What is this fascination that Jane’s characters have for us? Since the death of Jane Austen, two hundred years ago, numerous authors, including Jane’s relatives, have speculated about “what then” or “what if” questions. David Gilson’s A Bibliography of Jane Austen (1983) lists fourteen continuations and completions of Jane Austen’s work between 1912 and 1975, the first being Sybil Brinton’s Old Friends and New Fancies: An Imaginary Sequel to the Novels of Jane Austen (1913). The popularity of Jane Austen soared when film and movie adaptations of her work began to appear, particularly in the 1990s with the popularity of the Pride and Prejudice miniseries (1995), Sense and Sensibility (1995), and Emma (1996). These Austen television series and films also inspired writers, and soon a cottage industry of Austen-like works sprouted up, beginning particularly in 2000. With the ease and increase of self-publishing, even more continuations, adaptations, and spin-offs are published each month. Many are published in e-book or print format by Amazon’s self-publishing service or by vanity presses
Sanditon, celebrating its bicentennial year, is the last and least adapted of the novels. The existence of the Sanditon manuscript was first made known to the public in 1871 when James Edward Austen-Leigh included a summary of the work in the second edition of his A Memoir of Jane Austen. Austen-Leigh did not consider Sanditon worthy of publication but included the summary in the Memoir’s second edition in response to numerous requests. One such request expressed the sentiment of most: “Every line from the pen of Jane Austen is precious” (M. Austen-Leigh 65–66). The fragment was first published in its entirety in 1925 under the title Fragment of a Novel with Notes, edited by R. W. Chapman, who transcribed Jane Austen’s original manuscript while it was still owned by Anna Lefroy’s granddaughter, Isabel Lefroy (Austen, Minor Works 363). A few years later the manuscript was donated to King’s College, Cambridge, and it is available in facsimile on the website Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts. A fair copy of the fragment made by Cassandra Austen resides in Jane Austen’s House Museum (MW 363).
Sanditon was merely 24,000 words in length when Jane Austen became too ill to continue the work (Southam 101–02). As several critics note, in Sanditon, Jane Austen explores a different road in her writing. She moves further from her “little bit . . . of Ivory” (16–17 December 1816) towards a wider world. Brian Southam observes that her style “is relaxed and varied with a new rhythmical freedom and a fresh use of language” (102), contending that this last work, the longest of the few surviving manuscripts, shows Austen as a working novelist: “in Sanditon the mature artist sought to extend her range even further, in directions scarcely hinted at in the earlier novels” (vi).
Mary Lascelles also observes that Jane Austen’s work takes a different direction and further points out that if Austen’s complete novels had been left in the same incomplete form as Sanditon, they would have left no doubt as to their respective outcomes (39, 181). This change in literary style is perhaps the foremost reason that until 1975 there are only three continuations or adaptations of Sanditon: her niece Jane Anna Austen Lefroy’s incomplete continuation, Alice Cobbett’s Somehow Lengthened. A Development of “Sanditon” (1932), and Marie Dobbs’s Sanditon, by Jane Austen and Another Lady (1975).1 The fragment The Watsons (abandoned in 1805) is shorter than Sanditon (only 17,500 versus 24,000 words), and yet five completions were written between 1850 and 1977. Compared to Austen’s other works, including her shorter, unfinished pieces, the plot of Sanditon unfolds slowly. Even though she had completed twelve chapters, the direction of the plot was not clear, thus making it difficult for any future writer to conclude the work.
Anna Lefroy, frequently referred to as Jane Austen’s “literary niece,” was the first writer to attempt a continuation of Sanditon, circa 1845–1860, but the work was not published until 1983. The existence of Lefroy’s manuscript was virtually unknown except to her descendants until it appeared in the December 13, 1977, Sotheby’s Parke Bernet auction. Southam, in his 1980 Jane Austen’s “Sir Charles Grandison,” is the first to note its presence.
I learned of the existence of Lefroy’s continuation while working as a rare book cataloguer for James Borg, a Chicago rare book dealer and owner of a fine press. Dr. Borg purchased Lefroy’s Sanditon continuation with the intent to publish it. When viewing the manuscript for the first time, I was struck by the similarity of Lefroy’s and Austen’s manuscripts in physical size, appearance, and handwriting style. Lefroy’s manuscript consists of 113 handwritten pages, including some hand-stitched gatherings and some loose foldings. Jane Austen also used ordinary writing paper folded in half to about the size of Anna’s and stitched together into gatherings. Lefroy’s Sanditon manuscript was a working draft, not a fair copy, with numerous additions and deletions, as well as pastedowns and clippings. Lefroy took seriously her aunt’s advice about the importance of revising text or, as Austen wrote in a letter to Anna, “scratching out some of the past” (18 September 1814), and many of her pages are heavily edited.
