Posted by: Lisa Hill | January 24, 2010

Sanditon, by Jane Austen

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
Title: Sanditon
Publisher: Hesperus 2009
ISBN: 9781843911845
Source: Library Thing Early Reviewer’s Program

Cross posted at http://www.librarything.com/work/801786/book/55207832


Responses

  1. All this is fair enough … and it possibly is being marketed to satisfy Austenmania as other scholarly editions are available, including most recently in the gorgeous but expensive Cambridge University Press’s Later manuscripts. Then a gain, a new reasonably priced version that has not been “finished” might be a boon for new enthusiasts who are not scholars but have a deeper interest than the “maniacs” many of whom only know her through the films/TV.

    Austen was known to sit on many of her ms for a long time and to rework them, so it is extremely likely as you suggest that this would have looked highly different in its final form. That said, we non-scholar enthusiasts, love to have it, love to talk about where Jane was going with it and its heralding of some new subject matter/settings. For us, it’s better than nothing!

    • *chuckle* Yes, I saw on the Library Thing and other social reading sites that there are many who are happy to read it, because they’re keen to read *anything* by JA, or about JA, or even those travesties about zombies and JA. I guess I’m a purist, and although if I were a scholar, I would be interested in Sanditon from an academic POV in the ways that you suggest, as a reader I prefer my authors to have ‘authorised’ the work, so to speak, that is, to have offered it to the reading public in the final form that they – and their editors – are content with. Just think how awful it would be if some young reader – or someone who’s only seen the film adaptations – chose Sanditon as their first Austen (because it’s not too long)! When I write, not stuff for my blog, because blogs are by nature ephemeral, there is such a difference between the crude outline (which is what Sanditon is, IMO) and the finished product that I would die of shame if any of those drafts made it into public view. Quite often when we write, we put something down quickly because we need to get what comes after written before the muse departs. So vocabulary is awful – blunt, crude, simplistic, facile; names – in my case anyway – are often the real names of the people who are to be transformed in the final version; and grammar is clumsy – sentences are too long, too passive, too pompous, too ordinary and so on – because at plot level a writer isn’t refining the language that will (hopefully) bewitch the reader with its loveliness. IMO these versions should never see the light of day, or if they do, they should be available to readers as the ‘papers of the author’ not as books in the marketplace.

  2. In reply to Roger Cramp’s comment which somehow found its way to my Review and Comments policy page instead of here:

    To each his own, Roger, and as a long-standing reader of Jane Austen I think I may offer an opinion about the Sanditon MS without it being called ‘out-of-line’. Books and authors are a matter of taste, and while I liked all Austen’s finished novels, I didn’t like this one, took no pleasure in reading it, and have explained why.

  3. […] Lisa at ANZLL reviews (the unfinished) Sanditon here. […]


Please share your thoughts and join the conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: