Sir Edward’s great object in life was to be seductive. — With such personal advantages as he knew himself to possess, and such talents as he did also give himself credit for, he regarded it as his duty. — He felt that he was formed to be a dangerous man — quite in the line of the Lovelaces. — The very name of Sir Edward he thought, carried some degree of fascination with it. — To be generally gallant and assiduous about the fair, to make fine speeches to every pretty girl, was but the inferior part of the character he had to play.
(from Sanditon in Lady Susan, The Watsons, and Sanditon, page 191)
Jane Austen was writing Sanditon when she fell ill, beginning the manuscript on January 17, 1817, ending chapter 12 on March 18, 1817, and dying on July 18, 1817, at the age of 41 without having finished it. It’s sad that we’ll never know Austen’s plans for her characters, an eccentric bunch that I found very amusing.
Sanditon opens with a carriage accident. Mr. Thomas Parker, intent on finding a doctor for Sanditon — the fishing village he hopes to turn into a bustling seaside resort — has driven the carriage on an impassible road. And come to find out, he and his wife are in the wrong Willingden — the Willingden without a doctor. The Parkers are taken in by the Heywoods so Mr. Parker can recover from a twisted ankle, and the new friendship prompts the Parkers to take the young Charlotte Heywood — the likely heroine of the novel — to see the progress being made in Sanditon.
In Sanditon, Charlotte meets a host of entertaining people, including Lady Denham, a twice married woman (the first time for money, the second time for a title) reminiscent of Lady Catherine in Pride and Prejudice and Thomas Parker’s partner in developing Sanditon; Sir Edward Denham, who rambles on about poetry and novels and views himself as a seducer of women; Diana, Susan, and Arthur Parker, Thomas’ hypochondriac siblings; and Sydney Parker, Thomas’ fashionable younger brother who probably would have emerged as the hero. Austen was brilliant when it came to providing humorous social commentary. In this novel, she juxtaposes characters who favor the old way with characters who favor development and showcases hypochondriacs alongside those whose health actually is poor enough to benefit from the seaside air.
Sanditon had the potential to be a great novel. Charlotte could have been as wise and strong a heroine as Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice. Sydney Parker hardly makes an appearance, so who knows whether he would have given Mr. Darcy a run for his money. Some of the characters were so exaggerated and ridiculous (Sir Edward and Diana, in particular) that I nearly laughed out loud, and to be honest, when I got to the end of chapter 12 and the book ended abruptly, I was sad. I’d grown attached to these characters in just a handful of pages, and the story hadn’t been developed enough for me to guess how things might have played out. I’m glad I knew in advance that the novel was unfinished, and I’m not sorry I read it. In fact, I think it is a worthwhile read for any Austen fan.
Disclosure: Sanditon is from my personal library.
© 2010 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.