace proposed marriage to Clarissa.
          In MP, dissolute Henry Crawford found himself falling in love with Fanny and proposed marriage in MP.
          Just erh, rhaposizing… I’ve had too much sea air or samphire. ;)

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  4. When reading these passages, I saw Sir Edward as a ‘Wickham’ rather than a ‘Collins’…a handsome mercenary seducer who charmed most of the principle characters. One would suspect that had JA finished Sandition, that his true character would have been revealed by Charlotte (or another) to the others and that he would not have inherited Lady Denham’s fortune.

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