Monday, March 22, 2010

Sanditon by Jane Austen and "Another Lady"

I had a lovely week By the Seaside with Sanditon, hosted by Laurel Ann of Austenprose, rereading this precious fragment - Austen's last, incomplete novel. Not content to let the tale end on one of my favorite lines in Austen ("Poor Mr. Hollis! lt was impossible not to feel him hardly used: to be obliged to stand back in his own house and see the best place by the fire constantly occupied by Sir Henry Denham."), I continued reading my favorite of the two completions I own, that by "Another Lady". One of the joys of By The Seaside with Sanditon was learning the name of our anonymous authoress - Marie Dobbs, also known as Anne Telscombe - but as I do not know if either of these are real names or both pseudonyms, I am going to continue referring to her as Another Lady. This version seamlessly picks up where Austen abandoned us. So flawless is Another Lady's adoption of Austen's style that she has fooled many an expert, including myself (if I dare claim myself as such) and The University of Virginia Library Systems' Electronic Text Center, who mistakenly posted this version of the completed novel instead of Austen's fragment (another discovery uncovered during By the Seaside with Sanditon). This completion was the first piece of Austen fan fiction I ever read, thus the inspiration for a considerable obsession, and it remains my absolute favorite.

There is only one complaint I have about this book and that regards Another Lady's development of Mrs. Parker, as I believe it exceeds the bounds of her promise, but every other character (and she only introduces two not named by Austen, Sidney Parker's friends Henry Brudenall and Reginald Catton) perfectly conform to the identities originally designated to them. Charlotte Heywood comes alive, every jot the practical young heroine, and Sidney Parker, the hero Austen left so very undeveloped, is utterly charming, quite in the manner of Mr. Tilney, with a bit of Frank Churchill mixed in. Another Lady's ability to weave all the loose ends into a complex, highly amusing, and thoroughly satisfying novel astounds me. Take this piece of dialogue:
"Oh sensible, prudent Miss Heywood, how very correct in you to rebuke me," said he, very much amused. "You are already so well acquainted with my family that I had forgotten how short a while we have known each other. I should, of course, have waited at least a month before trying to compare our opinions on all my relations."

"I very much doubt that a month would bring any great change in my outlook," replied Charlotte, quite firmly. "Very few of us lack superficial faults and we must rely on each other's kindness to overlook them."

"But people take such trouble with their faults and go to such lengths to make them fascinating to others that it is really very unkind to overlook them," protested Sidney. "They would much rather be laughed at on their own merits than politely ignored as members of a community."
Now is that not quintessential Austen? Another Lady fulfills my utmost fantasies, allowing me to suspend reality and pretend for a moment that here, indeed, is another complete Austen novel. Yes, as Laurel Ann so rightly pointed out, the end does get rather silly, but even the slightly ludicrous scenario our heroine finds herself in holds me completely captive (and highly amused). Note the following passage, in which Another Lady gives voices to the Miss Beauforts, who Austen tells us "were very accomplished and very ignorant, their time being divided between such pursuits as might attract admiration, and those labours and expedients of dexterous ingenuity by which they could dress in a style much beyond what they ought to have afforded." These ladies, having ignored Miss Heywood previously, seek her out in hopes she will introduce them to the new gentlemen in town:
"We have been longing this age -- oh, quite aching, I assure you, dear Miss Heywood -- for some chance of furthering our acquaintance with you. We have been making the most delightful schemes for days past. But there! We both have the greatest horror of being thought forward or pushing! It is amazingly difficult for us to get to know anybody at all."

"Sanditon is a most charming place, we find -- perhaps a little thin of company. But more people are beginning to arrive now, I dare say. The hotel seems to be filling up at all events ..."

"Oh! I am dotingly fond of Sanditon already in spite of it being a little secluded," interrupted Miss Beaufort, feeling her sister was being a shade premature. "My particular friend, Miss Nicholls, a dear creature and most truly modish, tells me there is far more going on in Ramsgate. There one sees new faces every day -- but here the stranger is quite a rarity."

"Lord yes, I always say these small, retired places are infinitely to be preferred to the bustling, popular resorts," agreed Miss Letitia. "When one comes from a largish inland town, one longs only for solitude in a seaside retreat. I must declare the view from our balcony quite delights us. Not a soul to be seen on the beach for hours at a time."

"Oh yes, we both rave about the peace -- about the generally deserted air of Sanditon. Within a few days one knows virtually every face in the district -- "

"Exactly. So I really could not help exclaiming to Lydia the other morning when I saw -- nothing beyond the merest glimpse really, you know -- two, no less than two, complete strangers."

"Ah! now you mention it, Letitia, I do remember them. They seem to be putting up at the hotel -- some connection with the Parkers I did overhear -- most genteel-looking young men, both of them so excessively well-dressed."

