Sanditon, by Jane Austen (Hesperus Press): A Review

On the 27th January, 1817 Jane Austen began work on a novel that is now known as Sanditon. It was never completed. Her declining health robbed her of what she dearly loved most, writing, 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. Four months later at age 41 she would succumb to what is generally believed to have been Addison’s disease. 

Set in the emerging seaside village of Sanditon on the Sussex coast we are introduced to a large cast of characters dominated by the two minions of the community: Mr. Parker a local landowner with grand designs of turning a fishing village into a fashionable watering place offering the therapeutic or curative benefits of sea-bathing and his partner Lady Denham, the local great lady who has “a shrewd eye & self satisfying air” and cares little about the community and only her pocketbook.

The story unfolds from the perspective of Charlotte Heywood, a young lady experiencing her first trip away from her family as a guest of Mr. and Mrs. Parker. Sanditon is populated by a comical ensemble of residents and visitors who upon Charlotte’s first acquaintance are altogether different than they later appear. Lady Denham’s nephew Sir Edward Denham is handsome, amiable and titled but is prone to long inflated speeches in the most pompous and affected style 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.) He has designs upon Lady Denham’s companion Clara Brereton who he shall either woo with affection or carry off. Clara is a poor relation of Lady Denham’s who is maneuvering to be her heir and in direct competition with Sir Edward for her favor.

Also sharing the spotlight is Mr. Parker and his four siblings, three of whom Charlotte is told are sad invalids, but after their arrival talk a great deal about their maladies but exhibit little consequence of their afflictions. Here we see Austen at her comedic height characterizing the foibles of those who attach illness as an identity and hypochondria as their religion. The one bright light of hope in the novel is Mr. Parker’s brother Sidney who we know of only through letters and others descriptions. He may be the only character besides Charlotte who has the potential to set things in balance with his sense of humor and honest opinions. Sadly he is destined to remain the mystery hero of Austen’s oeuvre. Add to that a lineup a nest of plot ironies to raise an eyebrow at business speculation and hypochondria, and a sharp jab at the effluvia of novels and poetry and you have a narrative that whizzes along until an abrupt halt just when we are hooked.  

The uncompleted novel is a great loss to literature but also to the characters who after a bright and comical beginning are left with uncertain futures. What does remain is more than a novelty of Austenalia. Sanditon’s levity despite the author’s failing health when it was written is quite remarkable. On first reading I thought it quite energetic and satirical, similar to the burlesque humor of Austen’s Northanger Abbey. I then put it aside and did not reflect on it further. My second reading after several years brought an entirely new reaction. Austen has taken a new and fresh direction from her usual three or four families in a country village and sets her novel not about an individuals struggle but an entire community. Money is still the fuel that powers the plot, but her physical descriptions of the landscape and town are entirely new in her cannon foreshadowing what may have been an evolution in her style. Sanditon is a gem that no Austen enthusiast should miss.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Sandition, by Jane Austen, foreword by Prof. A. C. Graying
Hesperus Press, London (2009)
Trade paperback (85) pages
ISBN: 978-1843911845

By the Seaside with Sanditon: Day 6 Giveaway

Enter a chance to win one of three copies of Sanditon, by Jane Austen (Hesperus Press) by leaving a comment stating what intrigues you about Sanditon, or who your favorite character is by midnight PDT Friday, March 26th, 2010. Winners to be announced on Saturday, March 27th. Shipment worldwide, but it might have trouble reaching Antarctica.

On an aside. For any of you that are curious about the backside of a chicken staring at us on the cover, the Hesperus Press publicist offers this revealing insight. “Regarding the cover design for this title – our designers try to avoid clichés and so don’t always go for literal covers, thinking laterally instead. The tone of the image and its colour range suit the book well, and chickens and eggs are often taken as symbols of new life, which links to Sanditon’s plot, being about a new town.”

Upcoming event posts

Day 7 – March 21 Sanditon Continuations

Day 8 – March 22 Event Wrap-up

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16 thoughts on “Sanditon, by Jane Austen (Hesperus Press): A Review

  1. Thanks for the info on the chicken… personally I don’t care for it. Lurved the cover from the day 6 giveaway though!

    This is the first time I ever read Sanditon and look forward to future readings with new revelations as well.

