In a discussion with Henry Tilney on the difference between Bath and her home village of Fullerton, Catherine Morland says, “[T]here is much more sameness in a country life than in a Bath life. One day in the country is exactly like another. . . . [W]ho can ever be tired of Bath?’” (Northanger Abbey 76–77). The early version of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey began to take form in 1797–1798, when Bath still maintained its fame as a fashionable resort frequented by upper-class invalids, gentlemen, and ladies. By the posthumous publication of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion in 1818, however, Bath had become a place for dowagers and retired middle-class professionals to live (Lane 58; Le Faye 28). Austen’s own experience and her fiction demonstrate this shift: with her parents and sister, she moved to Bath in May 1801 after the Reverend Austen’s retirement, just as Mansfield Park’s Mrs. Rushworth retires to Bath when her son marries Maria Bertram. After Austen’s death, Bath became less fashionable and lost its splendor. In January 1824, in an article entitled “The Bath Man,” the anonymous author wrote that his father had sold his estate in Norfolk and settled in Bath to support his large family because the cost of living was cheaper than that of London or the country (175). Like the author’s father and Austen’s Sir Walter Elliot, many country gentlemen who could not afford to sustain their country estates chose to live in Bath. The author of “The Bath Man” was ashamed of his Bath origins, noting the vulgarity and worthlessness of the city: “What a world of contempt is conveyed in that little word Bath, when applied to some unfortunate, by one who claims any kindred or connexion with the great city” (173); “In vain have I tried to get a footing in some of the literary circles of London. Alas! the question of ‘where does he come from?’ is soon answered, and immediately followed up by ‘Can any good come out of Bath?’” (174). During the first quarter of the nineteenth century, Bath became a place quite different from the one Catherine admires.
The fall of Bath demonstrates that fashion trends are unpredictable—even a spot as fashionable as Bath could not permanently sustain its popularity. As major reasons for its decline, Alfred Barbeau and David J. Jeremy cite the death of Beau Nash in 1761 and the ensuing lack of royal patronage, the increase in middle-class visitors and residents, the decrease in public assemblies and amusements caused by the upper classes’ dislike of mixing with the middle classes, and the appearance of new resorts and spas (Barbeau 298–305; Jeremy 210–11, 242–48). Nash was very good at maintaining the decorum of Bath society and encouraging upper-class visitors to attend public assemblies, while masters of ceremony who followed him could not manage the increasing numbers of visitors well or prevent the upper class from choosing to attend private parties (Jeremy 242–43; Hill 6). Instead of Bath, seaside resorts such as Brighton and Torquay were crowded with the upper and then with the middle classes (Barbeau 305). In Sanditon, Austen notes the increase in seaside resort towns and visitors: “‘Our coast [Sussex] is abundant enough’” (Later Manuscripts 143), says Mr. Parker.
The popularity of watering places among the middle class was largely due to an increase in disposable income and time, changing attitudes toward amusement, and improved access. J. M. Golby and A. W. Purdue point out that, in preindustrial England, the vast majority of the population lived mostly within their local communities, while recreational options were limited to their villages (22). With the coming of the industrial age, people’s lifestyles changed. Roy Porter argues that because of economic change and rising living standards, the eighteenth-century nouveau riche amused themselves noisily and publicly; in contrast to the seventeenth century, the pursuit of pleasure became more respectable, and thanks to improvements in roads, coaches, and inns, holidays were no longer “holy days” (214, 227–29). People first went to inland and seaside resorts in search of new therapies, but then began enjoying travel for non-medical reasons. The change in the availability of trips to watering places in Austen’s novels surely echoes this popularization of traveling. For instance, in “The Three Sisters,” travel to resorts is something special: the penniless Miss Stanhope requires Mr. Watt to take her to Bath and a seaside town every year as the conditions of marriage, but her wish is ridiculed and declined (Juvenilia 83). Yet, in Sanditon, the habit of a coastal holiday has become popular with the middle class and available to people with modest incomes, including “‘[c]lergymen . . . or lawyers from town, or half pay officers, or widows with only a jointure’” (179). It is no longer a luxury only the upper class or invalids can afford.
