Saturday, 2 January 2016


Jane Austen never ceases to surprise me.
Reading Sanditon, I thought of The Watsons and Virginia Woolf's comment "... the stiffness and the bareness of the first chapters prove that she was one of those writers who lay their facts out rather baldly in the first version and then go back and back and back and cover them with flesh and atmosphere...", only to realise that Sanditon's not so bare. Indeed, the writing is not very polished, and there are superfluous remarks that could and would have been removed (for example, she doesn't have to say that the 3 Parkers' ailments are imaginary, which we can see for ourselves, and she often says enough), reminiscent of the abundant comments and unnecessary explanations I see in Trimalchio that aren't in The Great Gatsby, and yet it doesn't really look like a rough draft, and doesn't look like it was written by a dying person (I mean, look at the sentences!). 
I was also expecting something different. After a melancholy, autumnal work like Persuasion comes a satire of hypochondriacs, hypocrites and fortune hunters? That feels odd. I know, I know, after publishing the bright, light and sparkling Pride and Prejudice, she created an opposite of Elizabeth Bennet to be her heroine, and created an anti-heroine superficially similar to Elizabeth; after the sombre work Mansfield Park, she returned to comedy with Emma; after the sparkling Emma, she wrote a novel sadder than anything she'd ever written. What feels strange is that Persuasion is melancholy and passionate and romantic, and Jane Austen seemed to be going in another direction. Now I read Sanditon, and she in a sense goes in yet another direction, writing about the verbal construction of a town and people's reactions towards change; in another sense goes back to her early self, goes back to comedy and satire, to depicting, mocking and making fun of ridiculous, affected people. The ridiculous characters in Persuasion are pushed far into the background, pale, insignificant, more forgettable than such characters in previous works, as the focus is entirely on the story of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth. In Sanditon, at least in the draft we have today, the caricatures are prominent. Whilst The Watsons is clearly a story of Emma Watson, Sanditon doesn't quite look like a story of Charlotte Heywood (or the Parker brothers).  
Another interesting thing is that Jane Austen seems to expand her scope beyond love/ courtship stories. If in Persuasion, she mentions war, deals with change in society and writes about old money vs new money, in Sanditon she again takes up the theme of changes in society and writes about the construction of a seaside town, a bathing place. 
Sanditon takes me aback, so to speak. It's different, there are so many things in it, and the story can develop in any direction, I wonder how Sanditon might have turned out if Jane Austen had been able to complete it. 


  1. You have yet another interesting posting, and I always enjoy reading your offerings. You've reminded me that I simply must included Jane Austen in my 2016 reading plans. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. Di,

    While I was unhappy to discover The Watsons was unfinished, I was really dismayed after reading the fragment of _Sanditon_. She really seemed to be going in a different direction, and the fragment was too small to even guess at where it was going. (sigh)

  3. The butter scene is by itself a masterpiece. A great shame that we lost this novel; good luck that we have the fragment.

  4. Tim,
    Thank you. And yes, you must.

    Fred and Tom,
    Indeed. The butter scene is hilaaarious. I also love that scene when Charlotte is walking towards the house and sees a lady she doesn't recognise, and tries to reach the house 1st, but the strange lady also walks faster and faster, and turns out to be Mr Parker's invalid sister.