From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:
A new Jane Austen adaptation/continuation written by Andrew Davies (Pride and Prejudice 1995) debuted last night in the US on Masterpiece PBS. Inspired by an unfinished novel that Austen began shortly before her death in 1817, Sanditon, the original novel, the television series, and the novelization by Kate Riordan, all share the same title. A tie-in novel based on a screenplay based on an uncompleted novel. That is six degrees of separation that is a challenge to get my mind around. Today we are reviewing the novelization!
A Heroine in the Making Comes to Sanditon
The story unfolds from the perspective of Charlotte Heywood, a young lady experiencing her first trip away from her family as a guest of the Parkers of Sanditon, an emerging seaside village on the Sussex coast. Mr. Parker and his business partner Lady Denham are the two entrepreneurs behind its redevelopment from a fishing village into a fashionable watering-place offering the therapeutic and curative benefits of sea-bathing. Mr. Parker has three siblings: Arthur and Diana, a comical pair who are obsessed with their health, and the mysterious Sidney, whose handsome portrait greeted Charlotte when she entered the Parker home. Lady Denham is a widow twice over whose heirs are circling in anticipation of her “ shuffle of this mortal coil,”: Sir Edward Denham and his sister Esther, and Clara Brereton, all young and eager to please their aunt to win her approval, and her fortune.
The Adventure Starts with Sea-Bathing
Every experience in Sanditon is a new adventure for Charlotte—seeing the ocean for the first time and meeting new people. Her first day after her arrival is spent sea-bathing, a bracing experience from the cold temperature of the ocean, and by the view of naked men bathing from an adjoining stretch of the beach. Later, while walking with Mrs. Parker to visit Lady Denham at Sanditon House, she sees Sir Edward and Clara together in the park engaging in an intimate activity that she is uncomfortable with. Inside, Charlotte is in awe of the splendor of the grand manor house. Everything about Sanditon and its residents is so different than her life as the daughter of a gentleman farmer.
A Hero and an Heiress Arrive
Sidney Parker arrives with a party of friends from London to attend Sanditon’s first ball. The assembly room is lively and full of dancers until Miss Georgiana Lambe arrives, a mixed-race heiress from the West Indies who many of the attendees are eager to meet. Charlotte enjoys the evening until she openly shares her decided opinion of Tom Parker with Sidney, which he takes offense to. In reaction, he strongly admonishes her for her quick judgment. Taken aback by his harsh words, Charlotte wonders if anyone or anything in Sanditon is as they appear?
Sorely Lacking in Cheeky Irony, Elegant Manners, and Tempered Civility
There have been several authors who have finished Austen’s last work with varying degrees of success. What I hoped to find in this new continuation was a complement to her style, humor, and romantic flair. Andrew Davies and his team of writers decided on a different tact. While all the characters and the settings have been incorporated into their story, they forgot about Austen’s delicate touch and sense of cheeky irony. Like Austen, many of Davies’ characters are maneuvering for money, rank, and or marriage, yet they do so with a different mindset. The most obvious is the hero Sidney Parker’s abrasive behavior toward Charlotte. Gone are elegant manners and tempered civility. A Regency gentleman would never repeatedly talk to a lady in a harsh manner, no matter what the offense.
“There was a silence. When Sidney spoke again, his voice had grown cold. ‘Upon my word, Miss Heywood, you are very free with your opinions.’
Charlotte was flustered; she had spoken freely, as was her way. ‘I beg your pardon- I did not mean to…’
‘Upon what experience of the world do you form your judgements?’ he interrupted her.
‘I –I …’
His lip curled. ‘Where have you been? Nowhere. What have you learnt? Nothing, it would seem. And yet you take it upon yourself to criticize. Let me put it to you, Miss Heywood: which is the better way to live? To sit in your father’s house with your piano and your embroidery, waiting for someone to come along and take you off your parents’ hands? Or to expend your energy in trying to make a difference—to leave your mark, to leave the world in a better state than you found it? That is what my brother Tom is trying to do, at the expense of a great deal of effort and anxiety, in a good cause in which I do my best to support and help him. And you see fit to amuse yourself at his expense?’” (p 47)
The Intrigues and Dalliances of a New Regency Society
It could be argued that the changes that have been made to the tone, manners, and attitudes of the residents of Sanditon cannot be compared to those in Austen’s previous novels. That she was moving in a new direction, and that the writers were embracing that spirit. If taken as a Jane Austen “what if” variation, Davies and company have created an interesting, dark look at the “intrigues and dalliances” of a new Regency society. Its joyous, impulsive, and unconventional heroine and it boorish, brash, and cruel hero could be the precursor to Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester. Once I was able to accept that this story was Austen fan fiction, I enjoyed this Brontesque take on her last unfinished work. Writer Kate Riordan did an excellent job turning a television script into a lively excursion through a Regency melodrama that although Austen did not finish herself, she might have found amusing.
4 out of 5 Stars
- Sanditon, by Jane Austen & Kate Riordan
- Grand Central Publishing (2019)
- Trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook (400) pages
- ISBN: 978-1538734681
- Genre: Austenesque, Regency Romance
We received a review copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for and honest review. Austenprose is an Amazon affiliate. Cover image courtesy of Grand Central Publishing © 2019; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2020, austenprose.com.