Home ›   |   Publications ›   |   Persuasions On-Line ›   |   Volume 38 No. 2 ›   |   Sanditon as Fragmentary Draft Manuscript

Sanditon as Fragmentary Draft Manuscript

When Charles Lamb visited Trinity College, Cambridge, in the summer of 1820, he was shown an autograph manuscript of Milton’s “Lycidas.”1  He reacted with horror, recording his response in the (misleadingly titled) essay “Oxford in the Vacation,” published in the London Magazine in October 1820:

There is something to me repugnant, at any time, in the written hand.  The text never seems determinate.  Print settles it.  I had thought of the Lycidas as of a full-grown beauty—as springing up with all its parts absolute—till, in evil hour, I was shown the original written copy of it, together with the other minor poems of its author, in the Library of Trinity, kept like some treasure to be proud of.  I wish they had thrown them in the Cam, or sent them, after the latter cantos of Spenser, into the Irish Channel.  How it staggered me to see the fine things in their ore! interlined, corrected! as if their words were mortal, alterable, displaceable at pleasure! as if they might have been otherwise, and just as good! as if inspiration were made up of parts, and those fluctuating, successive, indifferent!  (367 n) 

James Edward Austen-Leigh, in the first edition of the Memoir of his aunt, published in 1870, spoke vaguely and dismissively of Austen’s surviving manuscripts, stating only that Austen left behind some writing “she considered unworthy of publication” (60).  In the second edition of 1871, he restated his view with respect to Sanditon in particular, noting that “[s]uch an unfinished fragment cannot be presented to the public” (182), but he yielded to public demand for more works by Austen by reproducing very brief excerpts from various characters whom he deemed “ready dressed and prepared for their parts” (194).  Austen-Leigh also interpreted the manuscript as displaying evidence of physical and mental debility, to extenuate the unusual nature of the narrative. R. W. Chapman, Sanditon’s next editor, for his part disagreed, finding no “implication of a progressive decline” within the manuscript’s pages, “the latter part of the manuscript show[ing] no change in legibility or accuracy” (vi).  Beyond differences respecting the handwriting, however, readers including Chapman have long struggled to grasp the apparent eccentricity of the work itself as, for most readers, Sanditon seems discontinuous with the productions of the mature Austen, author at her death of six complete novels. 

Chapman’s view was that Austen “would have smoothed these coarse strokes, so strikingly different from the mellow pencillings of Persuasion” in further revisions (208).  In other words, she would have altered the manuscript in such a way that it harmonized with the novels that immediately preceded it. Chapman’s theory has been influential.  His approach is usually paired with observations about the similarity of the fragment with the early writing.  In a previous article, for example, I suggest that Sanditon’s apparent return to earlier habits may not reflect an actual circling back, but a witnessing, by us, of her writing at an earlier stage of composition, an opportunity that is almost entirely foreclosed by the lack of surviving manuscripts of the novels, with the cancelled Persuasion being the one exception (Levy 1026).  Given the little we know, however, it might be useful to reconsider the assumption that print was Austen’s ultimate goal for Sanditon.  Upon Chapman’s first complete publication in 1925, the reviewer for the The New York Times declared Sanditon to be “half, or nearly half, a . . . novel” (13).  Austen-Leigh’s assessment that his aunt believed it to be fundamentally “unworthy of publication” (1870 ed., 59–60) assumes that she intended it for print, but simply was too ill to bring it to completion and into conformity with the standards for print.  This article adopts a different approach:  rather than reading Sanditon as an embryonic novel, it reads the work explicitly as a fragmentary draft manuscript, and raises the possibility that its audience may not have been the public one generally assumed. 

Chapman’s first edition of Sanditon, published as Fragment of a Novel, was a clean though not a regularized reading text:  all cancellations were removed (and collected in an appendix), though he did not intervene to create paragraphs or expand abbreviations.  Since then, Sanditon is usually reproduced as a reading version of the text, one that transforms the draft, removing Austen’s cancellations and adding her substitutions, expanding abbreviations, inserting paragraphs, and adding punctuation.  These reading versions are, in appearance and style, settled; they are corrected and regularized for print, thus resembling the writing we find in the printed novels.  Although a facsimile version was published in 1975 by Brian Southam, the first accessible reproduction has been available only since 2010, with the release of Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts: A Digital Edition, edited by Kathryn Sutherland.  Thus, until very recently, most discussions of Sanditon seem to rest upon one of the many reading texts that had been published; now, however, when we converse about Sanditon, we address a range of textual versions and physical reproductions of the underlying manuscript. 

According to Hans Gabler, the editing process inevitably effects a rupture by separating the textual from the material, or in Jerome McGann’s terms, the linguistic from the bibliographical: 

in terms of transmission, documents play a twofold role.  They embody whatever is transmitted; yet as material bodies, they are themselves perishable.  Consequently, the cultural practices of transmission, and specifically those of editing, originate from an awareness of the mutability of documents, and have been invented and developed to stay the effects of their decay and loss.  But this also means that transmission and editing have always divorced text from documents:  text can only be transmitted and edited by being lifted off one document and inscribed upon another. . . . 

Yet original documents possess features which no edition one might imagine could exhaust, since they are in truth unamenable to editing.  An original document is an autograph, and thus uncopyable and unreproduceable.  As an original, it has the autograph quality of a painting. . . . (Gabler 198) 

As Gabler notes, editing necessarily works to “divorc[e] text from its material support” (199).  The dynamics and temporality of manuscript writing are thus always lost, for the text must be “lifted off one document and inscribed upon another” (198). 

Gabler insists that digital editions—even those that produce photographic facsimiles of the original manuscripts—effect a distance between us and the original documents.  In addressing a similar issue confronting Dorothy Wordsworth studies, Rachel Feder notes how Wordsworth’s manuscripts, most of which circulated during her lifetime, “become denatured and dematerialized when removed from the textual corpus that they and their implied readers inhabit” (543).  Similarly, when we read Austen’s manuscript works as if they were printed, we necessarily encounter editorial creations, products of a modern print consciousness.  Feder calls for a method of “archival reading,” which she describes as 

a particular type of textual criticism focused, not on process and product, but rather on the experience of encountering an archival text.  When transcribed and removed from the archive, Dorothy Wordsworth’s poems, journals, and travel writings fit neatly into the conventional genre categories of Romantic women’s writing.  However, when read in their original, material contexts, the texts engage in cross-genre innovations and intertextual experiments.  (541) 

Similarly, when adapted for print, Austen’s manuscript narratives like Sanditon begin to take the shape of proto-novels.  In this essay, I adopt Feder’s process of “archival reading” to re-materialize Austen’s Sanditon in order to help us read Austen’s manuscript writing both as a distinct product of material and social culture and as subsisting within a larger archive of written materials Austen left behind.  This essay seeks experimentally to offer a reading of Sanditon that is guided by its material status as the single surviving draft manuscript of the text we now know as Sanditon.  It draws upon existing digital and print editions of Sanditon, as well as the extensive body of editorial and scholarly work on Austen’s manuscripts, which collectively allow for a material understanding of this one work and the archive as a whole, even without access to the original manuscripts.2 

When read as a regularized and edited reading text, Sanditon’s comparison to Austen’s print novels seems natural; when read in facsimile form, however, its strong material and textual connections to her earlier confidential manuscripts emerge.  If we understand Sanditon as not being written exclusively or immediately for print, we might wish to reassess claims, like D. A. Miller’s, that Sanditon reflects “the formal ruination of the Austen Novel, as we have come to know it” (76).  These interpretations unhelpfully pit the print novel against the script fragment, with the former setting the standard for the latter.  The comparison, however, is hardly a fair one, particularly since we do not know if Austen intended the last work for publication, or wished to continue to write within the confidential realm.  If one views Sanditon as continuous with works like the juvenilia, Lady Susan, and “Plan of a Novel,” as well as possibly The Watsons, the commonalities and preoccupations in both substance and form become apparent.  These connections establish the importance of manuscript as an expressive medium for Austen, one that continued beyond the juvenile period and operated alongside her engagements with print culture.  The process of revision within the drafts also seems to demonstrate a common working method.  In addition, we find accumulated evidence of Austen’s resistance to the requirements of print fiction (Sutherland, Textual 169–70).  When viewed within the lineage of her manuscript works, Sanditon can be read as providing a retrospective self-assessment of her own capitulation to the norms of early-nineteenth-century print fiction, a kind of writing back to herself as the author of six complete, and four printed, novels. 

Materially, the physical manuscript of Sanditon is comparable to her earlier incomplete draft, The Watsons:  both measure approximately 190 x 120 mm and survive in three handmade booklets, cut, folded, and sewn apparently by Austen herself.3  A 24,000-word narrative, divided into chapters and drafted into three gatherings, Sanditon also physically resembles the surviving Persuasion manuscript, prepared and drafted only the year before.  Persuasion has been taken apart and remounted by conservators, but it began as a handmade booklet of sixteen leaves (Sutherland, Fiction Manuscripts, “Headnote to Persuasion”).  Austen used these small booklets, according to Sutherland, “as they were more easily secreted . . . from prying eyes” (Textual 169).  In all three booklets, there is no pagination, no clear or regular paragraphing, and no separation of speaking parts from one another, though there are chapter breaks.  Austen’s revision practices also appear consistent across these three manuscripts.  In the absence of margins, the main type of revisions we find are strikethroughs and minuscule interlinear corrections.  For larger revisions, she substitutes new sections by using patches, pinned in The Watsons, pasted in Persuasion.  (No such patches are found in Sanditon, likely because she did not live to revise it extensively.)  The latter two manuscripts have chapter divisions and several dates inserted, suggesting modest developments in Austen’s compositional practices, which, according to Sutherland, appear to have “remained fairly constant over the period 1804–17” (Textual 172). 

Sutherland also notes that Austen’s manuscript booklets are “already novelistic in physical form” (Textual 169), mimicking the codex, and their size and structure also map onto Austen’s printed pages, all published in a small octavo format.  In terms of words per line, lines per page, and overall words per page, the handmade notebooks seem to have constrained Austen to draft pages that roughly approximated print pages.  Furthermore, the small booklets enabled modularity, insofar as one booklet could easily be swapped out (or taken apart) if more substantial changes were called for.  These material similarities among the manuscripts seem to demonstrate an established compositional process (Sutherland, Textual 145). 

Donald Reiman helpfully distinguishes among three categories of modern manuscripts, based on their intended audiences:  private manuscripts, meant only for the eyes of the writer or perhaps one or two more; confidential manuscripts, intended for a slightly wider but still constrained social audience; and public manuscripts, those intended for a broad and indiscriminate readership, usually via print.  Scholars have typically considered the juvenilia as belonging either to the private or confidential categories, and the one novel manuscript that survives, the cancelled Persuasion chapters, to the public.  However, there are a few fiction manuscripts, including The Watsons, Lady Susan, and Sanditon, that might trouble these categories:  were these works meant for print, with the versions that have survived simply not ready for publication, as unfinished or unrevised?  Or do they belong more fully to the private or confidential categories of her earlier writing? 

Recent scholarship has taken a nuanced approach to the totality of Austen’s manuscript writing, noticing, first, that most of Austen’s manuscript fiction was shared and so should be considered confidential and, second, that she produced both confidential and public manuscripts throughout her writing life.  As Kathryn Sutherland observes, Austen never abandoned the kind of writing we find in the juvenilia: 

The evidence suggests that by the 1810s Austen maintained simultaneous yet distinct identities as amateur and professional author—on the one hand participating in and encouraging longstanding habits of family writing, on the other circumscribing its influence on her professional development.  (“From Kitty” 142) 

This scholarship has helped us to understand the writing completed after the juvenilia—works like “Plan of a Novel,” the “Opinions of Mansfield Park,” “Opinions of Emma,” her poetry, and several letters in which she reflects on her fictional practices—as domestic or confidential publications, not intended for a public audience but not meant for an absolutely private audience either.  Austen’s participation in a domestic manuscript culture thus may be seen to extend across her career, ending with her poem on the Winchester races, written two days before her death.  For Austen, producing what Reiman calls “confidential manuscripts” and participating in what Margaret Ezell calls “social authorship” was an essential means of expressing herself in ways that were unsuited to or impossible in print.  For these manuscripts, Austen had a domestic audience in mind; though it may be that the circulation of some of these manuscripts had to be more carefully controlled than that of others. 

One of the most influential accounts of Austen’s transition from script to print is that of Margaret Anne Doody, who concludes that Austen had to tame herself for print, that only through a revolutionary process did she become publishable:  for Doody, this process is one of accommodation, conformity, and domestication.  Although powerful, this thesis does not address the later domestic publications, mentioned above, as well as the ones whose status, in terms of intentionality, is even more uncertain:  The Watsons, Lady Susan, and Sanditon.  Sutherland describes Austen’s public manuscripts as “straightforwardly transitional documents that led lives of narrow and thrifty expediency, serving first her expressive needs, then providing copy for the press, before ending up as printing-house wastepaper” (Textual 122).  The cancelled Persuasion chapters, forming part of a novel that was in fact printed, may readily be understood as a public manuscript.  The Watsons, although abandoned unfinished by Austen, nevertheless bears many of the markers of her printed fiction:  featuring a realistic narrative, focused on a heroine confronting dire economic circumstances, it seems to bear direct comparison to the print novels.  The raciness of Lady Susan, however, seems to place it closer to the confidential realm along the social-public continuum.  But what is Sanditon’s place, and can we unambiguously declare it a public manuscript?  Although Sanditon shares material similarities with these two manuscripts, and its length is unusual for a purely domestic publication, its status as a public manuscript is far from certain, clouded by the manuscript sensibility the fragment evokes. 

Beyond the material features of the manuscript, the few biographical details we possess also bear upon Austen’s intention with respect to Sanditon.  When Austen made her first booklet in late January 1817 to begin Sanditon, she had in her possession two complete novel manuscripts:  Persuasion, which she had finished (with the revised ending) the previous summer, and Northanger Abbey, which had been revised at some point after it was repurchased from Crosby in early 1816.  In submitting neither manuscript novel for print, Austen was breaking with an established pattern.  Since 1811, Austen had published a novel almost every year:  in 1811, Sense and Sensibility; 1813, Pride and Prejudice; 1814, Mansfield Park; 1815, Emma.  We have more precise dates for the composition and publication for the latter two novels.  For them, a period of nine to ten months elapsed between their completion and publication:  Mansfield Park was finished in July 1813, sold in November, and published in May 1814; Emma was finished in March 1815 and published in December of that year (LM xxiv–xxvi). 

With Persuasion finished in the late summer of 1816, one would have expected Persuasion to appear in the late spring of 1817.  Yet it does not appear that Austen made any effort to publish either Persuasion or Northanger Abbey during the last year of her life (P xli; NA xxix), though she suggested to her niece on March 13, 1817, that Persuasion “may perhaps appear about a twelvemonth hence.4  There are several possible reasons for her delay:  Henry’s bank failure, in March 1816; her own poor earnings from Emma, due to the dismal sales of the second edition of Mansfield Park (whose losses were set off against profits for Emma); and her own failing health.  Whatever the reason, however, it is important to apprehend the decision to hold on to these two manuscripts as a significant break from her usual pattern.  For the last year of her life, Austen was on a hiatus, as it were, from print.  In writing Sanditon, therefore, she may not have had print directly in mind, perhaps viewing it as a distant prospect, perhaps not at all. 

This uncertainty surrounding Austen’s intentions may help to explain aspects of the narrative of Sanditon, which presents such a wide divergence from what we find in her print novels.  The fragment lacks a conventional heroine, plot, and even setting; instead, it is replete with satirical figures and experimental elements.  In these and other respects, the fragment seems continuous with her longstanding habits of confidential manuscript writing.  In many of these domestic works, Austen commits herself to the critical interrogation of social norms and novelistic conventions; this practice begins of course with the early burlesques, which target the excesses of sentimental fiction. 

But this critique extends into her later confidential writing, particularly “Plan of a Novel,” “Opinions of Mansfield Park,” and “Opinions of Emma,” all of which challenge the expectations of readers of popular novels.  This questioning also emerges in Sanditon, where Austen continues to contest sentimentalism, particularly the demand for an ideal heroine.  In “Plan of a Novel,” she explicitly parodies this particular fictional imperative, strenuously protesting the obligation to furnish such false representations: 

—Heroine a faultless Character herself—, perfectly good, with much tenderness & sentiment, & not the least Wit—very highly accomplished, understanding modern Languages & (generally speaking) everything that the most accomplished young Women learn, but particularly excelling in Music—her favourite pursuit—& playing equally well on the Piano Forte^& Harp——& singing in the first stile.  Her Person, quite beautiful—dark eyes & plump cheeks.  (Fiction Manuscripts, “Plan of a Novel” 1) 

In her “Opinions of Mansfield Park” and “Opinions of Emma,” she echoes the theme by recording her readers’ responses to various heroines, subtly mocking those who disapprove of characters with imperfections.  Through her minimalist entries in the “Opinions,” Austen allows many of her readers to damn themselves, as it were, particularly in their preference for certain kinds of characters and novels.  It is Sanditon, however, that most fully embodies Austen’s defiance:  we know that only one week after she put it down forever, she confided in a letter to her niece about “ideas of Novels & Heroines” that “pictures of perfection as you know make me sick & wicked” (23–25 March 1817). 

In Sanditon, Austen exhibits her aversion to supplying heroines who are “pictures of perfection.”  Although the narrator speaks fondly of Charlotte Heywood as “my heroine,” as George Justice observes, she “is self-contained, rational, and happy” (160).  With no obstacles to overcome and no one to be saved from, Charlotte adopts moderate and well-informed positions, possesses no love interests, and maintains self-control, even checking herself from overspending on trinkets for sale at Mrs. Whitby’s circulating library (unlike Fanny Burney’s Camilla, who is directly referenced in the scene).  Somewhat dull, Charlotte represents a playful repudiation of Austen’s previous heroines:  unlike the Bennets, Charlotte’s parents have been prudent and frugal, even though they have fourteen rather than five children; unlike the Dashwood sisters, Catherine Morland, and Fanny Price, Austen’s other economically insecure heroines, Charlotte need not marry; unlike Emma Woodhouse, she has not had an indulgent upbringing; and, unlike Anne Elliot, she has not had her heart broken.  Charlotte most nearly approaches Catherine, as Justice observes:  “The narration in Sanditon plunges us less into the consciousness of its main character than any of Austen’s other post-Northanger Abbey novels” (160).  Sanditon’s resemblance to the Austen novel that least resembles the five others, in its resurrection of Northanger Abbey’s meta-fictionality and its characterization of the heroine, reminds us, yet again, of its distance from the mainstream of Austen’s printed fiction. 

Like Catherine Morland’s search for a gothic plot to enliven her existence, Charlotte initially seems to hunt for a heroine, a role she herself fails to occupy.  In many ways, Charlotte serves as a substitute for the novelist herself, one who must construct a heroine:  if not a picture of perfection, then one in need of rescue. Charlotte’s description of Clara Brereton reads, in fact, like “Plan of a Novel,” a hackneyed pastiche of a sentimental heroine: 

—And as for Miss Brereton, her appearance so completely justified Mr. P.’s praise that Charlotte thought she had never beheld a more lovely, or more Interesting young Woman.—Elegantly tall, regularly handsome, with great delicacy of complexion & soft Blue Eyes, a sweetly modesty^& yet naturally Gracefulness of Address, Charlotte could see^in her only the most perfect representation of all the most beautiful & bewitching Heroines whatever Heroine might be most beautiful & bewitching, in all the numerous vol:s they had left behind them in on Mrs. Whitby’s shelves.—Perhaps it was from might be partly oweing to her having just issued from a Circulating Library—but she cd. not separate the idea of a complete Heroine from Clara Brereton.  Her situation with Lady Denham so very much in favour of it!—She seemed placed with her on purpose to be ill-used.  ^ –Such Poverty & Dependance joined to^such Beauty & Merit, seemed to leave no choice in the business.  (Fiction Manuscripts, Sanditon b2: 21–22) 

However, rather than adopting Charlotte’s quixotic projections, as might be said to happen in Northanger Abbey, with all the drama that ensues, Charlotte quickly abandons such ideas, refusing to indulge her imagination much as she restrains herself from spending her pocket money: 

while she pleased herself in the^first 5 minutes with fancying the Persecutions which ought to await be the Lot of the interesting Clara, especially in the form of the most barbarous conduct on Lady Denham’s side, she found no reluctance to admit from subsequent observation, that they appeared to be on very comfortable Terms.  (b2: 22) 

By having Charlotte abandon, almost immediately, the search for a heroine in distress as a means of fueling the plot, Austen appears to be teasing both her readers and herself, exposing their dependency on the spectacle of female poverty, dependency, and ill-use.  As with the outlandish heroines that populate the juvenilia, the outrageously immoral conduct of her anti-heroine Lady Susan, and the mocking sentimentalization of her heroine in “Plan of a Novel,” in Sanditon she once again implicitly questions constructions of the ideal female protagonist. 

