Sunday, 1 December 2019

TALKING SANDITON WITH ... JANET TODD


The first-ever television adaptation of Jane Austen’s unfinished novel SANDITON will air on PBS Masterpiece from 12 January 2020.  Written by award winning screenwriter Andrew Davies (Pride and Prejudice, Les Miserable, Mr. Selfridge), the first TV trailer for the 8-part series has just been released. (Watch it HERE)

Today December 1, 2019 a new and easily accessible edition of Sanditon is published by Fentum Press. It includes an innovative introductory essay by Janet Todd, a leading Austen scholar, plus the text of the novel.

Jane Austen's Sanditon

Written as a comedy, Sanditon continues the strain of burlesque and caricature Austen wrote as a teenager and in private throughout her life. She examines the moral and social problems of capitalism, entrepreneurship, and whether wealth trickles down to benefit the place where it is made. She explores the early 19th century culture of self: the exploitation of hypochondria, health fads, seaside resorts, and the passion for salt-water cures. Written only months before Austen's death in 1817 the book was never fully completed by the author.



Janet Todd's Contribution

Todd connects Sanditon with Austen’s life, notably her experience with finance and her mother’s hypochondria. She examines the connection with Austen’s novels, especially Northanger Abbey, which Austen worked on at the same time. There is a summary of the spin-off versions by other novelists and how the novel was presented in other media, especially film. Todd contends that Sanditon is an ebullient study of people's vagaries; rather than using common sense, Sanditon’s characters follow intuition and bodily signs believing that desire can be translated into physical facts and speech can transform fantasy into reality.

Janet Todd is a leading scholar and editor of Jane Austen’s work. She is the editor of The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Jane Austen, editor of Jane Austen in Context, and author of The Cambridge Introduction to Jane Austen. She is a former president of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge, a novelist, biographer, and literary critic. She lives in Cambridge, UK and Venice, Italy. 



Talking Sanditon with ... Janet Todd

Here's my interview with Janet Todd. She really knows her Austen and researched a lot about Sanditon. Read her super interesting answers. 


Hello and welcome to My Jane Austen Book Club! I’d say, let’s start out chat about Sanditon. It was Austen’s last work. She only left a few chapters introducing the characters and the place, but unfortunately, she had to leave it unfinished due to her poor health and subsequent death.  What’s new or different in comparison with her previous novels?

It’s both similar and quite distinct. As elsewhere in Jane Austen’s fiction, a young nubile heroine flirts with possible partners and faces new exciting situations. She is morally aware but little prepared for new experiences; we see the strange world partly through her youthful eyes.

Some of the dangers women face in other Austen novels are touched on in Sanditon--seduction, rape, abduction, hated marriage—but, in the setting of a seaside resort, these seem more light-heartedly treated than in, say Pride and Prejudice  or Mansfield Park. Sanditon does not follow Emma and Persuasion, its immediate predecessors, into more and more subtle psychological probings. Instead, it seems a throwback to the jolly stories Jane wrote as a teenager before she began revising the greal realist novels. However, throughout her life she kept her love of rambunctious humour, letting it surface in letters, comic poems  and spoofs of other people’s novels. Perhaps with more drafts Sanditon would have moved closer to the realist works while retaining some of its eccentric humour—but considering that some revisions made details more rather than less grotesque, this doesn’t seem the direction of travel!

The protagonist, Charlotte Heywood,  is naive and good – hearted, she comes from a very large family and has never left Willingden before her adventure  in Sanditon.  What kind of heroine is she? Which Austen heroine is she more similar to?

I think your description  ‘naive and good-hearted’ fits Catherine Morland of Northanger Abbey rather more than Charlotte Heywood, who is repeatedly described as ‘sober-minded’—which Catherine is not! She is quite censorious and judgmental about the people she meets in Sanditon and clear about the uses and abuses of literature. I would see her as young and self-confident rather than naïve. Her circumstances of being one of so many children and being carried from her rural home to a place of leisure and enjoyment in the company of inadequate chaperones bring her close to Catherine Morland but in temperament I find her more companioned by Elinor Dashwood of Sense and Sensibility. 