Anna Lefroy, a published author herself, received her Aunt Jane’s Sanditon fragment and cancelled chapters of Persuasion through her Aunt Cassandra, sometime after her death on March 22, 1845. When Anna inherited the Sanditon manuscript, she likely continued her writing by attempting to complete her Aunt Jane’s work. Therefore, a date circa 1845–1855 seems likely for Lefroy’s Sanditon. In a letter to James Edward, Lefroy discusses her thoughts on publishing Austen’s Sanditon fragment: “One ought to do in this case what the Authoress would certainly have done for herself—slightly alter, & very carefully correct” (Le Faye 58). Significantly, the letter also confirms that Lefroy and Austen had discussed Sanditon during its composition, specifically the Parker family. These discussions would have allowed Lefroy to develop those characters in line with her aunt’s thoughts: “The truth is, I am getting fond of Mr. Parker. The other members of the Parker family . . . were certainly suggested by conversations which passed between Aunt Jane & me during the time that she was writing the story” (Le Faye 58).
Because of Austen’s letters to Lefroy, we know what Lefroy had learned from Austen about writing fiction. Anna Lefroy had previously added to Jane Austen’s texts, including “Sir Charles Grandison” and “Evelyn” (Southam, “Grandison” 32). Although, unfortunately, Lefroy’s continuation of Sanditon is incomplete, her manuscript is approximately the same length as Austen’s fragment and therefore essentially doubles the length of the novel. The continuation is, of course, not of the same literary quality as Jane Austen’s work, as Lefroy readily admits: “There seems to me just the same difference as between real Lace, & Imitation” (Le Faye 59).
Yet despite Lefroy’s doubts, the work is well written and flows easily from where the original story stops. Austen’s manuscript ends with Mrs. Parker, Charlotte, and Mary being shown into a room at Sanditon House to await the arrival of Lady Denham. Charlotte is observing her surroundings and wondering what to make of a scene she alone has witnessed—Clara Brereton and Sir Edward Denham having a private conversation in the thick mist. Here Austen’s manuscript ends and Lefroy’s begins: Lady Denham appears and explains her delay—she had been making a “strict examination” of the kitchen. According to Lady Denham, she had declined Clara’s offer to help because “attics is no place for your delicate light coloured muslin’” (Lefroy 3). Lady Denham believes that Clara has taken her suggestion and is at that moment sorting lavender and rose leaves. Charlotte, who has recently seen Clara and knows that she is not so occupied, is uncomfortable and wonders what will happen when Lady Denham learns the truth. Thus, Lefroy makes a smooth transition from Austen’s manuscript to her own and, in the process, carries on Austen’s idea of a certain mysteriousness surrounding Clara Brereton.
Lefroy expands Austen’s main characters and heeds her aunt’s early advice to have the characters act consistently. For example, Charlotte, who appears to be the heroine in Austen’s fragment, continues in that role in Lefroy’s work. Using a device frequently employed by Austen, Lefroy has the reader view the behavior of other characters through the observant main character, Charlotte. Lefroy introduces several more characters, both major and minor, including Sidney’s friend, Mr. Tracy, James Brereton, and Mrs. Dawes.
In addition to characterization, plot is a major concern in any continuation. As previously noted, compared to Austen’s other works, the plot of Sanditon unfolds slowly. Although the manuscript is six thousand words longer than The Watsons, Austen gives the reader little indication of plot. For Lefroy, plotting the continuation of Sanditon, even though she was familiar with her aunt’s style, must have been difficult. She was also under the additional constraint of producing a work of the same quality as her aunt’s—an impossible task.
Given these circumstances, it is not surprising that Lefroy’s work contains less plot development than some of the other continuations. Lefroy’s version only hints at how the inevitable matchmaking among members of the “3 or 4 Families in a Country Village” (9–18 September 1814) will be completed. The two main characters, Charlotte and Sidney, seem destined for heroine and hero. Several unspoken communications pass between them, and they sing well together, signs of compatibility. Charlotte appears attracted to Sidney. Soon after meeting him, Charlotte reflects, “He is very pleasant . . . and I suppose clever—superior in someways to the rest of his family” (Lefroy 24). Lefroy’s continuation terminates just when enough has been written to arouse the reader’s interest but not to satisfy her curiosity. The text concludes with Sidney unexpectedly leaving a card party at the Parkers’ to speak with Mr. Woodcock. Sidney looks back in the room, catches Charlotte’s eye, and asks, “Will you be kind enough to take my place?” (Lefroy 78). These are the section’s final words. Sidney has extended his stay at Sanditon for the purpose of helping his brother Tom, who may be having financial difficulties, perhaps the reason Mr. Woodcock has come to see him at such an odd hour.
Lefroy’s personal knowledge of her aunt’s literary predilections, their literary discussions, their writing collaboration, and especially their discussions about the characters in Sanditon, give Anna Austen Lefroy’s continuation literary significance.
Alice Cobbett’s Somehow Lengthened. A Development of “Sanditon” (1932) and Sanditon by Jane Austen and Another Lady (1975) are the next two continuations published. Both Cobbett and “Another Lady” (alternately listed as Marie Dobbs or as Anne Telscombe, Dobbs’s pen name), in their respective completions of Sanditon, create more extensive plot development than does Lefroy. Yet neither of the completions likely represents what Jane Austen would have done with the story had she lived.
Somehow Lengthened is the first published attempt at completing Sanditon. Copies of the book are quite scarce. In a recent search, I found only one copy for sale online, and World Cat (which lists books available in libraries all over the world) lists only twelve copies (four in the U.S.). Although Cobbett’s work is technically a continuation, she has neither used Austen’s actual fragment nor significantly relied on Austen’s work. Rather, Cobbett has written a novel that merely uses as its basis Austen’s characters and general story line. A review that appeared in the year of publication notes: “The re-told opening is so unlike Jane Austen’s that they can scarcely be compared. . . . Somehow Lengthened, on its own merits, is a pleasant, lively story, well worth reading” (Redlich).
The best known and most easily accessible continuation is Sanditon by Jane Austen and Another Lady (Marie Dobbs). Unlike Cobbett’s work, Dobbs incorporates passages or summaries from Austen’s Sanditon manuscript. She closes the novel with “An Apology from the Collaborator”: “None of these things can be faithfully copied. And for their deficiencies in this seventh novel, I do apologize” (329).
The last twentieth-century adaptation is A Sanditon Quadrille (1981), by Rebecca Baldwin, another rare book with only six listings in World Cat. The author uses “Sanditon” as a setting and in the title as a tribute to Jane Austen. In her “Author’s Note/Apologia,” she writes: “It is hoped that the reader will understand that the choice of Miss Austen’s locale for this novel was undertaken as much in tribute to the power of that lady’s genius of observation as for the irresistible lure of a Regency resort as the natural setting for romantic tangling and untangling” (6).
The continuations of Sanditon post 2000 can be divided into two groups: those by professional authors and those self-published. In this first group is Julia Barrett’s Jane Austen’s Charlotte: Her Fragment of a Last Novel, Completed (2002). She begins her novel with Austen’s first twelve chapters and refers to Lefroy’s continuation in the preface. This novel is one of the few Sanditon completions or adaptations by a professional author and published by an established publishing house. Like many of the continuations, the book begins typically enough with the suggestion of love relationships between characters. Unfortunately, the characters are not well developed, too many additional characters are added, and the plot soon turns melodramatic with smuggling and gambling. Deborah Yaffe, who reviewed many of the Sanditon continuations in her “Sanditon Summer” blog, writes of this novel: “wading through more than two hundred pages of this stuff is an exquisite form of psychological torture. It’s too late for me, but you can still save yourself.”
