Review: Sanditon by Jane Austen (#AustenInAugustRBR)

Sanditon by Jane Austen
Final Verdict: 3.75 out of 4.0
YTD: 31

Sanditon, though unfinished, is perhaps Austen’s most exciting, unusual, and promising piece of literature.  Unlike The Watsons, whose plot and ending can be relatively inferred, Sanditon is quite different from any of her other stories and could probably have followed a variety of paths, so predicting its resolution is difficult to do.   The story’s heroine, Charlotte Heywood, is a somewhat-exaggeratedly sensible young woman.  She comes to the small coastal tourist town of Sanditon upon the urgings and guardianship of its proprietor, who is attempting to build the town’s reputation. The rest of the story’s cast are also exaggerated, but in different ways, most of them being comic caricatures – folks obsessed with false ailments, shoddy business ventures, tourism, and the like.  The story is ultimately not about the characters, though; in fact, it is much more similar to Austen’s early work than her later, in that it exaggerates characterization to elevate a larger theme and, in this case, the major theme is the town of Sanditon itself and what that town represents for its inhabitants and visitors (the spirit of change). 

The majority of the characters in Sanditon are somehow dealing with the theme of health/illness. The main character scoffs at the many ailments of siblings Diana, Susan, and Arthur Parker, all of whom seem to be perpetually suffering from and taking medication (if you can call tonics and “asse’s milk” medication) for various laughable illnesses (although Arthur, for the most part, seems to know he is not truly sick – he just enjoys the many opportunities to be lazy and gluttonous).  There is also a genuinely ill character introduced near the “end”, Miss Lambe, who is under constant medical supervision and care.  Austen, it seems, might have been putting a bit of herself into Miss Lambe – her story seems to be an attempt at two things: 1st, mocking those who pretend to be ill and who seek out the various cockamamie “cures” that would go in-and-out of vogue (Austen’s mother was a hypochondriac, so this could have been a playful jab at her, too); and 2nd, a brave expose about Austen’s own ailments – perhaps a somewhat autobiographical “sea bath,” which allowed Austen to face her dying days with a sense of courage and a sense of humor.

As would be expected, the prose, style, and structure of Sanditon are masterful.  Everything has a place and purpose.  Unlike most, if not all, of Austen’s other works – Sanditon is a fresh, new town.  It is not an old mansion, in need of repair (Mansfield Park), nor is it a crumbling, haunted priory (Northanger Abbey).  It does not take place in settled old rural areas (Pride and Prejudice), but, instead, near the fresh, invigorating seaside.  Although the setting is new, Austen still makes sure to amply describe its various areas and even the names of houses and other locations; in this regard, she approaches description in very much the same way as she has done in the past.  Her language is fluid as always and the dialogue is often the best, funniest element – it allows for better understanding of the characters and also moves the action of the plot along in interesting ways.

Sanditon was Jane Austen’s final composition.  She was working on it in the spring of 1817, and her last notes on the manuscript were dated just months before the day she died on July 18th, 1817.  Austen had been dying of Addison’s disease, her health deteriorated rapidly, so it is very interesting and appropriate that one of the primary themes of Sanditon is health and hypochondria. As a story, it was bound to be interesting and unique, had it been finished; unfortunately, what little there is of it is not quite as entertaining and “Austen-esque” as her other incomplete novel, The Watsons.  Fans of Austen’s traditional, completed novels would likely be more drawn to the latter than the former, but in terms of innovation, importance, and ultimate literary impact (not to mention autobiographical import), Sanditon likely would have held the trump card, had both novels been finished.


Sanditon is Book #4 Completed for Austen in August

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19 thoughts on “Review: Sanditon by Jane Austen (#AustenInAugustRBR)

    • You haven’t!? That’s terrible! Just kidding – I hadn’t even heard of it until about a year ago, when I learned about all of Austen’s unfinished works and juvenilia. I enjoyed The Watsons more, but I think this one would have turned out to be very important, especially because it is so much different from anything else she had done. It’s also incredibly interesting when read in the context of Austen writing it while she was dying – adds another element to the story.

  1. I can’t wait to read this now! I’ve been hesitating on her unfinished works but this review made me really excited to read both Sanditon and The Watsons 🙂

    • I’m glad! I’m always hesitant about reading uninished works, but (as I mention in my review for The Watsons), they sometimes end up being favorites! Entertainment-wise, The Watsons is the way to go, but in terms of literary interest, Sanditon is very, very intriguing.

  2. I love autobiography. So this one might really work for me. (I know you mean “autobiography” in concept, but I like that it’s perhaps a peek into what was happening in Austen’s “room of her own”, while she was writing…)

    • I think you might also enjoy how different it is from all of her other material. I found it fascinating to look at her earliest “adult” work (Lady Susan) and her latest, Sanditon, and not only compare the two, but think of them in relation to her six completed novels, all of which are relatively similar in theme and execution. The two “book end” works are quite different from the rest!

  3. I think there have been many continuations of Sanditon over the years although I’ve never read one. I think I dread having one of my favorite works stained with inferior writing, or a favorite character doing some stupid thing Austen would never have him/her do. There are some authors who can imitate Jane Austen, but none have that exact magic, her unexpected humor, her edgy comedy.

    There are so many things I love about those few chapters. Charlotte is a great, more mature heroine, sensible and a people watcher, like Elizabeth Bennet. She’s completely without Elizabeth’s pertness, so don’t expect that, but Charlotte is a more honed people watcher. She can zero-in and come to the true essence of a person very quickly, and she seems quite amused with what she finds. It makes for an entertaining heroine!

    Sidney Parker, the likely hero of Sanditon, promised to be a delight. There is so little of him that I almost despair, but the one meeting between he and Charlotte, when he finally deigns to come into town near the very end of the writing, is very formal, very polite. But the hints of him prior, when his brother Thomas (with whose family Charlotte is a guest) drops little “And Sidney says…” into a conversation, shows him with the greatest sense of humor. It amazes me what a master Jane Austen was with that complex method of character building. Thomas was a “straight man” relaying Sidney’s opinions literally, having no idea that what he was repeating was Sidney’s vast amusement with a subject. But the reader knows! Sidney is the only really sane sibling in the bunch of Parkers. There are hypochondriacs (the sisters Susan and Diana), lazy bum (youngest brother Arthur) and one-track-mind real estate promoter (brother Thomas Parker). hah! I do love the Parkers so much!

    If you’re a Jane Austen lover, particularly a lover of her more comedic writings, you are missing a treat if you haven’t read Sanditon four or five times.

  4. I’ve never wanted to try her unfinished works because..well because they are unfinished! 😉 I think I assumed they would leave me feeling unfulfilled. But your last reviews have shown me the light! Thanks!

    • I totally agree. For me, I hate reading unfinished series, etc, because I can’t wait years to see how they end – instant gratification and all that. This would be a wait without end, ever!! But, per the comments here, I will give it a shot!!!

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