A Bookcrossing friend did some stay at home cleaning/organizing and dropped off some books for me, that I agreed to help sort and donate, via my previous post. Kept a few to read first, including author Kay Riordan’s version of Sanditon. Per the book’s back cover it is: “The official novel of PBS/Masterpiece’s lavish period drama.” Actually, I wish I had read it before I watched the Masterpiece series, because I did find it all a bit hard to follow. Spoilers now re: the book.
The book is based very loosely on Austen’s fragment and to be clear it was an unfinished fragment Austen, had started and/or draft she was working on toward the end of her life, when her own health issues were becoming serious — and it’s unclear if Austen had some ideas of poking fun of having health issues or people with hypochondria, ecetera.
The story centers on a girl, Charlotte, from a small village that assists a couple with a carriage accident, the couple, the Parkers are in the process of building/developing Sanditon a seaside resort and invite her to return with them as their guest. Sandition was to distinguish itself from other fashionable “holiday” destinations such as Brighton, by touting itself as healthy destination similar to Bath, England, for sea air, and seawater bathing amoung other attractions and amenities.
As far as “The Jane Austen Universe” — which I consider, all the fan fiction, sequels, alternate versions, and nonfiction theories — this version of Sanditon is almost like a send up, not a send up of gothic novel, like Austen’s own Northanger Abbey, but a send up of an amusing Regency tale. There is really not so much Austen here, it goes beyond all the drama/misfortune woven into her novels, I am thinking of Lydia’s falling for Wickham here and Maria’s seduction by Henry even though she is a married woman, in Mansfield Park.
This version of Charlotte, plucked from the country home to this up and coming town, is likable. She is an outsider but not unlikeable and becomes very much part of the Parker family and business enterprise, assisting in helping to pay her way as staying with them “for the season.” Overall, it does seem odd someone would be taken in and acccepted so quickly, and I’m going to re-read the original Austen fragment to see how she actually phrased it.
Charlotte here seems to be caught in a web slash attraction and love triange cliche, between Sidney, Mr. Parker’s handsome brother who is hot/cold in supporting his brother’s development efforts, by dragging rich London friends to Sanditon and also responsible for his ward, Ms. Lambe. Her other love interest is a masonry worker who wants to be an architect, is always the good guy and respectable, while Sidney is the unpredictable, passionate one. In the tradition of Austen, usuallly slow and steady wins the race but it’s uncertain because again, Austen did not finish this story or even the draft/fragment everyone uses as a base.
The plots and subplots are like branches not of a tree, but branch upon branch. It was interesting and fast reading, but sometimes I did have to pause to make sure I knew who was who — as far as the stable of characters in the Lady Denham subplot. The cranky to often rude elder Aunt or “grand dame,” is also a chief investor in the Sanditon seaside/wellness community development, and often helps to sustain the battle between her niece Esther and nephew Edward — apparently step siblings with secret relationship and another far off familial ward Clara — and everyone trying to gain upper hands over each other, “undo” each other and gain favor of their Aunt.
Notatably, this was Austen’s first character of Color, Miss Lambe an heiress from Antiqua, although I’m not sure Austen have all developed the character or the story line in this matter for Ms. Lambe or the other vast array of characters.
Overall, there is really too much blatant sex via sex scenes, and even alluding or referring to it in daily conversations, and language about plots including murder, to really fit in the caliber of Austen novel unless a send up, or even of her contemporaries. This type of dialogue was improper at best and/or completely inappropriate While Austen may have intimated physical relations, again with Lydia and Wickham — she would I believe never go this far. One scene in particular with Charlotte stumbling upon Edward and Clara trying to seduce each other, recalled for me a send up of Charlotte & Mr. Collins in the “Bad Austen” compendium of short story contest — The Bad/Worst Stories Austen Never Wrote, (which I previously wrote/blogged about here).
Mostly I felt like a was reading a melodrama or a send up of a drama/novel that Jane Austen would have found again found either quite inappropriate or scandalous for its language and themes during the time in which she lived.