"The sort of people, one would imagine, more likely to be found patronising Brighton rather than Sanditon."
Their blatant shallowness and insincerity seems so authentically Austen, very much in the style of what one would imagine of the Miss Steeles, had they greater affluence.

Another Lady is more than your average Austen fan fiction writer - she has meticulously studied Austen's style and thought deeply about her appeal. At the end of Sanditon she writes "An Apology from the Collaborator" in which she states:

Ever increasing numbers, seeking to escape the shoddy values and cheap garishness of our age, are turning to Jane Austen's novels to catch glimpses of life in what appear to be far more leisured times.

Like Mr Woodhouse, we enjoy the company of these old friends best; and though we prefer their actual company to second-hand discussions and speculations about them, anything concerning them will always hold a fascination for us.
No, this isn't Miss Austen's hand at work, finishing the story that torments her devotees with its potential, but I think it's as good as we're likely to get. I have also read Juliet Shapiro's completion, which was interesting but not nearly as satisfying. Laurel Ann wrapped up By the Seaside with Sanditon by listing some of the fan fiction available for this book, and in response I have ordered two more completions: The Brothers (which was Austen's original title for the work) by Jane Austen and (yet) Another Lady, Helen Baker, and Jane Austen's Charlotte by Julia Barrett, author of Presumption, the first Austen sequel I ever read. Of course, I will share my thoughts on these versions as I read them, but today it was oh so pleasant to spend time with this dear friend: a beloved book that sits on my shelf next to Austen's six novels, as close as anything has ever come to reviving her long lost voice. Can I possibly rave more?


  1. We are in complete agreement on this one, Alexa! I have just finished it an hour ago and I'm still feeling that glow of happiness! I am very eager to see what you think of the other continuations. I have not read any others yet, but I am curious to see what the other authors have done. While did read others comments about the ending, I wasn't bothered by it, I felt it was a return to the burlesque style that was at the beginning. I loved the irony in this novel, and I loved Sidney Parker!! I definitely felt he reminded me of Henry Tilney too. How I wish they would turn this novel and continuation by Another Lady into a movie!

  2. Oh Meredith! What a wonderful notion - it should totally be a film! Who would you cast?

    I am looking forward to reading the other continuations, having long wanted to, but I apparently needed the motivation of a group read to get me going. I don't expect them to be as good, but it will be interesting to see other people's take on the story. I hope you are planning on reviewing this version. I always enjoy your reviews, especially as we tend to be in agreement (and what is more felicitous than having your own opinions approved?).

  3. On my goodness. I am so flattered Alexa that my little group read inspired you to read the continations. I am at present reading the one by Another Lady, Thanks for no plot spoilers. I have ordered Charlotte, by Julia Barrett from the library. I am not anticipating the quality that you espouse from by Another Lady.

    On an aside one of the group read participants Mandy N. had inside info on author Marie Dobbs that she posted in a comment. She is a real person and wrote to Mandy's book club in 1980 (if you can imagine a real letter back in the day before email) and shared with them her thoughts on inspiration in writing her novel. here is the link.

    look about 3/4 down the comments for it.

    Thanks again for your review.

  4. Hi Laurel Ann,

    I just want to first tell you how much I enjoyed the group read. Pride and Prejudice seems daunting after Sanditon, but you know I'll be there. Thanks for the link - obviously I need to go back and read more of the comments that are still coming in. It is fascinating that Mandy N. communicated with Marie Dobbs back in the day. I'm only sorry she never read the book! I thought about Heyer's influence on this novel, and the type of high jinx that go on do smack of Heyer, but the descriptions and language are all so very Austen-like that I decided not to mention it in the post. How interesting that some have actually credited Heyer with the work!

  5. Hi Alexa !
    Just to clarify I am just the lucky beneficiary of work by 'another lady' in my Reading Circle... 'Sanditon by Jane Austen and Another Lady' was on the 1980 syllabus of my Reading Circle, some 20 years before I was a member. The lady who presented the paper did the detective work to trace Marie Dobbs in England and is a family friend through my mum. She's been reading Jane Austen since 1930s'; and gave me copies of her Sanditon papers & letter from Marie Dobbs which I quoted with recepient's permission on Austenprose. Unfortunately, my elderly friend won't use internet but very interested to hear of Austenprose's on-line group read. Incidently, the Reading Circle is 90 years old in 2010, and is the third oldest Reading club/circle in my state. Big party later in the year. ;-0

  6. Hi Mandy! That's amazing - every reading group/book group I have ever participated in had disbanded after only a year or two (if we made it that long), so 90 years seems, frankly, incredible. This entire story is fascinating! Thank you so much for sharing, enjoy the celebration, and thanks for stopping by!