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Madison Book Club: "Sanditon" by Jane Austen

This post is contributed by Phyllis Menne, VP Madison.

The Madison members’ gathering to discuss Sanditon was like no other Austen tea, as we were cognizant that this was Austen’s last work before her death. One can suggest that Sanditon was her own eulogy to her readers.

We discussed several continuations or adaptations, including Marie Dobbs’ Sanditon by Jane Austen and Another Lady (1975). Dobbs’ version of Charlotte Heywood does not disappoint; her emotional, engaging observations and struggle to control her feeling for irresistible Sidney are transparent to the reader. Dobbs is vindicated by giving the reader a viable Austen resolution when Sidney comes to rescue Charlotte only after Charlotte res-cues herself. The transition from Austen to her continuation was seamless, only noted at the end of her book, “An Apology from the Collaborator.” Given that we could not tell on our own, we thought it was a good interpretation of Austen. It kept my interest throughout except the part near the end.

Dobbs’ adaption of Sanditon is the basis of the new 8-episode film on PBS in January withAndrew Davies as screenwriter. Liz Cooper discussed the upcoming film and showed the trailer. She reported that Davies’ interpretation is beyond Austen, with more sex scenes, nudity, and slavery. The film follows Austen’s Sanditon in the beginning, then it becomes Davies’s writing.

Sandra Rutherford read Julietta Shapiro’s A Completion of Sanditon: Jane Austen’s Unfinished Novel published in 2003, which uses many of Austen’s tropes, including overheard conversations and rejected proposals. I thought the introduction of the doctor's nurse, Maisie, did not seem like Jane Austen, except it was similar to the poor friend in Persuasion, Mrs. Smith, in that they both had information about other characters. Overall, the version was a nice read, similar enough to Jane Austen that you could enjoy the book. I am looking forward to comparing it to another version.

According to Mary Gaither Marshall, the unfinished manuscript of 24,000 words was first published in 1825 by James Edward Austen-Leigh and summarized in his second edition of his A Memoir of Jane Austen. The manuscript was published in full in 1925, edited by R.W. Chapman. Later, the manuscript was donated to King’s College, Cambridge, available in facsimile on the website Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts. Cassandra Austen’s written copy is at Jane Austen’s House Museum.

The incomplete continuation by Jane Austen’s niece, Jane Anne Austen Lefroy, was virtually unknown until Sotheby’s auction in 1977. Alice Cobbett’s Somewhat Lengthened, A development of “Sanditon” (1932) was the first published attempt at continuation, but very limited copies are available. Cobbett used Austen’s basic characters and general story lines. The second published attempt was Dobbs’, discussed above. Gaither Marshall stated that Austen’s 11 1/2 chapters defined the characters, but the “direction of the plot was not clear, thus making it difficult for any future writer to con-clude the work.”

After 2000, Gaither Marshall separated the continuations into the professional authors and self-publishers. Julia Barrett, wrote Jane Austen’s Charlotte: Her Fragment of a Lost Novel, Completed (2002). Gaither Marshall states that this novel has numerous characters and is melodramatic. Reginald Hill, a well established author, published The Price of Butcher’s Meat (2008) in England. The title is drawn from the first chapter of Sanditon, and this adaptation of 500 pages is part of Hill’s mystery series. Another professional author (dual Wisconsin and Ohio member), Carrie Bebris, wrote The Suspicion at Sanditon (Or, the Disappearance of Lady Denham): A Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mystery (2015).

After 2000, Austen fan fiction published on the web becomes too numerous to list. See Gaither Marshall’s article for specific authors.


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