Please be aware that spoilers may occur in this analysis of Sanditon: Jane Austen's Last Novel Completed
As a longtime fan of Jane Austen's novels (and their various film adaptations - Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice as the mid-90s films that first piqued my interest), I always enjoy a sense of homecoming as I travel back in time to the England of the early 1800s. I recently read Jane Austen's final novel (or, I should say, the fragment she was unable to finish due to illness that was completed in 1975 by Another Lady, a fellow English novelist), Sanditon. I was intrigued to see whether I could tell where Jane left off and Another Lady began. I thought that Another Lady stayed true to Austen's intentions, insofar as they might be inferred from the first eleven chapters and the typical plots of Austen's previous novels.
The novel begins with the circumstances that lead to young Charlotte's first visit to the new seaside resort town of Sanditon. She stays with Mr. Parker and his family. Mr. Parker's main interest is the development of Sanditon into a popular spot rivaling Brighton or Ramsgate. He is always full of ideas on how to improve it. For Charlotte, it is apparently her first extended visit far from home (reminiscent of Catherine's journey to Bath in Northanger Abbey ), and she is excited to try sea bathing and explore the surrounding area.
I found the heroine, Charlotte, who prided herself on her observations of others, though with a more serious and moral outlook than, say, that of Elizabeth Bennett, to be a bit dry, until she started falling in love and found herself unable to observe others as keenly as she might have liked due to her own preoccupation with her changing behavior and attitudes. Which male in the story will prove to win her affections is at first in some doubt - it seemed for a long time in the novel that none of the potential suitors would prove worthy of Austen's creation. Sir Edward, for example, is a poetry-spouting, vain man who is very effusive in his compliments but is quickly made fun of by the author and the other characters in the story because he misquotes frequently. Sir Edward fancies himself a seductive Don Juan type anti-hero, a subplot that seems to largely lack movement until closer to the end of the novel.
The character who sees through Sir Edward's attempts to win ladies' favor is Mr. Sidney Parker. Sidney's openness and downright bluntness about his observations of the other characters shocks Charlotte at first, but you wonder whether she's attracted to him partly because he so willingly breaches decorum and says what she'd like to but would never dare to out loud. Indeed, since many of Austen's books feature her own sharp wit, I found it refreshing to hear more of it in this novel through Sidney's orations, though it was a bit ungenerous of him at times, as Charlotte points out.
I was a bit surprised that Sidney should be Charlotte's choice, since he is from London, and traditionally in Austen's novels London is a place known for immorality and usually all that glitters from that scene lacks true gold in the end. I wondered, too, whether it was true-to-life that he should return her feelings - do charismatic guys who enjoy flirtation really want to marry more serious types who might scold them frequently? His explanation at the end that he wants a settled woman whose feathers are only ruffled by himself seems a bit of a stretch. All the same, I was happy that the traditional Austen happy ending occurred.
Besides Charlotte, there are two other key romances in the plot, involving Adela Lambe and Clara Brereton. I especially enjoyed how Miss Brereton kept me guessing. In general, trying to "figure people out" keeps the reader busy throughout the novel, as we see Charlotte's perceptions change as she acquires new information secondhand from other characters or through her own observations of their actions.
The more minor characters, like the rest of the Parker family, the Miss Beauforts, and Sidney's friends, are enjoyable and many of them are lovable despite their faults and how they're so frequently duped by Sidney's schemes. Sanditon also features a Lady Catherine of Rosings type character in Lady Denham of Sanditon House. Deliciousness ensues!
All in all, I found Sanditon to be a very enjoyable novel and a welcome addition to my Austen repetoire. It was refreshing to have new material after savoring Pride and Prejudice countless times. I laughed aloud, was bored along with Charlotte at the Parker siblings droning on about their ailments, was probably more frightened than Charlotte was during her adventure with Sir Edward toward the end, and ahhing with satisfaction at the close, which was too rushed for my preference but still satisfactory.
Have you read Sanditon? Have other novelists completed it differently? Please submit your comments! Thanks!