Saturday, July 24, 2010


Sandition : Jane Austen's Unfinished Masterpiece
Completed By Juliette Shapiro

Jane Austen wrote this fragment of a novel in the few months before her death. It has been completed by several Austen enthusiasts. This version is by Juliette Shapiro.

The small seaside town of Sandition is without a doctor preventing it from becoming a fashionable resort for invalids and hypochondriacs. Mr. and Mrs. Parker of Sandition head off to Willingdon in search of a doctor to bring to Sandition. Upon arrival, their carriage meets with an accident and Mr. Parker's foot is strained. It seems that his injury was in vain, for the Parkers have come to the wrong place and one without a doctor! However, they are taken in by they Heywoods, a local gentry family and return to Sandition with Charlotte, the eldest Heywood daughter still at home. Mr. Parker sings the praises of the inhabitants of the small town he loves and Charlotte is eager to meet them. Her unbiased eye reveals that Sandition's residents are not as pleasant as they seem. The most prominent resident is Lady Denham, a wealthy, elderly, miserly woman who is quick to judge. She has survived two husbands and the young relatives of those husbands hover around her hoping to be rewarded with her fortune. Also in hopes of some good fortune is Lady Denham's companion, Clara Brereton, a sober minded young lady. Chief among the fortune hunters is Sir Edward Denham who praises Charlotte's beauty and spouts poetry in her ear, giving her a disgust of the flirtatious young man. The Parkers are kindly and well-meaning and soon Charlotte becomes well-acquainted with Mr. Parker's eccentric family of hypochondriacs. Only one among them shares Charlotte's sarcasm and sense of humor at the ridiculousness of the characters who make up the residents of Sanditon. All through the summer flirtations and love affairs happen, misunderstands occur and hearts are broken and before the season is over, Charlotte's life will change in ways she never expected. Austen's story is told with her usual sly, subtle humor and if she had been given the time to fully develop the story, the characters would have been as memorable as Lizzie Bennet, Lady Catherine and Mr. Woodhouse. Shapiro captures Austen's style well enough so that it isn't obvious where she picks up the thread of the narrative. The minor characters are every bit as quirky and funny as Austen imagined them. The story is rather lacking in action though. Most of the events are told by the narrator and things happen without the heroine being an active part of the story. There's almost no romance and certainly not the grand passion of Lizzie and Darcy or the quiet pining of Elinor Dashwood. The story spends too much time on the secondary characters and then the author rushes through the end to wrap up Charlotte's story before tying up lose ends with the other minor characters. I would have stopped at the end of Charlotte' s story. The rest made it took long and I lost interest. There were also too many characters to keep track of. The novel isn't bad, it's hard to live up to Jane Austen's reputation and I think Shapiro does a credible job with the material she had to work with. I would recommend this above the tawdry sequels and adaptations and even some of the other Austen adaptations. I have not yet read any other versions of Sanditon.

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