A scene from the TV series Sanditon

In the fragment she left Jane Austen introduces a lot of interesting characters: the Parker family, the Denhams, Miss Georgiana Lamb. Don’t you find they create quite a different world if compared to the country gentry  we have in her other novels?

The main characters are of the middle and gentry class, as in all the novels—Mr Darcy being something of the romantic exception with his very large pile and aristocratic connections. But, unlike in the other novels, Sanditon’s people are mostly not at home and their oddities are their main features.

It’s interesting that you refer to Georgiana Lambe. This is the African young woman in Andrew Davies’s TV series. In the Austen fragment rich Miss Lambe is not given a first name and far from being the fiesty girl Davies created, she is timid and sickly. But as ‘a half mulatto’ she does remain a strange character in Austen, and perhaps her presence might have led to some consideration of slavery and its horrors. Or she may have stayed on the periphery of the novel as simply a rich boarding-school miss attracting unwelcome attention from marauding batchelors.

To me, the most wonderful inventions in the book are the hypochondriac Parker siblings.  Throughout her life Jane austen reveals a robust attitude to people whingeing about health and obsessing about their bodies, how they look and feel. In her juvenile works she ridicules the habit of fainitng, running mad, having vapours and hysterics, and in the published novels she has little time for the selfishness of illness eg in Mr Woodhouse of Emma. But nowhere else are obsession with bodily symptoms and allergies so richly and comically portrayed as in Arthur, Susan and Diana Parker.


We can just work on assumptions and hypothesis, but was Charlotte Heywood  bound to be  caught in a love triangle with two different suitors in Jane Austen’s plans? I mean,  Edward Denham and Sidney Parker?

How do we know that Sidney Parker was intended to be the hero of Sanditon since so little is said of him and he is only introduced right before Austen’s narration gets interrupted?

A man described on first mention as  lively, candid,  clever and charming, with ‘neat equipage and fashionable air’ , then later as humorous and entertaining, a mocker of the foibles of his absurd siblings, then, when he actually appears, said to be ‘very good-looking , with a decided air of ease and fashion and a lively countenance’ seems to me heading for the hero slot! He is perhaps the nearest of Austen’s heroes to my favourite, Henry Tilney. However, we have no proof that the emphasis of the whole story was primarily to have been on romance and the  choice of husband for Charlotte.

As for the other contender, Charlotte has the measure of Sir Edward Denham once she recovers from his fine exterior and title, and she is unlikely to be attracted to him further. Meanwhile, he himself has to find an heiress—or speedily get at his step-mother’s money.

  Jack Fox as Edward Denham, Rose Williams as Charlotte Heywood, Theo James as Sidney Parker


One of the most interesting new elements  in Sanditon is Jane Austen’s vision of progress and modernity. What was her attitude to capitalism and entrepreneurship? Was she open to novelty and change?  

Nothing can ever be said with absolute certainty about Jane Austen’s social and political views. She makes us think rather than tells us what to think. However, a resort called Sanditon can’t avoid echoes of the Biblical house built on sand and is likely to be a precarious, shifting proposition. The speculating enthusiast and advertiser Tom Parker, although good-hearted, obviously has his limitations, but I sort of suspect that the resort by the dancing and sparkling sea (which Jane Austen herself so much loved) is unlikely to be utterly destroyed.

Austen admired energy in business, agriculture and the professions, but there is no evidence she supported unbridled capitalism which demands that the market and commerce should be left to settle society, in the way some in the early 19th century believed. She suggests that the poor and exploited should be cared for by the more successful; the capitalist, perhaps admired, perhaps seen as a necessary evil, should always be morally responsible.

We know Jane Austen got her inspiration for her novels in the social and geographical environment which were familiar to her. What elements in Sanditon can be related to the  reality of her life?

