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Welcome to Sanditon: Your Home Away from Home by the Sea

Welcome back and thank you for returning to JASP’s series dedicated to exploring the abbreviated, abandoned, unfinished, and rough drafts of novels that were written by Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte. Our examination began with a perusal of Charlotte Bronte’s novel, The Professor, then briefly detoured into Bronte’s fragmented work entitled Emma. From there, we ventured into Jane Austen’s world, full of richly drawn portraits of characters including Miss Emma Watson and Mr. Tom Musgrave in the story of The Watsons. But for today, as a hearty conclusion to this series, we are focusing on Sanditon, the final work Austen ever penned.

Hello, friends and fellow Janeites.

            Many readers have heard of Jane Austen’s novel, Sanditon, either because it was her last great work—albeit unfinished—or because they are familiar with the television series, created by Andrew Davies, that delved deeper into the world she crafted. While Austen’s work only amounted to little more than 24,000 words and was considered to be about a fifth of the novel, the television series ran for three seasons, introducing beloved characters Austen herself produced as well as new ladies, gentlemen, and hardships for them to bear.


            The story begins with Mr. and Mrs. Parker’s driver suffering through a fit of annoyance at being asked to convey their carriage down a narrow pathway. After only traversing a small measure, the carriage overturns. Mr. Parker and his wife exit, and, in the process, Mr. Parker injures himself, spraining his foot. He is at once met by Mr. Heywood, the man who owns the only cottage in the area and is offered some form of remedy. Mr. Parker insists they fetch a surgeon, but there is not one to be had in Willingden. It is explained then that Mr. Parker and his wife came in this direction with the sole purpose of seeking the surgeon, but, after Mr. Heywood reviews the newspaper clippings that urged the Parkers onward, a minor mistake is pointed out. There is no surgeon in this small country town, but rather the surgeon is in Great Willingden. With those particulars settled, Mr. Parker determines they ought to leave at once, but Mr. Heywood insists he and his family members be permitted to aid Mr. Parker and tend to his foot. Mr. Parker accepts the hospitality and introduces himself. He speaks at length about his beloved home in Sanditon. It is a resort town, near the sea, and shall provide the perfect remedy for his injury. But the more he and Mr. Heywood discuss his home, the more excitable Mr. Parker becomes. Prompted by his movements, Mr. Heywood insists the Parkers allow the Heywoods to host them for some time, at least until something can be put on the injured leg, and eventually, Mr. Parker consents.

            Over the course of the next two weeks, while the Parkers stay with the Heywoods, and Mr. Parker has the chance to recuperate, the families become well-acquainted. The Parkers are polite, amiable people, with gregarious natures. Mr. Parker adores his family, including his siblings, wife, and children. But for him, the greatest pleasure he can derive from life is through the promotion of Sanditon. He longs to see the seaside town become a popular, fashionable resort, and at every turn, he speaks adoringly of the coast and the benefits of spending at least six weeks a year there. He tries to persuade Mr. and Mrs. Heywood to accompany him and his wife back to Sanditon, but they refuse the generous offer simply because they never leave home. They have fourteen children and have always favored staying home so that their brood might be at leisure to travel. It is because of this insistence on Mr. Parker’s part that someone from the Heywood family come to Sanditon and Mr. and Mrs. Heywood’s firm belief that they must stay at home that the eldest daughter of the Heywoods, Miss Charlotte, is asked to be Mr. and Mrs. Parker’s special guest. She must go to Sanditon, enjoy the salty sea air, and shop at the library for her sisters.

            Throughout the journey, Mr. Parker is inclined to speak of nothing but Sanditon and its inhabitants. Due to this natural affection for his town and its people, the reader is introduced to Lady Denham, Sir Edward Denham, his sister, Miss Denham, and their cousin, Miss Clara Brereton. Mr. Parker has nothing but kind words to say about the entire family and when he does mention Lady Denham’s one failing, that she might sometimes be too concerned with the status of her wealth and investments, he is quick to explain that having Clara Brereton as her companion has helped to soften her heart greatly. The closer they get to Sanditon, the further elated Mr. Parker becomes. He speaks fondly of his brother, Sidney. He and his wife would very much like Sidney to settle himself in Sanditon, as he is riotous good fun, but he is the one in the family who does as he pleases, almost always, and enjoys going about the world, traveling from one place to the next. When they finally reach Sanditon, Mr. Parker claims his ankle is already feeling better after just smelling the sea air and Charlotte takes in all his musings while smiling softly.

            At Trafalgar House, the home belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Parker, Charlotte is introduced to three of Mr. Parker’s siblings when he reads aloud a letter from his sister, Diana. She says they will not be coming to Sanditon this season and so, wishing to make Charlotte acquainted with his kin, Mr. Parker shares the missive. It seems that three of his siblings, Miss Diana, Miss Susan, and Mr. Arthur all have very sickly constitutions and while they appreciate their brother seeking out a physician who might attend them should they travel to Sanditon, they will not be making the journey. It seems more prudent to stay at home. Mr. Parker remarks that his brother, Sidney, would find this letter most amusing and present something in Diana’s words that would make them all laugh hysterically, but Tom is distressed. His sister is so good and kind and is going to send two large families to Sanditon for the season—which pleases Mr. Parker immensely.

