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