Austen’s idea of writing about the seaside holiday boom owed much to the commercialization of leisure and the spread of medical information that began in the second half of the eighteenth century. The characters’ efforts to market Sanditon, however, present the difficulties associated with the commercial success of the resort and provide a critical stance toward the unthinking pursuit of fashion.
Popularity of seaside resorts over inland spas
Seaside resort development began with publicity regarding the medical benefits of seawater. Physicians wrote about the high quality of their local seawater, recommending that patients should drink and bathe in it. In 1734, Scarborough doctor Peter Shaw analyzed the water and noted that it contained a natural purgative salt (105, 111). In addition to its purgative effects, the water was also considered to be good for treating inflammation and ulcers (112). The salt was extracted by local apothecaries to be sold as Scarborough Salt. After Shaw, in 1750, Brighton doctor Richard Russell promoted the efficacy of seawater in A Dissertation on the Use of Sea Water in the Diseases of the Glands. He prescribed herbs, electuaries (medical substances mixed with honey), and syrup mixed with seawater, claiming that eight types of recently identified tumors, obstructions in the glands and tubes, and all skin diseases could be cured by seawater. In addition to prescribing the internal use of seawater, Russell introduced a successful case of a patient with scrofula discovering his stiffened joints to be eased by bathing in the sea. Tuberculosis, leprosy, rheumatism, and gonorrhea were representative diseases reported to be cured by his method (193–94, 196–200). James Walvin and John F. Travis note that Russell’s book sold well and definitely contributed to the emergence of the seaside as a healing place (Walvin 16; Travis 8).
By the third quarter of the eighteenth century, the habit of taking a coastal holiday instead of going to inland spas like Bath spread among the upper classes. The most famous examples were the Prince Regent’s medical visit to Brighton in 1783 and George III’s visit to Weymouth in 1789 to cure his mental illness. According to Frances Burney’s diary, Weymouth’s people considered George III’s visit to be a great honor and believed his health had satisfactorily improved:
His majesty is in delightful health, and much-improved spirits. All agree he never looked better. The loyalty of all this place is excessive; they have dressed out every street with labels of “God save the king”: all the shops have it over the doors: all the children wear it in their caps, all the labourers in their hats, and all the sailors in their voices, for they never approach the house without shouting it aloud, nor see the king, or his shadow, without beginning to huzza, and going on to three cheers.
The bathing-machines make it their motto over all their windows; and those bathers that belong to the royal dippers wear it in bandeaus on their bonnets, to go into the sea; and have it again, in large letters, round their waists, to encounter the waves. Flannel dresses, tucked up, and no shoes nor stockings, with bandeaus and girdles, have a most singular appearance; and when first I surveyed these loyal nymphs it was with some difficulty I kept my features in order. Nor is this all. Think but of the surprise of his majesty when, the first time of his bathing, he had no sooner popped his royal head under water than a band of music, concealed in a neighbouring machine, struck up “God save great George our king.” (13 July 1789)
In addition to royal patronage, the beginning of the French Revolutionary Wars influenced the trend of seaside visiting. After France declared war on Britain in 1793, the leisure class, used to holidaying in southern France, needed alternatives at home. Existing seaside resorts in southern England expanded, and new resorts were developed (Corbin 270–72; Travis 26–32; Walton 12–22; Walvin 19–29). This upper-class fashion was imitated by the wealthy middle class.
Physicians promoted the efficacy of seawater throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. For example, An Essay on Sea-Bathing, and the Internal Use of Sea-Water (1787) by Richard Kentish, a Brighton doctor, lists sixty diseases curable by seawater, including deafness and many diseases specific to children. The advantage claimed for seawater over inland mineral waters was its salt, as shown in the case of Scarborough. London doctor Charles Taylor wrote in 1805 that seawater increased circulation and secretion and removed obstructions of the glands and stomach more effectively than mineral water of the same temperature (12) and that seawater was good for rickets, whooping cough, and throat disorders in children (48). People accessed such information largely through medical handbooks intended for household use. The behaviors of some of Austen’s characters illustrate popular treatments that her contemporaries may have chosen: Mrs. Bennet says, “‘A little sea-bathing would set me up forever’” to persuade Mr. Bennet to go to Brighton (Pride and Prejudice 254); in Emma, Colonel Campbell tries warm bathing in Weymouth to treat his hearing difficulties (187); and a London family goes to Sanditon to cure their children’s whooping cough (LM 159–60). Clearly, Austen was familiar with seawater therapy.