Reginald Hill, a popular mystery author, published The Price of Butcher’s Meat (2008, published in the U.K. as A Cure for All Diseases) as number twenty-three in his popular series featuring Yorkshire detectives Andrew Dalziel and Peter Pascoe. The title, which Hill quotes at the beginning of the novel, comes from Austen’s Sanditon: “‘depend upon it, you will be thinking of the price of Butcher’s meat in time’” (393). The novel has a rather lengthy dedication “To Janeites everywhere,” in which Hill especially thanks them for the welcome he received at the 1997 JASNA AGM, “Sanditon: The New Direction?” He further notes that the conference sowed “the seeds of this present novel” and that he hopes his “fellow Janeites will approve the direction in which [he] moved her unfinished story” (4). Detective Dalziel, injured in Death Comes for the Fat Man, is recuperating in Sandytown, Yorkshire (standing in for Sanditon). The plot revolves around Lady Daphne Denham’s violent death by strangling and roasting in a basket over a charcoal pit. The format of the novel is a combination of emails, transcriptions from a voice diary, and regular text. Charlotte Heywood, known as Charlie, is a nineteen-year-old psychology student working on her thesis, who becomes involved in solving the case of Lady Denham. As in Austen’s novel, the story begins with Tom and Mary Parker having an accident (in a car rather than a carriage) and inviting Charlie to visit them in Sandytown. Other Austen characters also appear in the novel, including Diana and Sidney Parker, Sir Edward, Clara Brereton, and Esther Denham. The book is over five hundred pages long, and the format is more distracting than crucial to the plot; however, fans of Reginald Hill and Jane Austen might find this novel worth reading.
Helen Marshall’s “Sanditon” (2012), originally published as part of her Hair Side, Flesh Side, is a peculiar short story set in London. Hanna, a junior Canadian book editor, meets Gavin, a married author, at a conference. After a night of drinking a bit too much, they return to Gavin’s hotel room and have a sexual encounter. Hanna then notices a discolored lump on her neck and asks Gavin to look at it. At first, he thinks the mark is a tattoo, but soon realizes it says “Sanditon.” Hanna picks her skin away, eventually revealing the completed, handwritten Sanditon. She struggles to understand why “Jane Austen [would] choose to write her last words on the inside of a twenty-eight-year-old editor, almost two hundred years after her death.” Gavin claims it’s a miracle and leaves Hanna in the hotel room, warning her not to leave, while he negotiates the publication of the manuscript and publicizes the work. Using her cell phone, Hanna takes photos of the manuscript and transcribes them. Eventually, she escapes the hotel room and returns to her own room in the suburbs, where she rolls up her transcription and slides it into the gap in her skin, pressing Austen’s manuscript against her own. The story includes a few short quotes from Austen’s original but no continuation and no mention of the characters.
The last of the traditionally published works is Carrie Bebris’s The Suspicion at Sanditon (Or, the Disappearance of Lady Denham): A Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mystery (2015), part of a series. The Darcys are reluctantly drawn into a mystery when they are invited with other Sanditon inhabitants to Lady Denham’s home for dinner. Unfortunately, Lady Denham has disappeared, and the Darcys must solve the case. During the search of the house, Susan Parker also disappears. Are the women dead or have they been abducted? This well-written mystery will appeal to Austen lovers as well as to mystery readers.
In 2000, Pamela Licalzi O’Connell wrote about the phenomenon of fan fiction on the web, especially science fiction, noting that Austen is the only classic author to inspire a large collection of fan fiction. Little did O’Connell realize the flood of fan fiction that would appear in the next seventeen years as Austen-inspired fiction is being published at a furious rate by Amazon and other vanity presses.
Because many of these titles are published on demand, the majority are not readily available, frequently with only a few copies listed in World Cat. These completions of Sanditon include E. D. Eden’s Sanditon (2002); Juliette Shapiro’s A Completion of Sanditon: Jane Austen’s Unfinished Novel (2003); Donald Measham’s Jane Austen Out of the Blue (2006); Helen Baker’s The Brothers (2011); Anne Toledo’s A Return to Sanditon (2011); Jennifer Petkus’s Jane, Actually: Or Jane Austen’s Book Tour (2013); C. M. Mitchell’s Girl Finds Change: A Pride and Prejudice Sanditon Variation (2015) and three other novels in the “Girl Finds Eternity” series; David Williams’s Set in the Silver Sea by Jane Austen and a Gentleman (2016); and Ney Mitch’s Safety & Serenity: A Pride & Prejudice Sanditon Reimagining and Crisis & Conflict: A Pride & Prejudice Sanditon Variation (2017).
Petkus’s Jane, Actually will have special appeal to Janeites because of the in-jokes and one section of the novel’s taking place at the 2011 JASNA AGM in Fort Worth. Although set in current time, the novel includes Jane Austen as a character. The invention of the “AfterNet” technology and terminals—similar to emails, internet, and texting—allow the dead (or “disembodied”) to communicate with other disembodied and the living, and Jane’s identity has been confirmed by the AfterNet Authentication Committee. Jane Austen cannot write down words but is able to produce texts by memorizing what she has written in her head. After she completes Sanditon, she finds a literary agent, her book is published, and she goes on a book tour. Since Austen is invisible, she and her literary agent hire an avatar—acting student Mary Crawford—to sign autographs and appear to those who are alive. Albert Ridings, whom Jane nursed during World War I and with whom she has been communicating through the AfterNet for almost one hundred years, becomes Jane’s love interest. Petkus combines the paranormal, realism, and suspense to make a fascinating, compelling read.
