23/07/2009

SANDITON: JANE AUSTEN'S UNFINISHED MASTERPIECE COMPLETED

Had Jane Austen lived to complete "Sanditon," it would undoubtedly be as famous and treasured as her other novels. But unfinished at her death, the masterpiece has remained mysterious and overlooked. Now, author Juliette Shapiro has completed "Sanditon" in a vivid style recognizable to any Austen fan. This is what this edition of SANDITON by Jane Austen and Juliette Shapiro, (Ulysses Press, 2009) announces in its back cover. This is the first book I decided to read for the EVERYTHING AUSTEN CHALLENGE.

I made up my mind to read Jane’s fragment of Sanditon (12 chapters) first in the original version I’ve got in my edition of her MINOR WORKS (including also LADY SUSAN and THE WATSONS). Then I went on reading what Sanditon has become in J. Shapiro’s hands and imagination.
You all probably know that Jane was seriously ill when she wrote the opening chapters of Sanditon; she had less than six months to live. It is thus remarkable that the book is so fresh, innovative, and original. In her last completed novel, Persuasion, Austen had depicted how men of merit and small means could rise to affluence and position by means of service in the British navy. Sanditon builds on this theme, depicting the commercial development of a small watering place and the social confusion of its society (one character is a mulatto heiress from the West Indies, Miss Lambe).


DEIRDRE LA FAYE ON SANDITON
Before writing about my impressions of this edition of Austen’s last achievement, I’ll try to give you some more information taken from my precious Deirdre La Faye , JANE AUSTEN – The World of her Novels, pp. 298 -307.
It was intended to be a long wickedly comical tale concerning a group of seaside residents, some hopeful, some foolish, some cunning, but all interested in making money by developing their little local fishing village into a smart holiday resort. These twelve chapters introduce a long list of characters, abd end with the first indication of some kind of intrigue between two of them, but after the date of March 18 at the top of the last page, the rest of it is blank .
The protagonist is Charlotte, a tall and very pleasing young woman of two and twenty, the eldest of the daughters at home, who travels to Sanditon with Mr Parker, who had happened to be involved in a carriage accident just near her house and had stopped there as a guest with his wife waiting to recover . Jane Austen does not , in this fragment, give any description of Charlotte Heywood’s appearance, but in real life she knew a Charlotte Williams, daughter of one of the Hampshire clergy and wrote to Cassandra in 1813: “I admire the Sagacity & Taste of Charlotte Williams. Those large dark eyes always judge well. – I will compliment her, by naming a Heroine after her.” So perhaps Charlotte Heywood shares large dark eyes as well as a Christian name with the intelligent Miss Williams of Hampshire.


The male hero seems to be in Jane’s intentions, Sidney Parker, Mr Parker’s younger brother, who only makes a brief appearance very near the end of the fragment. He is evidently the odd one out in this amiable foolish family, as he is “very good-looking, with decided air of Ease and Fashion, and a lively countenance”.
At Sanditon Charlotte presently meets the brisk, formidable and rather vulgar Lady Denham, who has climbed socially and gained riches from two childless marriages and is now keeping a tight hold on her purse strings; this is greatly to the disappointment of young Sir Edward Denham, who cannot be as extravagant as he feels a baronet is entitled to be - he can only drive a gig instead of a curricle - and of his discontented sister, Esther. By her first marriage Lady Denham has acquired the large and handsome Sanditon House, where she lives with a poor and beauriful cousin, Clara Brereton , as her companion. When Charlotte and Mrs Parker walk up the long drive through the grounds to call at Sanditon House, Charlotte sees through the fence and trees that Clara and Sir Edward are having what is obviously a private conversation...and this is where the fragment ends.

Several attempts have been made in recent years to complete the story, but none with any great success, as there is really no indication how Jane Austen intended to develop the plot. Charlotte Heywood is evidently the heroine and Sidney Parker is introduced in terms which show him as the hero; Sir Eward will be a foolish and probably incompetent sort of villain, who will undoubtedly fail to seduce the astute Clara Brereton; but what with the several visitors to Sanditon who have been introduced by name and are waiting in the background, as well as the Parker family themselves, there is such a large cast of characters to be manipulated that the possibilities remain endless.

MY REVIEW


There are some aspects of the book that I would have changed.