    I feel I may be repeating myself here but what intrigued me about this story was the major theme being of the hypochondriacs. It showed how people used their ‘condition’ to get attention.. like Mary in Persuasion. This story goes in such a different direction from the others that I, of course, want to know how the romance will end for Charlotte!

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  2. Mr Sidney Parker; an unknown hero. Laurel Ann, I agree Sidney’s humour and friendly manner may have provided some balance in the story- though I think Jane realized society was on the brink of change; and excesive development and speculation would continue into the C19th. When I consider the excessive sensiblities in Sanditon; avarice, speculation by the landholders, indulgence of ailments by the Parkers , Arthur’s gluttony, melodrama and ‘seductiveness’ of Sir Edward; If I’m reading JA correctly I see no balance between reason and passion.; except, perhaps, Charlotte Heywood’s quiet observations. Sidney himself barely enters our story- he begins promisingly then we don’t hear about any of them again. In Sanditon, a hero is needed !

    By the way, thanks too for the explaination on the chicken- umm, very novel. But I don’t like it either.

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  3. Great review. I’d definitely love to win a copy of this!

    My favorite character is Charlotte Heywood, so far. She is very interesting and I think in those first 12 chapters I found her to be the most likeable. Certainly more likeable than those Parker sisters.

    I have to get my hands on a completed edition so I can find out how it all ends for Charlotte.

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  4. Lovely review, Laurel Ann! I could not just end it right there at chapter 12 so I immediately picked up my continuation by “Another Lady” and have been enjoying it ever since! I greatly love the characterizations in Jane Austen’s fragment and I am enjoying Ms. Dobbs has them remain true to their characters.

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  5. I was wondering about that chicken! Thanks for clearing that up. I’m so glad I joined you for the week-long discussion about Sanditon. It’s so sad that we’ll never know exactly what Austen had in mind for her characters, but you’re right…it’s a must-read for any Austen fan.

    –Anna

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  6. Excellent review. I think Charlotte would have been one of Austen’s great mature heroines had the novel been completed. I loved her first glimpse of the sea at Sanditon.

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  7. Austen’s novels got better as she aged and Sanditon would no doubt have been her best work. Biting satire, ridiculous hypochondriacs and a quirky seaside village keep me coming back again and again, even just for the first few chapters. One of my favorite things is to read the many completion stories created by other authors in an attempt to satisfy the void left by the unfinished novel. Like an itch you can’t scratch.

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  8. It was an abrupt halt indeed, Laurel Ann. I will definitely read the continuation with you next week. =)

    Yes, what a shame that we don’t have more of Sidney Parker! His sense of humor and astute observations about his sisters seem to be a match for Charlotte’s thoughts. Although it may well turn out that he will temper Charlotte’s precipitous impressions about everyone. ;) I love Charlotte for her sharp observations, but I also think she is very quick to judge. Sidney may become a foil for that… or so goes my wishful thinking…

    I still don’t get the chicken-on-the-cover explanation, but hey, it certainly made me look twice! Guess that’s part of the point. =P

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  9. The thing that intrigues me is that Austen wrote all this searing satire about hypochondria while in the grip of a very real illness. She does feature such characters in some of her other books (Mrs. Bennett, Mr. Woodhouse, Mary Musgrove), but in this one it is front and center. I find myself wondering if the choice of subject itself isn’t the book’s greatest satirical attack; by the very act of writing, it’s as if the author is saying, “Clearly, these characters must be *very* sick indeed, because if I am unwell and capable of work, they must be *far* worse.”

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  10. Pingback: Living in the Past « The Jane Austen Project

  11. Thanks for the notes about the chicken cover. I’ve been wondering about this for some time now.

    As was mentioned by several participants, I was intrigue that Austen chose to expand her writing from 3-4 families to the whole community. It definitely implies that her writing of Sanditon is on a mature level. Sadly, she did not have a chance to complete this story for we may never know how the story ended and about the hero, Sidney Parker and whether Charlotte Heywood is destined for him or not.

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  12. Pingback: Winners Announced in the ‘By the Seaside with Sanditon’ Giveaways « Austenprose

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