Charlotte makes one more effort to construct a conventional narrative, by concocting a romance for Clara, when she spies Clara and Sir Edward in what she takes to be a “Tete a Tete.”  Here again, Charlotte emerges as a stand-in for the novelist, as one who possesses “more observant eyes” than her companions, and as one who engages in “moralising reflection” while resolving that “hers [Clara’s] was a situation which ought must not to be judged with severity.”  Notwithstanding the secluded spot in which she finds the two, “a steep bank & Pales never crossed by the foot by Man behind them at their back—and a great thickness of air, in aid,” Charlotte, like the novelist, has privileged access to the scene (b3: 38–39).  Austen appears to be sending up the novelist’s omniscience by slyly mocking the narrator’s prurience, which allows her alone to view the “secret lovers” and to manufacture the “extreme difficulty” that they “must have in finding a proper spot for their stolen Interveiws” (b3: 38). 

As with her treatment of the heroine and romance, however, Austen’s representation of Charlotte-as-novelist is at once an abdication and a critique; Charlotte in fact espies nothing of great interest, her claims to exclusive access yielding little of substance.  In fact, the lack of a courtship plot is another conspicuous absence from the fragment.  As many scholars have observed, in none of Austen’s novels do we find the romance between hero and heroine so undeveloped by chapter 12 (about a quarter of the way into a novel the length of Persuasion).  This weakened romantic storyline follows directly from the heroine’s not being in want of a husband.  Here again, parallels with the confidential manuscripts emerge:  Lady Susan ends with the eponymous anti-heroine’s supremely unromantic marriage, whereas “Plan of a Novel” delivers a takedown of the excesses of the marriage plot altogether.  In that narrative, Austen describes her heroine’s romantic travails in the following way: 

Early in her career, in the progress of her first removals, Heroine must meet with the Hero—all perfection of course—^&only prevented from paying his addresses to her, by some excess of refinement.—Wherever she goes, somebody falls in love with her, & she receives repeated offers of Marriage—which she always refers wholly to her Father, exceedingly angry that he shd. not be first applied to.—Often carried away by the anti-hero, but rescued either by her Father or the Hero–––often reduced to support herself & her Father by her Talents, & work for her Bread;—continually cheated & defrauded of her hire, worn down to a Skeleton, & now & then starved to death—.  At last, hunted out of civilized Society, denied the poor Shelter of the humblest Cottage, they are compelled to retreat into Kamschatka. . . . Heroine inconsolable for some time [after her father’s death]—but afterwards crawls back towards her former Country—having at least 20 narrow escapes of falling into the hands of Anti-hero—& at last in the very nick of time, turning a corner to avoid him, runs into the arms of the Hero himself, who having just shaken off the scruples which fetter’d him before, was at the very moment setting off in pursuit of her.—The Tenderest & completest Eclaircissement takes place, & they are happily united.  (3–4) 

Certainly, no Austen novel offers such sensationalism; nevertheless, several of her heroines—Catherine, Elizabeth, Fanny, Emma—receive threatening offers of marriage, and other suitors also lurk dangerously, in the form of Wickham and Elliot.  The novelists’ tricks Austen identifies differ in scale, not in kind, from her own. 

Sanditon appears deficient, when judged against the standard protocols of the print novels, in at least one other respect.  In the fragment, one of the domestic novelist’s central tasks—to dispense moral judgment—is withheld.  In part, this is because the narration is limited, with far more character speech than is present in the print novels.5  Clara Tuite notes that, in Sanditon, Austen “returns to an earlier form of narrative witnessing that occurs through caricatured dialogue” (621).  A thread may be drawn to The Watsons, in which, according to Sutherland, over a third of the story is written in direct speech, a much higher proportion than found in the print novels (Textual 145).  The dramatic monologues Austen provides in Sanditon are not of course entirely absent from the print novels, but they are present in far larger proportion in the fragment, in Tuite’s apt description, “a noisy and unruly cast of caricatures who crowd the narrative’s field of vision and sound of voice” (621); or, as Tony Tanner memorably put it, “There is a most uncharacteristic use not so much of dialogue as of actual unrefracted monologue.  She lets the endless talkers talk endlessly, without the interposition of her own monitoring, adjudicating voice” (284).  In Sanditon, the putative heroine, Charlotte, also withdraws; with only modest access to her thoughts and without the usual merging of the narrative voice and the heroine, we are returned to the realm of Austen’s earlier first-person narratives, the juvenile epistolary fictions and Lady Susan, and an early third-person work like Northanger Abbey.  Although Austen’s earliest readers, including her nephew and R. W. Chapman, speculated that she would have softened these caricatures, as Sutherland notes, in fact her revisions in Sanditon often work in the opposite direction, sharpening and deepening her satirical attacks rather than diminishing them (Textual 179–80, 183–85). 

