Congratulations on the release of your A Season at Sanditon. How did you come to write your completion of Jane Austen’s unfinished last novel?
How different is Sanditon from her major novels?
I believe it was merely familiarity and a belief that Austen has done so much of the work for me, surely I could add a middle and end and have a novel!!! Each book has increased in size and, I hope, they have matured as I have gained confidence as a writer. I would hope to focus on other writing and not just depend on Jane Austen going forward.
Jane Austen started showing her writing talent very soon in her life. Were you also a young girl who loved writing ?
I was a young girl once and I loved writing but not necessarily at the same time. I came to writing when I was almost forty years of age. I wanted to write but the dream was too big and so I did not write at all. Then, with age, comes wisdom – I have nothing to lose, I have only one life, who cares, sit down and write!
Was there a scene you particularly liked writing in A Season at Sanditon?
Yes, there is a scene where Reverend Hanking joins Charlotte on the beach and they share their thoughts with each other. That scene was put in at a later stage when I was sitting at my desk and I saw Reverend Hanking riding a donkey on the beach and alighting to speak with Charlotte. The conversation they have is very important to the plot and it just felt so natural and humorous and important. I liked the way that came to me.
If you could travel back to the Regency Era, what would you miss the most and what would you like to see/do?
Here is the review of A Season at Sanditon that appears in Jane Austen’s Regency World Magazine;
“You are twenty-two years of age, I believe, Miss Heywood and one of fourteen children from a middle-sized farm. You have no wealth, no connections, no title and only a fresh-faced prettiness to recommend yourself. Do you not give marriage any thought?”
Startlingly rude, and verging on the vulgar, the dreadful Lady Denham is the seaside town of Sanditon’s answer to Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Rose Servitova’s witty and charming completion of Jane Austen’s last, unfinished, novel.
The ‘fragment’ remaining consists of eleven and a half unrevised chapters – but the themes and actors contained in this tantalisingly brief piece of work provide a superb jumping-off place for Servitova’s latest offering.
Sanditon’s cast of characters is a gift, sketched out with perfect precision by Austen, and beautifully rounded by Servitova – largely filtered through the cool and ironic gaze of our unfairly insulted heroine, Charlotte Heywood.
Here is Charlotte on the predatory Edward Denham: “the kind of man who, if a lady returns his smile, begins planning their honeymoon,” and here, discussing two of the Parker siblings, Diana and Arthur, with the sweetly innocent heiress Jemima Lambe: “Where health matters are concerned, there is no one to compare with Diana Parker. I have no doubt she delighted in hearing you cough, that she might enjoy the sound of her own advice and credit herself for curing you. And poor Arthur is but her echo – a weak man with a fondness for toast.”
To make up for Diana and Arthur, the Parker family also gives us a fine hero, in the broad and manly shape of Sidney. A thoughtful and attentive charmer, he is perhaps more Bingley than Darcy, but none the worse for that. And then – along comes a wild card: Dr Hollis, with his connection to the Denhams, and his eye on Charlotte…
One cannot help feeling that Jane Austen would have enjoyed this lively and light-hearted completion of the novel that could have been the most modern and mischievous of her creations. The idea of the coastal resort took a firm hold of the British consciousness during the Regency – with Brighton and its outrageously extravagant Pavilion epitomising all that anyone could possibly ask of a fashionable seaside town. The concept of entrepreneurship, embodied by the Parker family, also emerged in the early years of the 19th century. All this was wonderful grist to Austen’s irony-mill: the comedic possibilities presented by a town full of aspirational social climbers, provincial ingenues and old school – but minor – aristocracy are endless.
Rose Servitova has picked up all these elements and crafted them into something very special. Her unerring feel for Austenian dialogue and observation has allowed her to create a thoroughly finished novel from the ‘fragment’ left incomplete at the time of Jane Austen’s death.