“She continued to work at it as long as she could work at all.” James Edward Austen-Leigh (1871)
On the 27th January, 1817 Jane Austen began work on a novel that is now known as Sanditon. It was never completed. She was gravely ill, and after a brief period of remission, her condition worsened until “her mind could no longer pursue its accustomed course” 1 and on the 18th of March 1817 after penning 22,000 words she wrote the last lines of chapter twelve and put down her pen. Exactly four months after abandoning the novel she would succumb to what is generally believed to have been Addison’s disease. She was 41 years old.
Upon her death, all of Jane Austen’s papers, manuscripts and future royalties were bequeathed to her elder sister Cassandra Austen. The Sanditon fragment was among them. With her brother Henry’s help, Cassandra would publish Jane’s last two novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion posthumously in late 1817. The balance of her letters and manuscripts remained in Cassandra’s possession at their last home together in Chawton, Hampshire. On the 9th of May 1843, Cassandra Austen then age 70 wrote her will and named her younger brother Charles Austen as residuary legatee and executor. On the same day she wrote to him itemizing the bequests of personal belonging she wished him to distribute to the family.
“As I have leisure, I am looking over and destroying some of my papers – others I have marked ‘to be burned’, whilst some will still remain. These are chiefly a few letters and a few manuscripts of our dear Jane, which I have set apart for those parties to whom I think they will be most valuable. …I have marked the contents of one of the small Drawers of one of my Bureaux for Anna.” 2
Cassandra died two years later in 1845 and Jane Austen’s legacy to her sister was dispersed among immediate family members. This amounted to what we now group together as her Minor Works primarily comprising: the 3 volumes of Juvenilia, the fragment of The Watsons, the novella Lady Susan, the cancelled chapters of Persuasion and the unfinished Sanditon. The last two items were passed to Anna Lefroy (1793- 1872), Jane and Cassandra’s niece and daughter of their eldest brother James. As young child Anna had lived with her aunts after her mother’s death in 1795 until her father remarried. She remained a favorite relation of both Jane and Cassandra. In 1814 Anna married neighbor Benjamin Lefroy, one of the sons of Jane’s dear friend Mrs. Anne Lefroy of Ashe, (Tom Lefroy’s aunt).
In 1871, the fragment was first made known to the public in her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh’s biography of his aunt Jane Austen: A Memoir. Described only as the ‘Last Work’ it included experts of the text and a bit of family lore about the manuscript.
‘The chief part of this manuscript is written in her usual firm and neat hand, but some of the latter pages seem to have been first traced in pencil, probably when she was too weak to sit long at her desk, and written over in ink afterwards. The quality produced does not indicate any decline of power or industry, for in those seven weeks twelve chapters had been completed. It is more difficult to judge of the quality of a work so little advanced. It had received no name; there was scarcely any indication what the course of the story was to be, nor was any heroine yet perceptible, who, like Fanny Price, or Anne Elliot, might draw round her the sympathies of the readers. Such an unfinished fragment cannot be presented to the public.’ James Edward Austen-Leigh 3
According to family tradition, Jane intended to call her novel ‘The Brothers’ presumably after brothers Thomas, Sidney and Arthur Parker in her story. Interestingly, Jane Austen’s favorite poet George Crabbe also used this title for one of his own stories in his book Crabbe’s Tales. Her family chose instead to name it Sanditon when it was published in 1925 by R. W. Chapman. 4 If ‘The Brothers’ had been used it would have been Austen’s second reference to her favored poet in one of her novels. Fanny Price, the heroine of Mansfield Park also has among her small group of books the same volume on her table in her attic room.
There was a bit of an Austen family kerfuffle over what they all deemed worthy of print from the remaining letters, fragments and juvenilia. Anna Lefroy was obviously not among the dissenters who opposed publication and allowed the excerpts of the manuscript of Sanditon in her possession to be included in Jane Austen: A Memoir. She must have had an open mind to ‘publish and be damned’ since she had her own aspirations to be a novelist, attempting to complete Sandition herself. Ironically, she did not finish her version either.
Upon Anna Lefroy’s death in 1872 the Sanditon manuscript remained in the Lefroy family for two more generations. In 1925 when R.W. Chapman researched the manuscript and transcribed the first full copy for publication, it was owned by Mary Isabella Lefroy (1860-1939), grand-daughter of Anna. In 1930 she presented it to King’s College, Cambridge, in memory of her sister Florence Emma Austen-Leigh (1857-1926) and the latter’s husband Augustus Austen-Leigh (1840-1905), Provost of King’s from 1889 until his death. 5 (It appears that the Lefroy and Austen’s intermarried quite frequently)
The manuscript of Sanditon has remained in safekeeping with Cambridge University for eighty years and has been exhibited only twice, most notably during the bicentenary exhibition honoring Jane Austen’s birth in 1975 at the British Library. There is also a copy of Sanditon transcribed by Cassandra Austen for her brother Frank that is owned by the Jane Austen Memorial Trust, at Jane Austen’s House, Chawton and displayed at Chawton House Library.
First page of the Sanditon manuscript
Now, go visit Cambridge University Janeites to gaze upon Jane’s “usual firm and neat hand” in her last manuscript.
“One other hill brings us to Sanditon — modern Sanditon — a beautiful spot.” Ch 4
1.) Austen-Leigh, James Edward, A Memoir of Jane Austen, pg 151
2.) Le Faye, Deirdre, Jane Austen: A Family Record, pg 243
3.) James Edward Austen-Leigh, A Memoir of Jane Austen, pg 170-71
4.) Le Faye, Deirdre, Jane Austen: A Family Record, pg 254
5.) Gilson, David, A Bibliography of Jane Austen, pg 376-77
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