Austen’s letters and fiction show the fear many people at first had of sea bathing and the pleasure that followed a few trials. While staying in Lyme Regis, Austen enjoyed bathing: “I continue quite well, in proof of which I have bathed again this morning” (14 September 1804); “The Bathing was so delightful this morning & Molly so pressing with me to enjoy myself that I believe I staid in rather too long, as since the middle of the day I have felt unreasonably tired. I shall be more careful another time, & shall not bathe tomorrow, as I had before intended” (14 September 1804). While Austen felt great joy being in the sea for many hours, in her fiction references to bathing are strangely few, and nobody has as pleasant an experience as she did. Mr. Woodhouse’s complaint, “‘I am sure [the sea] almost killed me once’” (Emma 108), presumably points to his fearful experience of bathing. In Sanditon, Diana Parker states: “‘in five minutes I must be at Mrs. Griffiths’—to encourage Miss Lambe in taking her first dip. She is so frightened, poor thing, that I promised to come and keep up her spirits, and go in the machine with her if she wished it’” (205). To get the Sanditon business on track, it is necessary to help those who are terrified of bathing to overcome their fears.
Launch of the Sanditon business
Austen traveled to several watering places, including Lyme Regis, and that experience is reflected in Sanditon. Deirdre Le Faye surmises that Austen’s visits to Ramsgate and Worthing provided her with the local color necessary for creating Sanditon (28, 66, 302). For many centuries, Worthing was a small fishing village, but in the late eighteenth century it developed into a fashionable resort. In 1805, when Austen visited Worthing, it was a fresh, new holiday resort. In 1815, ten years after her visit, the travel writer John Feltham wrote of the rapid change that had occurred in Worthing: “Never was there an instance of the effects of public partiality more strongly exemplified than at Worthing. In a short space of time, a few miserable fishing huts and smugglers’ dens have been converted into long rows of superb buildings, most of them sufficiently extensive and elegant to accommodate the first families in the kingdom” (503). In this entry on Worthing, the terms “modern,” “respectable,” “extensive,” “growing,” and “elegant” are frequently found; the animation and energy peculiar to a new town are pronounced. Spectacular changes illustrated by those in Worthing provided the model for Sanditon.
The most powerful motive for Sanditon’s transformation is “the probability of its becoming a profitable speculation” (LM 146). The success of Worthing as a much-frequented resort certainly demonstrates that building coastal resorts could be profitable. J. H. Plumb states that by 1750 and 1760, the leisure business had become a growth industry (265), while Mr. Parker’s speech illustrates the prospects for Sanditon’s success: “‘the growth of the place, the buildings, the nursery grounds, the demand for every thing, and the sure resort of the very best company, those regular, steady, private families of thorough gentility and character, who are a blessing every where, excite the industry of the poor and diffuse comfort and improvement among them of every sort’” (142).
On the high street of Sanditon, hotels, lodging houses, a circulating library, fancy shops, and a billiard room are being built. Later, Diana books a lodging and makes arrangements with cooks, maids, washerwomen, and dippers on behalf of Mrs. Griffiths. Expecting countless visitors, speculators prepare facilities which are as splendid as possible, and people are willing to work there. In other words, all Sanditon needs is visitors to create demand.
Unlike Mr. Parker, however, the post-middle-aged characters of Sanditon fear that the seaside development boom will negatively impact their lives. The opinions of some show that they are not easily influenced by fashion. Mr. and Mrs. Heywood are satisfied to stay in their village and rely on home treatments. Mr. Heywood is kind and polite but critical of Mr. Parker’s plans: the development of seaside towns will cause “‘[b]ad things for a country;―sure to raise the price of provisions and make the poor good for nothing’” (142). Lady Denham is anxious about the prospects of the Sanditon business despite being a joint investor. She thinks that visitors to coastal resorts “‘are great fools for not staying at home’” (179), that donkey milk is more effective than seawater, and that physicians can do nothing helpful. She is more attentive to potential loss than Mr. Parker, who tries to ignore the risk in his investment. Whereas he is simply glad to hear the news that a wealthy family will come to Sanditon, she pays attention to the number of bookings for lodgings and worries about the price of commodities and damage to her furniture caused by guests. The contrast between the Heywoods, Lady Denham, and Mr. Parker exemplifies a generation gap in the view of new business. Characters past their mid-fifties are skeptical, while the younger generation imagines only a rosy future.
