I'm not sure if I'll watch ‘Sanditon’ yet or not, but either way I'm pleased to have read it, even if doing so is a slightly bitter sweet exercise. There are 12 short chapters here which do little more than introduce us to a cast of characters - maybe not even all the characters that Austen intended - but it's enough to feel the loss of what we don't get.
I've always been an Austen fan, happy to explore the limited social worlds that she describes, because when it comes down to it that's more or less how we live. I'm always a little bit surprised that she's associated more with romance than satire and social commentary (which is one reason I love the Thomas Rowlandson image on the government of this Oxford World’s Classics edition). More than anything though, I think it's ridiculous that we don't view her as part of a rich and varied female cannon of writers - because that's exactly what she is.
Some popular tv adaptations of Maria Edgeworth for example might go a long way to shaking up how we think of Austen. Fanny Burney gets a mention in Sanditon (as do Burns, Scott, and Richardson, people ought to read a bit more Scott too) and now I want to re read her books again (I remember enjoying them in my late teens but not much more).
But back to Sanditon. We meet the Parker family - Mr Parker (and his meek wife), he’s determined to make Sanditon a fashionable resort and is risking his fortune to do it. There are also 2 extraordinarily active hypochondriac sisters, a brother who shares the hypochondria but not the activity, and another brother who we don't learn so very much about but was surely meant to be a significant character.
Mr Parker’s partner in the speculation of Sanditon is Lady Denham, a woman of means who married more money the first time, and a title the second time. She has 3 sets of possible heirs headed by Clara (beautiful but poor) from her own family, the Hollis family that we don't meet (but I would guess we're to be introduced) that belong to her first husband, and the Denham’s.
They are a brother and sister with more pride than means, and look set to be a bad lot. There's also mention of a mixed race Miss Lambe. She’s a considerable heiress in delicate health, in the company of the far less well off and much more forward Miss Beaufort’s. They're all being observed by Charlotte Heywood.
The problem with watching an adaptation of this is that I want to know what Austen intended for her characters, not what Andrew Davies thinks they might do. What was she going to make of Miss Lambe, would Mr Parker’s speculations work out, and what kind of personality was Lady Denham going to prove to be? Part of this is because based on the existing 12 chapters both Mr Parker and Lady Denham seem more nuanced characters than Sir Walter Elliot or Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
Mr Parker might go off unchecked on his enthusiasms, but he has an obvious care and affection for his family, and the wider community he's part of. Lady Denham loses Charlottes sympathy when she declares she doesn't want more visitors in her home because it would make to much work for her servants, and if they had a harder place they'd want higher wages. Charlotte considers this a mean attitude, but it's not clear to me where Austen stands on it.
It's impossible not to anticipate the book this could have grown into, the suggestion is that it would have been something new for both Austen and the English novel. This fragment is enticing, but it's also deeply frustrating we don't get the rest of it.