Offering to her readers no heroine, no romance, and no moral center, Austen’s narrative seems an unlikely start to a print novel.  If written with her domestic readers in mind, however, it seems less strange:  Austen would have had confidence that her readers would be able to identify the fragment’s defiance of novelistic conventions and to enjoy her penchant for caricature, as they had done since her girlhood.  Other aspects of Sanditon bring it within the ambit of a more experimental, less conventional mode.  In it, she represents a wider social canvas, with a more diverse array of spaces and persons.6  As scholars have noted, in Sanditon we have a fuller representation of the working classes, which include coachmen, haymakers, shepherds, gardeners, shoemakers, nursery maids, librarians, and shop clerks.7  Compared to the print novels, Sanditon is a narrative with more material references, to consumer items, to food and its preparation, and to physical bodies generally, to sprained ankles and rubbing ankles, to pulling teeth and applying leeches.  It features an unprecedented degree of “historical immediacy,” evident in the extended (and often jargon-laden) disquisitions on medical, literary, and economic matters (Southam, Student’s Guide 118–19), and in the more concentrated allusions to contemporary fashion and to books and authors (Robert Burns, Thomas Campbell, James Montgomery, Walter Scott, and William Wordsworth are all named in a single paragraph).  Austen also engages in stylistic experimentation in Sanditon, employing a wider vocabulary (even inventing words:  “anti-spasmodic,” “pseudo-philosophy”) and allowing her characters to speak in streams of consciousness, features that are present only in small doses in the print novels.  The accumulation of all of these elements aligns Sanditon closely with the other domestic manuscript works. 

Support for placing Sanditon among the confidential manuscript works may also be found in Jocelyn Harris’s observations about the similarities between the fragment and a short satirical piece by one “Henry Homelove”:  “Letter on Watering-Places,” published in the Monthly Magazine in 1796.  (In fact, Anna Barbauld was the author.8)  Dragged to a seaside resort from his comfortable country estate in Northamptonshire, Homelove, as first-person narrator, laments this forced travel, while admonishing the quackery of the medical establishment, seabathing as a cure for invented ailments, the rising prices of provisions due to tourism, and the mixing of classes.  Homelove, as Harris observes, appears to be channelled into Austen’s story in the character of Mr. Heywood.  In Barbauld’s sketch, it is not only the speculators but the curmudgeonly Homelove who emerges as a central satirical target.  If a source for Austen’s narrative, then Mr. Heywood himself may recede from the role he is usually thought to occupy within the narrative—as the sturdy, sensible foil to the more eccentric and speculating inhabitants of Sanditon.  The result would be a more destabilizing narrative, one that returns us to the moral ambiguity of a piece like Lady Susan.  Austen’s fragment also shares with “Letter on Watering-Places” a focus on men, with Mr. Heywood, Mr. Parker, and Sir Edward being the chief objects of Austen’s comic powers.  This critical attention to men features in many of Barbauld’s poetic satires and seems to have inclined her to circulate these poems in manuscript; similarly, we find Austen disparaging particular men (like James Stanier Clarke) in confidential works like “Plan of a Novel.” 

As an unfinished draft manuscript, Sanditon embodies radical contingency, one that requires a different mode of reading.  Within the narrative, we have characters who engage in “the disease a spirit of ^restless activity,” with Austen leaving open the possibility that what she depicts is both spirited energy, generating pleasure and excitement, and diseased restlessness, sowing confusion and disappointment (b3: 11).  Sanditon elaborates upon the very nature of knowledge itself in the narrative.  Mr. Heywood is certain that there is no surgeon in “‘Willingden,—for having have having lived here^Sir ever since I was born, Man & Boy 57 years, without ever hearing of the existenceand never heard before I thinkI must have known of such a person’” (b1: 7).  By contrast, Mr. Parker insists that such a surgeon in fact exists, relying upon “advertisements, which I cut out myself from the Morning Post & the Kentish Gazette,^only yesterday morng. in London.’” (b1: 6).  In this case Parker is mistaken, lacking the local knowledge to interpret the advertisements correctly.  Similarly, we learn that Sir Edward also misreads print: 

Essays, Letters, Tours & Criticisms of the day—& with the same ill-luck which made him derive only false Principles from Lessons of Morality, & incentives to Vice from the History of it’s Overthrow, he gathered only hard words & involved sentences from the style of the ourour ^ most approved Writers. (b2: 44) 

In Austen’s world, however, handwritten documents are just as likely to be misinterpreted as printed ones. In Sanditon, letters, containing gossip, are conduits of misinformation, as we learn that Miss Diana Parker’s imagined two large parties seeking lodging are in fact only a single small one.  Within the fragment, problems of interpretation are ubiquitous. 

