Sanditon is the novel Jane Austen was working on when she died. I believe she started writing it in January 1817 and wrote 11 or 12 chapters before stopping in March 1817, either because she got sick of the story or became too ill to continue. Jane Austen died 18 July 1817.
The story was not published until 1925, but the version I read had been completed by ‘Another Lady’ and published in 1975. I look forward to finding similar continuations by other authors to see where they take the story.
Jane Austen sets up the story with a husband and wife, Mr and Mrs Parker, travelling on a poor country road when their carriage overturns. The Heywood family come to their rescue and insist on the Parkers staying with them until Mr Parker’s injured ankle has recovered. Once it has, the Parkers continue to their home at Sanditon, taking with them Charlotte Heywood.
Sanditon is Mr Parker’s pride and joy. Old Sanditon is a small village near to the sea, although it is tucked away and protected from wild weather. New Sanditon, where the Parkers live, is right on the sea and Mr Parker has the intention of turning the town into a fashionable seaside resort with the assistance of Lady Denham, a wealthy neighbour.
A number of characters are introduced, including Miss Brereton, who is beautiful, young and poor and a much put-upon companion to Lady Denham, Sir Edward, who is Lady Denham’s nephew, a handful of other young women on the lookout for a husband, and more of the Parker family, including Mr Sidney Parker, who Charlotte found to have “a decided air of ease and fashion and a lively countenance.” Mr Sidney Parker is also exactly the right age to emerge as the hero.
The Parker family are the funniest group of hypochondriacs ever written about. A letter read aloud by Mr Parker from his sister had me in stitches. The letter told all about everybody’s ailment; poor Susan had been suffering from the headache, and when ten leeches a day didn’t help, her sister Diana, the letter writer, convinced Susan the problem was with her gums, and so she had three teeth pulled. Diana advised that Susan’s “nerves are a good deal deranged. She can only speak in a whisper and fainted away twice this morning on poor Arthur’s trying to supress a cough.” I know Jane Austen meant for me to laugh until I cried when I read this.
Jane Austen’s work finished with Charlotte visiting Lady Denham, and reflecting on the irony of a large portrait over the fireplace of her second husband, (Lady Denham became a ‘Lady’ when they married), and a tucked away miniature of her first husband, Mr Hollis, from whom she got all of her money. In Charlotte’s words, “Poor Mr Hollis! It was impossible not to feel I’m hardly used: to be obliged to stand back in his own house and see the best place by the fire constantly occupied by Sir Henry Denham.”
We will never know where Jane Austen would have taken the story of Sanditon next. Plenty of characters had been introduced, Charlotte was clearly the heroine and there were some interesting events ticking away in the background. If Mr Sidney Parker wasn’t to be the hero, there was the promise of some friends of his arriving soon.
‘Another Lady’ continued the story quite well. There were a few red herrings regarding relationships (Emma set the precedent with Jane Fairfax and Mr Churchill), a villain who behaviour was far more melodramatic than any of Jane Austen’s own villains (think Mr Wickham from Pride and Prejudice, Mr Willoughby from Sense and Sensibility, Henry Crawford from Mansfield Park or John Thorpe from Northanger Abbey) and several characters who were quite nasty (Lady Catherine de Bourgh from Pride and Prejudice, Mr and Mrs Eton from Emma with a special mention to Mrs Norris from Mansfield Park).
The story finished on a high note with all of the mysteries being satisfactorily resolved and all of the appropriate couples either coming out into the open or realising their love for each other, although my biggest complaint about ‘Another Lady’ is that Charlotte and her hero went on and on and on about how much they loved each other once they finally got to that point. Seriously, they ‘lovey-dovey’ bits went on for pages, with Charlotte and her chap telling each other when they first realised they loved each other and how they thought that the other person did not love them, and how much they loved each other, and so on (and on and on and on, as I already said). Jane Austen would never have done that. Once her happy couples had no more misunderstandings about their feelings for each other, she politely left them on the page and in our imagination.
‘Another Lady’ continued the story in a good match to Jane Austen’s style and language. It wasn’t really obvious to me that the story had been finished by someone else other than a few clunky sections and the ‘lovey-dovey’ ending.
I’m sure other readers would agree with me when I say that if any more of Jane Austen’s works were ever to be found, it would be a dream come true.