The apprehensions of the Heywoods and Lady Denham are well founded. In January 1817, when Austen started writing Sanditon, the resort business was entering an age of excessive competition. Mr. Heywood understands this fact: “‘Every five years, one hears of some new place or other starting up by the sea, and growing the fashion.—How they can half of them be filled, is the wonder!’” (142). John K. Walton notes that at the beginning of the nineteenth century the coastline of England was congested with little resort towns that inexpensively satisfied local visitors (15). Southeastern England was extremely competitive: of the fifty-one resorts introduced in Feltham’s 1815 Guide, there are nine in Kent, six in Sussex, and two in Essex—exactly one third of the total number (see Appendix). In the 1820 edition of the Guide, Feltham notes the emergence of new coastal resorts: “some new Spas have been introduced, while a few of the Marine Stations which have lately started into existence, now find a place here, for the first time” (Advertisement). The increase in resort towns indicates the existence of speculators like Mr. Parker in every seaside town. In the 1820 Guide, twenty entries were added: five in Devon, five on the Isle of Wight, and four in Wales are notable (see Appendix), but Sussex had no new entries, hinting that the boom in southeastern England had already reached its peak. By 1817, it may have become increasingly difficult to achieve success in the already overcrowded Sussex resort market.
Uncertain prospects of the Sanditon business
It is impossible to know what kind of conclusion Austen intended for Sanditon, except for the potential that the Sanditon business may either fail or barely succeed. While new visitors are welcomed to the village, the narrator voices anxiety: “every body must now ‘move in a circle,’—to the prevalence of which rotatory motion, is perhaps to be attributed the giddiness and false steps of many” (203). Mr. Parker, as Sanditon’s chief promoter, is comparable to today’s entrepreneur or land developer, but he lacks the foresight and steadiness required to succeed in business. He is introduced as “easy to please;—of a sanguine turn of mind, with more imagination than judgement” (147–48) and quick-tempered with, like his sisters, a “spirit of restless activity” (192)―a tendency to feel uneasy about doing nothing in particular for a long period of time, as evidenced by his misidentification of Willingden and his injury in the first chapter. He explains why he went the wrong way:
“All done in a moment;—the advertisements did not catch my eye till the last half hour of our being in town—; when everything was in the hurry and confusion which always attend a short stay there.—One is never able to complete anything in the way of business you know till the carriage is at the door—and accordingly satisfying myself with a brief enquiry, and finding we were actually to pass within a mile or two of a Willingden, I sought no farther.” (140–41)
These events indicate that Mr. Parker’s thoughts of remaking Sanditon are impetuous; he engages in his business largely based on spur-of-the-moment ideas, and his injury is a direct result of “the giddiness” he feels and the “false steps” (203) he takes while launching the business.
Mr. Parker’s inadequate business skills are described throughout the text. The heroine, Charlotte Heywood, notices that, in planning to develop Sanditon, he finds “vent for his superfluity of sensation as a projector” (192). He believes that it will improve the welfare of others and that doing nothing is useless, as demonstrated by his low esteem for his brother, Arthur: “‘it is bad that he should be fancying himself too sickly for any profession—and sit down at one and twenty, on the interest of his own little fortune, without any idea of attempting to improve it, or of engaging in any occupation that may be of use to himself or others’” (165). Thus, he thinks it is wasteful to miss the opportunity to make use of profitable land and earn a substantial amount from it. His concept of usefulness, however, is illusory due to his poor business vision; for instance, the grocery business he encourages does not do well. Moreover, he cannot grasp situations as they are and postpones dealing with problems. He finds that there are far fewer subscribers to the library than he expected and that they are neither wealthy nor prominent—a sign of a slump in the Sanditon business. Yet, he makes an excuse so as not to accept a bad situation: “It was but July however, and August and September were the months;―and besides, the promised large families from Surry and Camberwell were an ever-ready consolation” (166–67). His actions are unproductive and unwise because they are simply caused by a “spirit of restless activity” (192).
