Although I’ve read all of Jane Austen’s novels twice, and some of them three times, I’d never heard of Sanditon so when a copy was on offer through the Library Thing Reviewer Program, I was a bit sceptical about it but thought I may as well apply.
I had forgotten all about it when the book finally arrived. It’s only 82 pages long because it’s an incomplete work. Austen was ill when she began writing it, and died before its completion. There is apparently another version of this book which ‘Another Lady’ has completed, but this edition is just the twelve chapters that Austen was able to finish, and a fifteen page introduction by a Professor A.C.Grayling.
Even though it’s been a while since I last read one of Austen’s novels – and I’m certainly not a scholar of her work, I think her style is unmistakeable, most notably for the subtlety of her humour. While her social observations are witty they are never caustic, and there is affection and tolerance for the foibles and follies she portrays.
Sanditon, however, seems a bit waspish. In describing Mrs Parker, ‘the properest wife in the world’ Austen goes on to say that she was ‘not of a capacity to supply the cooler reflection which her own husband sometimes needed, and so entirely waiting to be guided on every occasion that whether he was risking his fortune of spraining his ankle, she remained equally useless. (p13).
‘Useless’? That word seems uncharacteristic of Austen. It’s too blunt. I bet if she’d lived long enough to revise her work she would have chosen something less direct.
Then there’s Lady Denham. She was ‘born to wealth but not to education’ (p17). Again this seems not quite right. Apart from lacking that characteristic subtlety, it doesn’t make sense: how can anyone be ‘born to’ education? What’s more, this comment goes nowhere. There’s no witty example of this lack of education, but rather a rather cynical explanation of the lady’s acquisition of additional wealth and a title through her marriages.
There are other examples, but I think I’ve made my point. It’s not just that the story isn’t finished, it’s also that the revisions and rewritings weren’t done. And they needed to be.
I don’t want to criticise Jane Austen, and I’m not saying the book shouldn’t have been published, but I think it’s being marketed to satisfy Austenmania. In my opinion Sanditon may be of interest to scholars, but it will disappoint Austen’s fans looking for more of what they love. My advice would be to re-read the finished novels instead.
Author: Jane Austen
Publisher: Hesperus 2009
Source: Library Thing Early Reviewer’s Program
Cross posted at http://www.librarything.com/work/801786/book/55207832