Author: Jane Austen
Genre: Literary Fiction / Classic
Published Date: 1817 (unfinished)
Why I wanted to read it: I am reading the book as part of Austen in August, but I’ve wanted to read more of Jane Austen’s work since reading Pride and Prejudice years ago.
Had Jane Austen lived to complete Sanditon, it would have been as treasured as her other novels. In the half-finished masterpiece, Austen fashions one of her classic heroines—Charlotte Heywood. The surviving fragment also sets the story well on its path as Charlotte begins an adventure to Sanditon where a full cast of characters becomes intertwined in various intrigues.
Note: The below statement is also on my review of The Watsons. Disregard if you’ve already read that review.
Before I get to my reviews, I need to write about unfinished work. I find it difficult to take writing for what it is like some people do if the work is unfinished. I start to question whether or not the author would want their work published when it’s unfinished, which makes me feel like I’m invading their privacy. A part of me doesn’t want to read the work while the other part is excited to see what the author’s writing looks like unedited and unfinished. We see books today that are edited several times and perfected before being allowed on the shelf, but with some of Austen work that isn’t always the case. Love and Freindship, for example, has many spelling and punctuation errors, but we love it because it shows us a young Jane using her early wit and cleverness to keep us interested despite these errors. I can look past the errors in most cases, but I have trouble looking past unfinished work. While I’m eager to soak up every word written by Austen, I am also now left wondering about what could have come from works like The Watsons and Sanditon. Perhaps it’s just me, but I find this rather irksome. Regardless, I put my personal opinion aside and rate the work as it is, not based on what it could be or what is lacking due to being unfinished.
Hypochondria at its best! I have a great fascination with hypochondriacs, and their presence in Sanditon alone makes me love the story and wish Austen had finished it. It’s difficult to be upset with her, though, considering the novel was put aside as her health was declining, followed by her death. There is a lot of question as to whether or not Austen was writing Sanditon as a way to deal with her own illness, to find humor in a serious issue. It’s somehow easier to poke fun at a serious issue when it’s happening to you, and I do believe that’s what Austen was attempting here and would have achieved brilliantly had the novel been finished.
The characters in the story go to Sanditon to get away from the old and start fresh in a place that is just as new as its inhabitants. Mr. Parker states that Sanditon is “the most favoured by nature, and promising to be the most chosen by man.” I wonder if this too relates to Austen’s dying. People oftentimes envision another place as their own personal heaven before passing away. Perhaps Sanditon was Austen’s own image of heaven, and that this was her farewell piece. Perhaps I’m going too far with such an idea, but thinking of the story reminds me of going to Neverland, which in itself is a form of heaven just as it’s a place to never grow up.
There appears to be a lot of confusion throughout the novel among the characters. The reputation of Sanditon is growing, and as more people become interested in the new town, it becomes less clear who actually knows what about Sanditon. It’s also clear that people talk about themselves a great deal when the content isn’t necessarily true. A couple examples of this are the hypochondriac Parker sisters as well as the gentleman who believes himself to be a “dangerous man” due to his being well-read in Gothic novels. Despite the humor of such characters, I have to admit that I’m more interested in the overall themes in this novel than I am the characters, but that could certainly come from the novel being unfinished.
While I generally shy away from unfinished work, I find myself most intrigued by Sanditon considering the autobiographical feel of Austen’s life. As I said with The Watsons, I think this work would have been added to the “big six” list had it been completed. Nevertheless, I will personally treasure it for both the content and its place in Austen’s life.
The more wine I drink (in moderation) the better I am.
Do you think Austen started Sanditon for reasons relating to her personal life, or do you think that it was because she simply had an idea for something different?