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‘Sanditon’ 101: What to know before the PBS series airs

“Sanditon” — the latest Jane Austen period adaptation to make its way from across the pond — hits the airwaves in the States on Jan. 12. Are you ready? Here’s what you need to know.

The premise: Created by Andrew Davies (yes, the man behind the 1995 “Pride and Prejudice” and other Austen adaptations), the series centers on Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams), a spirited young woman who finds herself in Sanditon, a seaside town with big ambitions to become a popular resort. During her stay, she encounters the unpredictable Sidney Parker (Theo James) and a cast of characters who will surely impact her life.

Five things to know

  1. Written in 1817, “Sanditon” is Jane Austen’s last, unfinished novel.

  2. Originally called “The Brothers,” it centered on the Parker brothers: Tom, Sidney and Arthur. 

  3. The 11-chapter fragment also features Austen’s only black character, Georgiana, a West Indies heiress. 

  4. Few knew much about the “Sanditon” novel until it was published in 1925. 

  5. There have been numerous attempts to complete the novel. A new completion by Kate Riordan is being released in conjunction with the TV series.

Historical context

Travel: In Jane Austen’s lifetime, traveling over water was more efficient, but many people traveled over land in coaches. If you were rich, you had your own carriage, but most rode in stagecoaches with fellow travelers — and the going was slow. Travel by coach from London to Margate, a seaside resort town like the fictional Sanditon, could take about two days in good weather. (Today by car, London to Margate is about 90 minutes, according to Google Maps.)

Seaside resorts: The Regency saw the rise in popularity of the seaside resort, which attracted those in the upper and middle classes. Many flocked to the shore for their health, on doctors’ orders. A physician named Richard Russell extolled the advantages of sea bathing and drinking sea water to cure or ward against illness. The popularity of resorts can also be attributed in part to the Prince Regent, who favored the seaside town of Brighton, where he built his exotic Pavilion. [See our primer on Brighton here.]

Jane Austen’s holidays: Austen was no stranger to the seaside. She herself visited a few towns on the southern coast of England, including Worthing, Eastbourne, Totnes and Bognor Regis. 

“Sanditon” premieres on PBS on Jan. 12; check local listings for times. The companion book “The World of Sanditon,” which explores Austen’s novel as well as the production of the TV series, is out now.


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