Thursday, February 13, 2020

Sanditon by Jane Austen and Kate Riordan

The original Sanditon (not the one shown above) was an unfinished novel by Jane Austen. Only about 60 pages of text were written by Austen before she died and it has since been completed by at least one other author. This is a specific version that I'm reviewing, a tie-in with the mini-series starring the woman on the cover. The version of Sanditon completed by Kate Riordan is actually a novelization of that TV adaptation, which was originally aired on ITV and is currently showing on America's PBS.

Sanditon is the story of Charlotte Heywood, a country girl whose family gets to know Tom and Mary Parker when Tom is injured while passing through their rural village and the Heywoods help him out. Charlotte comes from a very large family with loads of small children. I actually missed this part of the first episode of Sanditon, the mini series, but it can't have lasted long. I think I came in about 10 minutes late, certainly not much more. When the Parkers invite Charlotte to come stay with them in Sanditon, a beach village that Parker is building into a resort he hopes will become a thriving tourist destination, Charlotte's excited to go someplace new.

Charlotte is a bit naïve and outspoken so while she is heartily welcomed by the family, she almost immediately falls afoul of Tom Parker's brother Sidney's opinion. Sidney is hard to pin down. He's clearly involved in the building of Sanditon but not as directly as Tom. His job, as the story opens, is to bring some of his friends down from London in the hopes that they'll fall in love with Sanditon, talk about it, encourage more people to come, and make it successful with a little introductory word-of-mouth. Charlotte is fascinated by architecture and always enjoys whatever time she can fit in with Young Stringer, the foreman at the worksite but she spars with Sidney Parker. Occasionally, something will happen to soften Sidney's opinion of Charlotte but then she'll say or do something to offend him again and they'll bristle in each other's company.

There is an older woman, Lady Denham, who has invested money in the business and she has an entire storyline of her own. She is wealthy and has taken in a distant relative named Clara as her ward. She also has a niece and nephew, Esther and Edward Denham, who live in Sanditon. All three are devious creatures who only care about her money and she knows it. She acquired her wealth by marriage and is rude to all, generous to no one, but gleefully willing to get involved in finding wealthy spouses, at least for the niece and nephew, who are only related to each other by marriage and have a weird, possibly incestuous (but not, since they're not technically related) relationship.

There is also a young Jamaican heiress, Georgiana, whose story is interwoven with Charlotte's as they become friends. Lady Denham wants nephew Edward to try to marry Giorgiana because she's so fabulously wealthy. But, Georgiana already has a boyfriend and he is the reason her guardian, Sidney Parker, has removed her from London to Sanditon.

So, you have a sort-of, potential love triangle with Charlotte, Sidney, and Young Stringer. Then there's a mystery about what will happen between the young Georgiana and the boyfriend that Sidney is so determined for her to avoid that he's practically got her locked up with a hired woman. And, there are the three greedy relatives of Lady Denham who are constantly saying nasty things to each other while trying to weasel their way into Lady Denham's affections. Esther has a potential suitor who is a Lord. But, she only has eyes for her brother. Will Charlotte find love with wealthy Sidney or decide Young Stringer could make her a happy home? What will happen to Georgiana when Charlotte gets involved in her romance and Georgiana disappears? When Lady Denham falls ill, will she finally choose to pass on her inheritance to one of her relatives?

Recommended - There are lots of very entertaining scenes and I love the way things keep happening in Sanditon, especially what Charlotte inadvertently does to help bring in tourists. But I didn't like the sheer number of nasty people in the story or the ending of Sanditon because it felt very un-Jane-like to me; and, there were times I wrinkled my nose during certain scenes. Would Jane have a character say/do this? Well, it's not Jane's after the first 60 pages or so and I had to remind myself of that. But, I do think Kate Riordan's writing is excellent. I got totally swept up in the story and enjoyed it enough to give it 4/5, in spite of an ending I disliked. I'm glad I read it. The story is very different from most of what we know of Jane.

While watching the mini series and reading people's opinions, I've found I'm seeing the same words used repeatedly: "too modern". The modernness (compared to Austen's other works) didn't bother me a bit. It is definitely not as much about manners and social interaction as it is about commerce and money — Tom finding enough money to pay his workers so the resort can be finished and turn a profit, Lady Denham's fierce way of dangling her own money but refusing to share with anyone, a young black heiress whose money is so important that most people don't even act like they're aware she's black at all (but those who do are rip-roaring racists). It's about a new type of lifestyle and whether or not it will work. Romance, flirtation, social interaction, manners . . . they're all there but in a different way than Jane fans are accustomed to. The men are enterprising and not all apparently wealthy in the traditional landowner style. Times are changing and they have the ability to pursue money instead of having to accept their lot. It's really quite fascinating and I wish Jane had lived long enough to flesh this one out. But, I enjoyed the novelization by Kate Riordan enough that I'll be looking to see what else she's written.

The World of Sanditon by Sara Sheridan is a bonus book that Grand Central sent along with Sanditon. Nobody told me I was obligated to review it but I really enjoyed it and want to talk about it! Subtitled, "The secrets, romance and history behind Jane Austen's final story," it is not strictly a "making of" book but does relate the history of the Regency time period in which Sanditon is set directly to the story, sometimes quoting the script, sometimes examining some item (like bathing machines) that is used in the book and series, often relating the setting as a whole and the background of what was happening to how it played out in the story.

There are 2-page spreads with brief interviews of the actors, photos from the production, and loads of other photos of paintings and items from the time period. There are even some interesting stories that offer a taste of how and why people behaved the way they did. I loved the story of Lady Grange, a woman who threatened the man who impregnated her at gunpoint when he refused to marry her and then apparently had a decent marriage for 25 years . . . till she found out about his mistress. Then, things got ugly. It's a cautionary tale (this one from the Georgian period) that helps explain Sidney Parker's worry about his ward and her tempting money, which would become the property of whomever she married.

Such a fun book. I took my time reading The World of Sanditon because I didn't want to get to far into it and forget what it was about before my tour but it's worth returning to as a reference book, not just useful as a companion. So I'm sure I would have actually had equal fun zipping through it and then revisiting.

My thanks to Grand Central Publishing and Laurel Ann of Austenprose for the copies of Sanditon and The World of Sanditon!

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