In the manuscript of Sanditon, we rarely confront the radical textual indeterminacy that has been observed in the manuscripts of Emily Dickinson and Dorothy Wordsworth, where the writers engage in what Sharon Cameron (in a book by the same name on Dickinson’s fascicles) has called “choosing not choosing,” by allowing variants to remain within the margins.9  Rather, absent a very small number of occasions where Austen leaves two alternatives, almost certainly by accident, her revisions to the document are assured and present almost no difficulties (aside from those of transcription) for an editor seeking to generate a clean reading text, as Chapman was the first to do and as has been done regularly since.10  The nature and temporality of her changes also bear consideration:  it seems that many of Austen’s changes occur in the first act of writing, as is apparent when Austen stops mid-sentence, even mid-word, and then continues writing on the same line.  Many of the interlinear revisions—the only possible space on the page that allowed for making substitutions and additions, as she left no margins whatsoever—also seem to have been made contemporaneously with the first act of writing, given the nature of the textual changes (often word substitutions or minor rewritings) and the similarities of ink.  It seems, then, that Austen may not have gone back over the draft, thus not initiating the further layer of emendations we find in several of the previous manuscripts.  Thus, although a draft, it possesses a certain degree of linguistic stability. 

Nevertheless, as a draft, the manuscript of Sanditon is not, to use Lamb’s term, settled.  Although we possess only one example of how Austen transitioned between manuscript and print, in the cancelled Persuasion chapters, this manuscript reveals that revision occurred in multiple stages, and effected major changes, even at the point when the novel was ostensibly complete.  Of the cancelled chapters themselves, Sutherland describes a manuscript in some ways very similar to Sanditon, though with one important addition: 

The pages are filled in an even hand with signs of concurrent writing, erasure, and revision, and several passages of heavy deletion and substitution:  some of the rewriting is interlinear, and some required extending the space of the already full page in different ways.  With no calculated blank spaces and no obvious way of incorporating large revision or expansion she had to find other strategies—the pasted patch and the longer passage, written on the last three pages of the booklet and keyed for insertion at page 16.  (Fiction Manuscripts, “Headnote to Persuasion”) 

Austen also uses patches to add three insertions to the draft of The Watsons, suggesting it was a fairly regular and necessary aspect of her practice.  Such patches are absent from Sanditon, likely because she had neither the time nor the energy to engage in these more global acts of revision.  We know that revisions to the cancelled Persuasion chapters involved substantive shifts to characterization and that the heavily reworked chapters that survive in manuscript were cancelled and rewritten altogether.  If this was Austen’s regular practice, then Sanditon might have been reworked, as Chapman and others have speculated.  But as an unfinished fragment that presents few hints as to the actual progress of the narrative, the future direction of the manuscript is obscure, reflecting Lamb’s conception of the literary draft as evoking the “fluctuating, successive, indifferent” nature of creation.  The fragmentary draft lacks fixity because of its unknown and unknowable futurity. 

Sanditon, as a material text, embodies a set of paradoxes:  described by her nephew as Austen’s “last work,” it nevertheless bears many affinities with the early writing; it possesses marked and fundamental divergences in terms of characterization, plot, and style with the print novels that immediately preceded it, and it demonstrates Austen’s enduring resistance to genre and print norms.  Uncertainty as to Austen’s intentions regarding the fragment’s audience and its textual future further unsettles it for readers.  In his study of late style, Edward Said describes two models:  one of culmination, whereby “the late works crown a lifetime of artistic achievement”; and the other, the one that he explores in depth, where “lateness is the idea of surviving beyond what is acceptable or normal” (13).  It is this conception of lateness, of “a nonharmonious, nonserene tension,” “intransigence, difficulty and unresolved contradiction” (7), that applies most forcefully to Sanditon.  In engaging with the work we designate as Sanditon as a manuscript, we traverse a ground redolent of the unsettling journey up the “half rock, half sand” of Willingden Hill.



1According to E. V. Lucas, “My own impression is that Lamb wrote the essay at Cambridge, under the influence of Cambridge, where he spent a few weeks in the summer of 1820, and transferred the scene to Oxford by way of mystification.  He knew Oxford, of course, but he had not been there for some years and it was at Cambridge that he met Dyer and that he saw the Milton MSS” (2: 309n). 

2The author was, however, able to consult the manuscript of Sanditon at the exhibit organized by King’s College, for the conference held in Trinity College, Cambridge, at which this paper was originally delivered. 

3This information is taken from the “Headnote to Sanditon.”  All references to physical descriptions of the manuscripts and to transcriptions are to Kathryn Sutherland’s Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts: A Digital Edition. 

4“Miss Catherine is put upon the Shelve for the present, and I do not know that she will ever come out;—but I have a something ready for Publication, which may perhaps appear about a twelvemonth hence.  It is short, about the length of Catherine” (13 March 1817). 

5Sutherland notes John Burrows’s calculation of only 1211 words of character narrative in all of Sanditon (Textual 174). 

6Arguably this experimentation is evident in the later novels, too:  in Persuasion, with the naval families as well as Mrs. Smith in the Westgate Buildings; in Emma, with the Bateses; and in Mansfield Park, with the Prices.  Austen may have been encouraged by the positive reception of the Portsmouth scenes in particular, which were widely lauded in “Opinions of Mansfield Park”: six readers specifically comment on their enjoyment and/or admiration of the Portsmouth scenes (Later Manuscripts 230–34). 