            Just as the family is set to go for a walk, they come upon Lady Denham and Miss Brereton. During a brief meeting, matters of the town are discussed and Charlotte enjoys meeting Clara very much. When Mr. Parker relays his injury and how he obtained it because he went in search of a surgeon to bring back with him to Sanditon, Lady Denham speaks her mind quite liberally. She says she has lived seventy years without needing to see a doctor and believes her husband would’ve lived longer had he not allowed a doctor to attend him. She insists no surgeons be brought to Sanditon, and, for now, Mr. Parker does not prolong the debate. Later, Charlotte meets Sir Edward Denham and his sister, Miss Esther. The whole party walks along the cliffs together and Charlotte is not taken with the group at all. She finds Miss Esther to be cold and conceited, only turning on her charms when Lady Denham is nearby. Edward has a nice way of addressing and conversing, but Charlotte finds his musings trite and perhaps even rehearsed. Finally, she concludes that Lady Denham is mean-spirited. She mistreats all her relations and by her actions causes them to be flawed as well. Sir Edward has it in him to seduce ladies, especially ones who are deemed lovely, and he has set his sights on Clara Brereton.

            A few days later, Charlotte has the happy pleasure of making the acquaintance, in person, of Mr. Tom Parker’s siblings, Diana, Susan, and Arthur. They’ve come to Sanditon to act as messengers and to arrange matters for the family they mentioned bringing to town. Even though Diana claims to be ailing, she bustles about town, running many errands. Charlotte is impressed by her actions and surprised by all she is capable of accomplishing. She is equally thrilled to spend time with Susan and Arthur. The young man strikes her as being rather comical as she is sure all he needs in this world is a little exercise and fresh air. He is guaranteed to get plenty of both now that he is in Sanditon and the matters that drew his sister, Diana, to rush to town are handled quickly, as she realizes she was not able to secure the patronage of two families this season, but only one. Mrs. Griffiths is traveling with her charges, two Miss Beauforts and Miss Lambe. Their coming to Sanditon causes quite the sensation because of the Misses Beauforts vitality and youth and because Miss Lambe is just the sort of rich and sickly heiress Lady Denham was hoping might someday marry Sir Edward.

            Charlotte is occupied with the activities that absorb those who live in and are connected to Trafalgar House, but one day, she is prevailed upon by Mrs. Mary Parker to accompany her to Lady Denham’s place for tea. The excursion seems fraught, from the beginning, when Mr. Parker asks his wife to speak to Lady Denham about giving charity to people in town who are in need. But when he withdraws his request, seeing how uncomfortable it makes Mary to ask anything of Lady Denham, they embark upon their walk happily. A short time passes before Mary’s young daughter, who accompanied Charlotte and her mother on the walk, spies her uncle Sidney coming toward them. He makes a favorable enough impression on Charlotte because he is good-looking and converses easily with Mary and his niece. They go on to meet Lady Denham and that is when Charlotte catches Sir Edward and Clara in a private meeting. She wonders how difficult it must be for lovers to carry on in secret, but her musings are forgotten when she enters the house and is once again forced to converse with Lady Denham.

            Impressions and Overall Thoughts

            Just as Jane Austen wrote Northanger Abbey in a satirical attitude, with Sanditon, she sought to examine some of the more nonsensical, fashionable trends of the day. The seaside resort, like Sanditon, was certainly not a new notion, but during the early 1800s, retiring to the sea, and seeking fresh air and rejuvenation were common enough remedies recommended by London physicians. Along with that idea, Austen introduced the three youngest Parker siblings who suffered a great deal, even though all were hearty and hale enough when duty spurned them to action. The character of Diana, in particular, is explored in this section as she is both fatigued and seeking medical attention as she is capable of bounding around town, going here and there, making herself useful. It can be conjectured that Austen meant to create a loving if sardonic portrait of people who behaved in such a manner. And Sanditon would’ve been a greatly admired novel, both for its plot and pacing as it was for the descriptions of the burgeoning town and the eccentric people who would see it succeed.

            Sanditon is presented in a light-hearted sort of way, with a touch of good humor coloring the edges of the narrative playfully. In this first portion, nothing tragic occurs, and it may even put the reader in the mind of one of Shakespeare’s great comic plays. With characters who are often fabricated for the sole purpose of making the audience laugh, the reader sees Austen employ the same arts while introducing Arthur, Diana, and Susan Parker.

            The reader is left at the end of this passage wondering where Austen might have taken her characters next. Would they all have spent a charming summer season by the sea, relaxing in the waters, and indulging in a bit of bathing? Or would circumstances, particularly those brewing between Sir Edward Denham, Clara Brereton, and the not yet seen, but much talked of, Miss Lambe, have led to a love triangle?


            For those who are just as intrigued by Austen’s unfinished work as I was, consider watching PBS Masterpiece’s adaptation of the novel which bears the same name, Sanditon. There are three seasons, with the first hewing closely to Austen’s writing, establishing characters that are much like she created. The second and third seasons expand Charlotte Heywood’s story and continue to give life and breath to the trials and tribulations encountered by the others who live in Sanditon. Watch the trailers for Season One, Season Two, and Season Three, then determine for yourself if the show did Austen’s great, last work justice.



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