In almost every respect, Diana is a copy of Mr. Parker. Of all of his siblings, she is the one who most shares his penchant for feeling useful to others. The difference between them is that the outlet for his imagination is the transformation of Sanditon, while hers is her self-doctoring of self-produced illnesses and engagement in charitable activities. Unlike Austen’s other hypochondriacs, Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Woodhouse, for instance, Diana is inclined to be active. While Mr. Woodhouse rarely leaves his home, Diana attempts new self-doctoring methods one after another and makes plans to help others. Also affected by a “spirit of restless activity” (192), she is as careless and imprudent as Mr. Parker. Her confusion and errors in identifying Mrs. Griffiths and Miss Lambe are strikingly similar to his failure to identify Willingden. Together with Mr. Parker’s injury, Diana’s blunder shows the delusive nature of Sanditon’s resort business; its prospects of success seem too optimistic.
As an observer, Charlotte describes the disparity between the illusion and reality of Sanditon, its residents, and visitors. Mr. Parker poses as an astute businessman, but he is merely a man of ample imagination. Lady Denham professes herself to be generous and disinterested, but Charlotte detects her greed and meanness. The visitors to Sanditon overlap with the clientele flocking to popular watering places: for instance, “[i]nvalids, pleasure-seekers, gamblers, adventurers” (Barbeau 306).
The visitors to Sanditon do not seem likely to contribute to its success. Among the invalid population, Susan, Diana, and Arthur Parker believe themselves to be ill and love worrying and complaining about their self-produced ailments, but nothing is wrong with them. Charlotte considers Diana’s complaints of illness to be caused by “a good deal of fancy” (192), Susan to have “no symptoms of illness” (193), Arthur’s “enjoyments in invalidism” to be due to his “indulgence of an indolent temper” (198). Unlike the Parker siblings, Miss Lambe is an actual invalid, but her name hints that Austen may have intended her character to represent a gullible patient and/or innocent victim in danger of being seduced by a libertine.
As to adventurers, Sir Edward Denham fashions himself as a Lovelace, and Lady Denham expects him to find an eligible woman among the visitors to Sanditon: “‘if we could get a young heiress to be sent here for her health . . . and as soon as she got well, have her fall in love with Sir Edward’” (179). Unlike the dandies who gathered in Brighton or Weymouth, however, he is both penniless and unpopular with women. The Beaufort sisters pretend to be fashionable ladies, but they are brainless, frivolous, and only interested in attracting admiration and marrying above themselves (202). The narrator says of these husband hunters, “A little novelty has a great effect in so small a place; the Miss Beauforts, who would have been nothing at Brighton, could not move here without notice” (203–04). Mrs. Griffiths seems to care about Miss Lambe’s health in strictly obeying the physician’s advice, but she cannot be completely trusted because she likes the tonic pills patented by her cousin (203). Sanditon, in collecting these visitors, is a poor copy of better-known and more fashionable resort towns, but the chances of its developing into a major spot are unlikely.
To increase the number of visitors to Sanditon, Mr. Parker pursues two strategies. First, he attempts to arouse in the people he meets an anxiety about their health and fitness. Tony Tanner emphasizes this point: “if you want to sell the seaside as a cure, you must also ‘sell’ the notional illnesses which need curing. The invention and promotion of Sanditon is inseparable from the invention and promotion of sickness” (262).