Rather a lot! Henry Austen, her beloved brother, banker and  speculator, had just gone bankrupt,   involving his brothers and sisters in his crash—she herself lost  £26 and 2 shillings --and yet here she is writing of speculators and risky investments as if they belonged by rigfht to the world of comedy. The resilience already caught in Mr Parker—and which he would probably need to call on further had the book progressed--is a quality Jane hugely admired in brother Henry, who survived all his troubles—and the troubles he caused others—by breezily picking himself up and joining the Church!  In quite different mode, there  may be connection between Lady Denham, called thoroughly mean by Charlotte, and Jane’s aunt, Mrs Leigh-Perrot, who uses her wealth to control and disappoint.

But of course above all, it is Jane Austen’s own health that outrageously enters the book. That she could mock her ultimately fatal symptoms of fatigue and biliousness by giving them to the energetic spinster Diana Parker and indeed later add the term ‘anti-bilious’ to her list of comic medical terms is a remarkable act of a sick woman. Her letters show that her symptoms varied while she was writing Sanditon but she was never at any time in good health. I find this (possible) method of coping hugely admirable!

In the book there’s a section dedicated to spin-off versions or continuations by other novelists and how the novel was presented in other media, especially film. I’ve only read and seen the latest ones, I mean I watched Andrew Davies  8-part series on ITV and read the novelization of the script by Kate Riordan. Are there other film adaptations?

Not that I know of. I mentioned the little film by Chris Brindle and a projected film which, I imagine, may not be made now that Andrew Davies is on the scene. Since he is contemplating a second series, possibly there’s little room for anyone else just now. But who knows? The global Austen market is insatiable.

What are the best attempts to complete the novel, in your opinion?  Any suggestions?

I have read only the early ones and the recent works described in the book.  I imagine there are many self-published continuations online about which I know nothing. Those I have seen make the book into straight romance or  swerve it into crime fiction. I haven’t read any developing what I find the most delicious part of the book: the satire on health exploitation and on self-admiration. Of the spinoffs I’ve seen, I have a soft spot for Helen Marshall’s short story in which Austen’s supposed full text (which we never read) gets under the skin of a modern book editor.

The main decision of continuation-writers is what to do with the beautiful and seemingly perfect Clara Brereton, the poor dependant companion. Is she as good and sweet as she appears or is she a conniving hussy out to get her hands on Lady Denham’s money. In the first continuation by  Jane Austen’s niece Anna Lefroy—who may or may not have had some notion of where her aunt wanted the book to go—Clara reveals herself as ‘cold, calculating & selfish’. (Like her aunt Jane, Anna Lefroy didn’t finish her work, finding Jane Austen’s shadow too strong).

If everyone is to be married off, then perhaps Clara and Edward would deserve each other, or, as in Andrew Davies’s continuation, the raffish friends of Sidney Parker could be brought into play. Or maybe Charlotte and Clara could go off into the sunset together or move into Sir Edward Denham’s rentable cottage ornée. 

Thank you Maria Grazia for some great questions!



GIVEAWAY


Fentum Press has granted  My Jane Austen Book Club 2 copies of Jane Austen's Sanditon to give away. Two books, two winners! The giveaway is limited to US readers only. 

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5 comments:

darcybennett said...

I’ve been enjoying watching clips from the Davies production and can’t wait to watch when it airs on PBS.

Laurel Ann (Austenprose) said...

Thanks for the great interview Maria. I read Janet Todd's essay in this new book and loved it. Even though we have only about 24,000 words of Sanditon, it is one of my favorites of Austen's work. I love the exuberance and the comedy that she began. Of the continuations that I have read so far, I liked Sanditon by A Lady (Marie Dobbs). I own a copy of Jane Austen's Charlotte: Her Fragment of a Last Novel, Completed by Julia Barrett (2000), but have not dipped in yet. I predict that after the PBS airing of Sanditon, that there will be a flood of continuations and spinoffs.

NovElla said...

I’m really excited for this show. Thanks for sharing all this information on Sanditon!

John Smith said...

I can't help but think that Jane Austen would have looked down on "speculation"! And today it's still a source of much of the trouble and instability in world finance!

Elaine said...

Really interesting interview Maria. Fascinating to hear from Janet her obviously highly researched thoughts on 'Sanditon'. I want to read it all over again now. :)