7Southam has observed that in Sanditon we are treated to a “far more extensive” description of society at all levels, in particular of the servant classes, than elsewhere in Austen’s writing (Jane Austen’s Literary Manuscripts 111).  Jocelyn Harris notices in Persuasion the introduction of three new lower-class characters:  a mantuamaker, a servant, and a shoemaker (58). 

8Austen almost certainly did not know the identity of the author, as the essay was not published with Barbauld’s name until 1825. 

9For a discussion of these revision strategies, see Levy and Mole (116–22). 

10See, for instance, “(especially as the Carriage was not his Mastersnot the Gentleman’s own)” (b1: 1).

Works Cited
  • Austen, Jane.  Fragment of a Novel Written: January-March 1817; Now First Printed from the Manuscript.  Ed. R. W. Chapman.  Oxford: Clarendon, 1925.
  • _____.  Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts: A Digital Edition.  Ed. Kathryn Sutherland.  Oxford: U of Oxford and King’s College, 2010.  http://www.janeausten.ac.uk
  • _____.  Jane Austen’s Letters.  Ed. Deirdre Le Faye.  3rd ed.  Oxford: OUP, 1995.
  • _____.  Later Manuscripts.  Ed. Janet Todd and Linda Bree.  Cambridge: CUP, 2008.
  • Austen-Leigh, J. E.  A Memoir of Jane Austen.  London: Bentley, 1870.
  • _____.  A Memoir of Jane Austen.  London: Bentley, 1871.
  • Barbauld, Anna.  “On Watering-Places.”  Monthly Magazine 2 (1796): 605–08.
  • _____.  “On Watering-Places.”  Works of Anna Laetitia Barbauld.  Ed. Lucy Aikin.  2 vols.  London: Longman, 1825.  2: 295–304.
  • Chapman, R. W.  Jane Austen: Facts and Problems.  Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1948.
  • Chen, Anna.  “In One’s Own Hand: Seeing Manuscripts in a Digital Age.”  Digital Humanities Quarterly 6.2. (2012).
  • Doody, Margaret Anne.  “The Early Short Fiction.”  The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen.  Ed. Edward Copeland and Juliet McMaster.  Cambridge: CUP, 1997.  72–86.
  • Ezell, Margaret J. M.  Social Authorship and the Advent of Print.  Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1999.
  • Feder, Rachel.  “The Experimental Dorothy Wordsworth.”  Studies in Romanticism 53.4 (2014): 541–60.
  • Gabler, Hans Walter.  “The Primacy of the Document in Editing.”  Ecdotica 4 (2007): 197–207.
  • Harris, Jocelyn.  “Jane Austen’s Unseen Interlocutor.”  Anna Barbauld: New Perspectives.  Ed. William McCarthy.  Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell UP, 2014.  237–58.
  • _____.  A Revolution Almost beyond Expression: Jane Austen’s Persuasion.  Newark: U of Delaware P, 2007.
  • Justice, George.  “Sanditon and the Book.”  A Companion to Jane Austen.  Ed. Claudia L. Johnson and Clara Tuite.  Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.  153–62.
  • Lamb, Charles.  “Oxford in the Vacation.”  London Magazine 2 (Oct. 1820); 365–69.
  • Levy, Michelle.  “Austen’s Manuscripts and the Publicity of Print.”  ELH 77.4 (2010): 1015–40.
  • Levy, Michelle, and Tom Mole.  Broadview Introduction to Book History.  Peterborough: Broadview, 2017.
  • Lucas, E. V., ed.  Works of Charles and Mary Lamb.  London: Methuen, 1903.
  • Miller, D. A.  Jane Austen, or the Secret of Style.  Princeton: PUP, 2003.
  • Reiman, Donald.  The Study of Modern Manuscripts: Public, Confidential, and Private.  Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1993.
  • Said, Edward.  On Late Style: Music and Literature against the Grain.  New York: Pantheon, 2006.
  • Southam, B. C., ed.  Sanditon: An Unfinished Novel by Jane Austen.  Oxford: OUP, 1975.
  • Southam, Brian.  Jane Austen: A Student’s Guide to the Later Manuscript Works.  London: Concord, 2007.
  • _____.  Jane Austen’s Literary Manuscripts: A Study of the Novelist’s Development through the Surviving Papers.  London: Athlone, 2001.
  • Strachey, J. St. Loe.  “In ‘Sanditon,’ Half of a New Novel by Jane Austen: Modernity of Her Outlook Again Evident in This Unfinished Work.”  The New York Times 5 Apr. 1925.
  • Sutherland, Kathryn.  “From Kitty to Catharine: James Edward Austen’s Hand in Volume the Third.”  Review of English Studies 66.273 (2015): 124–43.
  • _____.  Jane Austen’s Textual Lives: From Aeschylus to Bollywood.  Oxford: OUP, 2005.
  • Sutherland, Kathryn, ed.  Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts: A Digital Edition.  Oxford: U of Oxford and King’s College, 2010.  http://www.janeausten.ac.uk
  • Tanner, Tony.  Jane Austen.  Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1986.
  • Tuite, Clara.  “Sanditon: Austen’s pre-post Waterloo.”  Textual Practice 26.4 (2012): 609–29.
  • Werner, Marta L.  “‘Reportless Places’: Facing the Modern Manuscript.”  Textual Cultures: Texts, Contexts, Interpretation 6.2 (2011): 60–83.
‹ Back to Publication