Firstly I don’t like what Shapiro makes of Jane’s male protagonist, the hero of SANDITON, Sidney Parker. For instance, in Shapiro’s completion, Charlotte overhears Sidney revealing to his elder brother, Mr Parker, his intention to propose to her to give Sanditon an exciting event to talk about! Moreover, after his dashing entrance in Jane’s chapter 12, he is always laughing and telling silly shallow things in the following ones by Shapiro! What Kind of Austen’s hero is he? A Mr Elton? A Mr Collins? Rather improbable.
Secondly, I wish there had been more conversations between Charlotte and Sidney before … well … Their relationship is too rushed. Rather unacceptable.
Third disturbing element: there is an embarassing incident between two minor characters . Sir Edward Denham - the silly scoundrel of the story - apparently tries to attack sweet Clara Brereton, Lady Denham’s ward. Charlotte finds the poor girl on the ground in the garden without her collar. The scene is absolutely hilarious but it does not sound very Austenish to me. Such a direct reference to sexual harassment is rather improbable. I don’t remember any similar scene in her other novels. Too risqué!


Did I like anything in the book apart from Jane's infinite mastery at depicting new characters in a few lines which convinced me she could have written her most witty masterpiece - after Emma - if she had had the opportunity to live just a bit longer? YES! The painting in the front cover: THE SOUVENIR by Jean-Honoré Fragonard!


RELATED POSTS AND SITES

SANDITON in WIKIPEDIA

A DIFFERENT ATTEMPT TO COMPLETE THE FRAGMENT

JANE'S NIECE CONTINUATION OF SANDITON

A REVIEW BY PAMELA MOOMAN OF THIS EDITION

MY EVERYTHING AUSTEN CHALLENGE LIST

14 comments:

Elvira said...

What a pity she didn't live long enough to finish it herself! Baci

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@Elvira
This is exactly what I've been thinking while reading the fragment. Jane would have given us a 7th book to love forever. Besos.

lunarossa said...

Hi MG, I haven't read Sanditon and after reading your review I do no think I will bother! The idea of reading a Jane Austen's novel finished by someone else didn't appeal to me in first instance, as I don't like the idea of follow-up novels to P&P or imitations of JA's work. Call me old-fashioned but I firmly believe that masterpieces cannot be imitated successfully. Hope you're enjoying your holidays. Ciao. A.

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@lunarossa
I wouldn't suggest anybody to read this completion of SANDITON. But the fragment is good. Jane had started a new extraordinary novel. She would have done much better, if she had had the time. Life was unjust to her. So ... why don't you read the fragment, at least? After that, you could try to imagine your own developments and intrigues in the plot. It's only 12 chapters! Notte!

Stephanie said...

If you haven't already done so, make sure that you add your review to the Mr. Linky (in the same post where you left a comment on my blog) that way everyone can follow along!

BTW, I see that you have a bit of a crush on Richard Armitage. I watched North and South for the first time a few months ago and can completely understand why!

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@Stephanie
It's undeniable but it's not a crush...it's something more... Crushes usually pass by quickly! I saw North and South in August last year and since then I've seen more or less everything he has done so far.As for this review,
I left a message on the page of the Challenge, I thought it was ok. I'll check.

vvb32 reads said...

ooo, thanks for the review and the beautiful pics. i'm going with your recommendation of reading the fragment.

costumedramas said...

I read 'Sanditon' about a year ago with a different continuation, by Australian writer Marie Dobbs - I loved the Austen fragment but found the Dobbs part instantly forgettable, though quite readable. I enjoyed reading your review, Maria, and will definitely read the Austen part again some time - but don't think I'll bother with the Shapiro ending. Judy

Jenny Kerr said...

I got this a while ago, by mistake actually. I bought a book dustjacketed as The Forsyte Saga but when I got it home, I found out it was Sandition and other tales. It's a grouping of all of her letters and misc items. I, like you, feel this could have ended up being one of her best pieces, such a shame she never finished it.

I love that you are going to be reading Agnes Grey. I've been trying to find a cheap hardback copy of this, seems like it's slightly obscure, there aren't many around.

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@Jenny Kerr
Welcome back and thanks for passing by!Have you tried to get a copy of Agnes Grey online?

JaneGS said...

I love Sanditon--the promise of the story and the cast of characters is superb. It is truly heartbreaking that not only did Austen not have the opportunity to write much of it, we don't even have any notes about what direction she was going. I've only read the completion "By a Lady," which I found more Regency Romance than Austen, but I liked it well enough.

If you're interested, several picky Austen friends who have impeccable taste have recommended a fanfic completion, The Three Brothers, which can be found here: http://www.austen.com/derby/old_2004/sofie6.htm I haven't read it myself, but intend to...someday! :)

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@JaneGS
Thanks you Jane, for commenting and for your suggestions.

Laurel Ann said...

Thank you for this review Maria. I have a copy of Shapiro's novel but have not read it. You have encouraged me enought to attempt it with forewarning. Thanks

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@Laurel Ann
You may well have a different opinion on it, LA. I honestly did not like it. Was I too blunt? I'm looking forward to your review now!