Mr. Parker’s sales talk to the Heywoods builds on this notion of illness to promote the value of Sanditon:
no person could be really well, no person (however upheld for the present by fortuitous aids of exercise and spirits in a semblance of health) could be really in a state of secure and permanent health without spending at least six weeks by the sea every year.—The sea air and sea bathing together were nearly infallible, one or the other of them being a match for every disorder, of the stomach, the lungs or the blood; they were anti-spasmodic, anti-pulmonary, anti-sceptic, anti-bilious and anti-rheumatic. Nobody could catch cold by the sea, nobody wanted appetite by the sea, nobody wanted spirits, nobody wanted strength.—They were healing, softing, relaxing—fortifying and bracing—seemingly just as was wanted—sometimes one, sometimes the other.—If the sea breeze failed, the sea-bath was the certain corrective;—and where bathing disagreed, the sea breeze alone was evidently designed by Nature for the cure. (148–49)
Mr. Parker’s language is similar to the type used in medical books published during Austen’s lifetime, such as those by Russell and Taylor. He not only advertises the efficacy of the sea at Sanditon but also attempts to make the Heywoods believe that they are not really healthy, that their regimen is old-fashioned, and that the way to complete health is to be found in Sanditon. Although he cannot persuade Mr. and Mrs. Heywood, he succeeds in inviting Charlotte. Unlike Mr. Woodhouse, the Heywoods do not entirely reject novelty. Charlotte’s arrival in Sanditon hints that those of moderate fortune and excellent health are potential targets for holiday resort makers.
Mr. Parker’s other strategy to boost the Sanditon business is to attract visitors of a certain quality. He believes that “‘the very best company, those regular, steady, private families of thorough gentility and character’” (142) will make the best patrons, and he pays attention to the ranks of visitors to Sanditon (166). As proven by the success of Brighton and Weymouth following the royal visits, support by the famous and powerful is the most effective campaign. Thus, he welcomes Diana’s idea of recommending Sanditon to an heiress who has just returned from the West Indies. Lady Denham is also happy with the arrival of the West Indian family because she believes that they are wealthy and will spend a lot: “‘A West Indy family and a school. That sounds well. That will bring money’”; “‘No people spend more freely, I believe, than West Indians,’” Mr. Parker responds (170).
This notion of the importance of visitors from the colonies was rooted in contemporary trends. According to Walton, retired planters and ex-East India Company workers were an integral part of new visitors to major inland spas as of the late eighteenth century (7). Feltham wrote in 1815, “so many who have been resident in the East Indies came to visit Cheltenham and to partake of the benefit of its healing waters” (197). Diana’s plan does not completely succeed, but the idea of targeting people who have just returned from the colonies is not bad. First, they are in real need of treating their health, which has been damaged by the hot and humid weather. Second, they are not yet familiar with British fashions and are hungry for anything new. As Mr. Parker understands, the commercial success of Sanditon depends on attracting visitors who need and appreciate what the resort has to offer.
The eagerness to develop Sanditon village typifies the commercialization of leisure and medicine which began in the eighteenth century with the rising middle-class living standard resulting from the onset of the industrial age. Walton notes that seaside visits originally marked an important aspect of the conspicuous consumption of the aristocracy and gentry (6). With the acquisition of wealth and spare time, the middle classes could afford to imitate the lifestyles of their social betters. Steven Watson writes that the Regency middle class regarded upper-class fashion, such as the waltz and women’s sandals, as signs of debauchery, yet they were quick to adopt the seaside holiday habit (548–49). In addition, people increasingly preferred the new therapies available in health resorts to home treatments. The fashion of traveling to the seaside was a product of these factors.
It is obvious that anxiety about a “spirit of restless activity” (192) prevails in Sanditon. In the passage, “every body must now ‘move in a circle,’—to the prevalence of which rotatory motion, is perhaps to be attributed the giddiness and false steps of many” (203), Austen signals apprehension about the new middle-class fashion for travel, amusement, or health cures in seaside resorts. Austen’s experience of sea bathing suggests that she appreciated the delights brought about by an occasional change of scenery. Nevertheless, in her fiction, seawater is presented as accomplishing little, while the travel craze is described as frivolous and self-indulgent through her characterization of visitors to the village of Sanditon. Mr. and Mrs. Heywood are part of the last generation that is allowed to remain pleasant and healthy in stasis based on a simple regimen. As Brian Southam points out, the Heywoods embody Austen’s nostalgia and love for the sober country life (372). At the same time, they are willing to send Charlotte to Sanditon, and Charlotte adapts to the new environment well enough.
A “restless activity” (192) seems flippant and reckless to those who hold old customs and habits in esteem, but others find it exciting and fascinating. There are therefore many who are happy to join in such activity. We are left with the expectation that, even if the Sanditon business were to fail, the village would start up some other development activity and never return to what it once was.