Sanditon: Jane Austen's Last Novel CompletedA gentleman and a lady travelling from Tunbridge towards that part of the Sussex coast which lies between Hastings and Eastbourne, being induced by business to quit the high road and attempt a very rough lane, were overturned in toiling up its long ascent, half rock, half sand.

This version of Sanditon has been completed by an author who styles herself merely “Another Lady”, just like Austen was “A Lady”. Although Goodreads says that her name is Anne Telscombe. In any case, I read the original fragment of Sanditon fairly recently along with Lady Susan and The Watsons. I knew that there was a completion of the novel out there, and I managed to get my hands on it. I was curious to see how the events would play out. Here’s a plot summary of Sanditon: “Written in the last months of Austen’s life, the uncompleted novel Sanditon is set in a newly established seaside resort, with a glorious cast of hypochondriacs and speculators,and shows the author contemplating a changing society with a mixture of scepticism and amusement.”Here is the summary for the completed version: Charlotte the Heywood, captivating heroine of Sanditon, is smart, beautiful, and in search of a husband. As in all of Austen’s novels, however, the road to matrimony is littered with obstacles: Charlotte must escape the clutches of an insufferable suitor, deal with the fortune-hunting schemes of the reigning local dowager, and outsmart a bevy of ambitious beauties who have set their sights on the charming Sidney Parker — and convince the fickle young man that he really loves her.” As you can see, these are two very different summaries, emphasizing very different things. 

Here were my thoughts on Sanditon when I read the original: “I loved Sanditon just as much as Lady Susan and The Watsons. It’s so short though, and now I definitely want to read the edition completed by “another lady”. Though it wouldn’t be legit. You know what I’m talking about, right? The end isn’t written by Austen, so it’s not “real”…even though none of it is real. Still, I loved the  characters in Sanditon; they really came to life. Once again, the commentary was illuminating. Austen was basically dying while she wrote Sanditon, so it’s really not surprising that health is a major topic in the book. But it’s treated differently than you might expect. Jane Austen mocks the many hypochondriacs in this book.”

“Another Lady” takes over in the middle of the eleventh chapter. The transition on page 73 is pretty seamless, I have to say. The second authoress imitates Austen’s style, and completes the novel pretty well. Charlotte does turn out to be a little less level-headed and the events more sensational than I think Austen intended, but still, the novel was entertaining, and it had an ending! (Obviously). Indeed, I sometimes forgot that I was no longer reading Jane Austen. Still, I am a bit uneasy about the fact that none of the rest of it is “authentic”. I mean, it’s all fiction, but the part not written by Austen isn’t part of the canon, I suppose you would say. It was still really good though.

Having just read Vanity Fair (though I published my review a few weeks ago), I was able to see the many differences between the two books, though they are set in basically the same time period. Vanity Fair is of course a satire, making its tone more mocking. Austen likes to be playful too, but not in the same way. The second really major difference is that there are so many references in Vanity Fair to things that the modern reader does not know about (hence, extensive footnotes must be read). Whereas there’s not much of that in Austen. There are some references, but definitely not 40 in a chapter, as sometimes happens in Vanity Fair. Only 1 or 2 or possibly 3 at most. You don’t even really need to read the footnotes to understand most of the story. Austen does make reference to a lot of popular novels at the time. A semi-related thing is that Austen’s books are all set during the war with Napoleon, but although there are many officers, the war is never mentioned at all. It plays a very major part in Vanity Fair. So that’s a huge difference.

Sanditon is seemingly not the most exciting of Austen’s novels, but it was really interesting to see how “Another Lady” developed the characters and their complex, subtle relationships with one another. I was also really gripped by the story and couldn’t put it down. As Charlotte observes, “It was so very clearly not what it appeared on the surface.” (pg. 81). And that’s the best thing about this novel and all of Austen’s novels for that matter; it’s very clearly not just what it seems on the surface. The cast of characters, the dialogue, everything in Sanditon is deeper than it appears.

Speaking of quotes, there were a lot that I bookmarked to add to this review. Here are some of them:

They never fail me. Women are the only correspondents to be depended on.” (pg. 25), said by Mr. Parker. I’m not sure if that’s true, but it is interesting.

(Charlotte thinking about Lady Denham, the great lady of Sanditon): “She is thoroughly mean. I had not expected anything so bad. Mr Parker spoke too mildly of her. His judgement is evidently not to be trusted. His own good nature misleads him. He is too kind-hearted to see clearly. I must judge for myself. And their very connection prejudices him. He has persuaded her to engage in the same speculation, and because their object in that line is the same, he fancies she feels like him in others. But she is very, very mean. I can see no good in her. Poor Miss Brereton! And she makes everybody mean about her. This poor Sir Edward and his sister – how far nature meant them to be respectable I cannot tell – but they are obliged to be mean in their servility to her. And I am mean, too, in giving her my attention with the appearance of coinciding with her. Thus it is, when rich people are sordid.” (pgs. 44-45). It was mainly the last sentence that I was intrigued by, but one needs the whole paragraph for context.

Here’s more of a humorous quote. “‘I hope you like dry toast’ (said Arthur Parker). ‘With a reasonable quantity of butter spread over it, very much,’ said Charlotte, ‘but not otherwise.'” (pg. 61).

An interesting one: “‘Very few of us lack superficial faults and we must rely on each other’s kindness to overlook them.’ (said Charlotte). ‘But people take such trouble with their faults and go to such lengths to make them fascinating to others that it  is really very unkind to overlook them,’ protested Sidney. ‘They would much rather be laughed at than politely ignored.’ Charlotte could not help smiling at so light-hearted a view…” (pg. 97).

“‘…but I feel Sir Edward’s company is best partaken of sparingly, in small doses – say at half-hour intervals.'” (pg. 116, said by Sidney Parker).

“‘People vary so much that I find it both dull and pointless to discuss them except as individuals.'” (pg. 117, also said by Sidney Parker).

The next time I read another Austen novel, I’ll probably find some amazing quotes to feature. There’s no shortage of them, and there were many more from the later parts of Sanditon. As is probably obvious, the “said Arthur Parker” and the “said Charlotte” were not in the book. I just added them so that the quotes could be less confusing.

This one was not a thrilling novel at first, though I ended being really absorbed by it, but it is certainly interesting, and “Another Lady” finished it well. If you enjoy Jane Austen, this is an excellent book to read, portraying a changing society with “a mixture of scepticism and amusement.” I loved it.

Read Sanditon:

  • if you like Jane Austen
  • if you like British literature
  • if you like stories of changing societies

312 pages.

 
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!
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