In addition to print and e-book continuations and adaptations, several other media formats of Sanditon have appeared in recent years. Welcome to Sanditon, a web series of twenty-seven episodes, appeared in 2013. This spin-off was produced by Pemberley Digital, best known for its Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Some of the characters from Lizzie Bennet Diaries appear in Welcome to Sanditon; for example, Gigi Darcy is spending the summer in Sanditon, California, testing Domino, a new video-conferencing software produced by her brother’s company. Fans of this interactive adaptation were encouraged to create their own characters and Twitter accounts as well as to upload videos.
So far, the only film version of Sanditon is Chris Brindle’s 2014 two- part production. Brindle based his film on both Austen’s fragment and Anna Lefroy’s continuation. While researching his ancestor R. H. C. Ubsdell (1812–1887), a Portsmouth portrait and landscape artist, who painted a miniature of Anna Lefroy, he became interested in Anna Austen Lefroy. Brindle writes of his project: “I had heard Austen’s wonderful dialogue voiced by professional actors, and I then knew that I could complete Sanditon in dialogue as a play without the encumbrance of having to try and replicate Austen’s prose in novel form” (email). This choice leads him to “tell the story of Sanditon, Anna Lefroy, and James Edward Austen-Leigh” (email). Brindle recruited Amanda Jacobs, composer of Pride and Prejudice, the Musical, to write the music.
Brindle’s Jane Austen’s Sanditon: The-Film-of-the-Play is a rehearsed reading with actors in costume reading from scripts, although several scenes are filmed outdoors without scripts. Act 1 is based on Austen’s fragment. Act 2 is based on Lefroy’s continuation. The film, released in 2014, includes a lovely duet between Charlotte and Sidney, “Blue Briny Sea,” that was shot at Chawton House Library using an 1828 piano.
Jane Austen’s Sanditon: Documentary, filmed on location, tells the story of Anna Lefroy’s writing her continuation and James Edward Austen-Leigh’s composing A Memoir of Jane Austen. Amy Burrows, who played Charlotte Heywood in Jane Austen’s Sanditon: The-Film-of-the-Play, serves as narrator. The Documentary is of special interest because many scenes were filmed on location in places where Anna Lefroy, James Edward Austen-Leigh, and Jane Austen lived. Some of Amanda Jacobs’s music was performed on historic pianos at Chawton Cottage and Chawton House Library. (The film and documentary are available through Amazon U.K.; more information about the project appears on www.sanditon.info.)
Beginning last year, announcements appeared on the Internet of a new film of Sanditon, starring Charlotte Rampling (as Lady Denham), Holliday Grainger (as Charlotte Heywood), Toby Jones (as Tom Parker), and Max Irons (as Sidney Parker). The film, based on Marie Dobbs’s completion of Sanditon, is to be directed by Jim O’Hanlon (director of the 2009 BBC Emma), with a screenplay by Simon Reade, and produced by Reade and Guy de Beaujeu for Fluidity Films, with executive producers Goldcrest’s Nick Quested and Pascal Degove. Filming has been delayed until 2018 with expected theatrical release in 2019 (“Austen’s Sanditon”).
Jane Austen’s Sanditon is well worth reading, for Austen’s wit, style, and language live in the short manuscript. As vanity presses and Amazon make it easier to self-publish, the number of books has skyrocketed and the quality of these Austen imitations has greatly diminished. This self-publishing trend makes it impractical to update the continuations and completion section of Gilson’s bibliography. I estimate the number would be at least a thousand, with hundreds more published every year; but because the majority are self-published, it is almost impossible to determine an exact number. These continuations, adaptations, and spin-offs serve to remind us of the superiority of Jane Austen’s writing and yet bring us closer to Jane Austen’s world. Because of Sanditon’s innovations in style and its short length, writers have for the most part chosen to emulate or expand upon Austen’s other works. As readers, we have created an ever-expanding demand for “more like Jane” in any format. For many readers, “So many books, so little time” has become “So many imitators, only one Jane Austen.”