On the Trail of Jane Austen’s Sanditon: The History of the Manuscript

From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:

“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.

A Beloved Sister’s Inheritance

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 Austen’s Legacy Passes to Anna Lefroy

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).

An Excerpt of the ‘Last Work’ is Published

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

A Name Change from The Brothers to Sanditon

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.

Publish and be Damned

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 Sanditon herself. Ironically, she did not finish her version either.

The Lefroy Family Legacy

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)

A Home at Cambridge University

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.

A Pilgrim’s Call

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, page 151
2.) Le Faye, Deirdre, Jane Austen: A Family Record, page 243
3.) James Edward Austen-Leigh, A Memoir of Jane Austen, page 170-71
4.) Le Faye, Deirdre, Jane Austen: A Family Record, page 254
5.) Gilson, David, A Bibliography of Jane Austen, page 376-77

Text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2010, austenprose.com.

24 thoughts on “On the Trail of Jane Austen’s Sanditon: The History of the Manuscript

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  1. Although rather fearful of Cassandra’s efficiency in burning manuscripts, I am eternally grateful for what she saved. Where would we be without the juvenalia and incomplete works the Austen family was so good as to preserve? They are such phenomenal insights into Jane’s development as a writer and testaments to how remarkable Sanditon would have been, had she been granted the time to complete it.


    1. Hi Alexa, it would have been interesting to see the major novel manuscripts. She could have destroyed everything – so like you I am grateful for what we do have.


  2. If only Cassandra had not burned Jane’s letters…

    Thank you so much for this fascinating History of Sandition (I do like ‘The Brothers’ so much better than Sandition and am confused as to why it was not published under that name?) and JA’s family!


    1. ‘The Brothers’ implies to me that JA may have intended to shift the story from being about the health industry and specualtion in Sanditon to the outcome of the Parkers. For some reason the family liked this title better.

      You are welcome on the history of the manuscript.


  3. Thank you so much for researching and sharing the history of this manuscript with us, Laurel Ann. I am so very happy to know the story behind it. I like title “The Brothers” too. How lucky are those descendants of Austen that got to inherit her manuscripts and letters!


    1. You are welcome Meredith. I agree that the Austen family was lucky to inherit her legacy, but have dispute with them selling off her letters etc. When you get something for free, you should donate or loan it to an institution, not profit from it. Just sayin’!


  4. Quite a paradox the manuscript is an outlandish, energetic comedy piece on hypochondriacs written when Jane was dying of a dehabilitating disease.
    I’ve read ‘the last work’ served a psychological need for the writer, as her defence against illness & depression.
    I much appreciate this picture of Sanditon MS in Jane’s own writing, I don’t think I’ve seen it before. Thanks !


    1. Hi Mandy, it is a bit more than a coincidence that she was writing about the hypocrisy of the development of a health resort for the invalid when she was one herself. It must have been a great outlet to laugh about it and poke fun at the medical profession and those who profit from it.


  5. Since Jane’s plan was to call the book “The Brothers,” might the protagonists have been the Parker men rather than Charlotte or another woman?

    Thanks, Laurel Ann, for your good research!


    1. You are welcome Baja Janeite. I appreciate your input too.

      Yes, the protagnists might possibly have been male. But the point-of-view of the fragment is from Charlotte’s perspective. She might have shifted it to Sidney for the 2nd half? That would have been innovative.


  6. What a fascinating history! Thank you for such a wonderful overview! I am intrigued by the possibility that the book might have been called The Brothers, it makes me rethink my understanding of what seems like a mostly female cast. I wonder how the Parker brothers might have taken on a greater role in the tale if she had finished it?


    1. I think that Sidney Parker has great potential to be a strong character in the story. We only know of him and his personality through his brother Mr. Parker, and since Sidney says what he likes, this gives me hope that he will arrive in Sanditon and do just that. Charlotte would like an honest forthright man like her father – so they would make a good match. He is outspoken and honest, she observant and honest.


  7. Wonderfully researched, I thnk you! I enjoyed this post very much.. and seeing the manuscript would be such a memroy indeed! Just that first page you show is interesting to see all of her markings out.


    1. The first manuscript page shows all her rapid fire thoughts and revisons. The novel fragment was a first draft, so it is an inside to her writing process and fascinating to me. Cambridge Univeristy published a complete copy of the manuscript not a transcribed text. That would be interesting to see. Even though JA’s nephew thinks her writing it neat, I have trouble reading 19th-century penmanship!


  8. Thanks for this lovely post, LA! I love looking at Jane’s unaltered manuscripts… what an insight to her writing process and a glimpse of a creative genius.

    Regarding ‘The Brothers’ as the first title… I wonder if the Parker brothers get the ‘happy’ endings (yes, even greedy Arthur) and Sir Edward Denham, the self-styled Lovelace, gets left out in the cold?


  9. I always wonder about the letters, etc. that Cassandra burned. Not knowing drives me crazy!

    Thanks for this fascinating post. I think it’s interesting to see an image of the actual manuscript. Glad I’m not the one who had to decipher it. ;)



  10. Beautiful post Laurel Ann. I tear up looking at the manuscript and imagining what the world has lost from those letters that were destroyed.

    I’m glad we have these 12 chapters of Sanditon to read. It’s better than nothing.


  11. Oh to have been there to read what was burned! It still amazes me of what was saved and we can see today! Great post!


  12. It’s all very nice and informative, but why can’t I find anywhere when it was published for the first time?! I’m scouring about all over web space and no definite dates for publication of her minor works! Lady Susan, Sanditon, The Watsons?… years vary from 1817 (which sounds early,but still possible?) to 1871 and later :/ I’m exhausted…

    Now I found this old post, maybe Laurel Ann can help me out after all? :}


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