On Jane’s notebook, we can read the date of 27 January 1817 in her handwriting on the first page. She had started writing a new novel that would become known as Sanditon during a period of remission from her illness. Over the next few weeks, she wrote 24,000 words into three booklets. She had completed eleven chapters and nine pages of the twelfth. As her condition worsened, and she became to weak to hold her pen, she wrote the latter part of the novel in pencil.
Jane had to set it aside and dated her last page on 18 March that same year, as she became very ill, and four months later she died.
Jane would talk over her novel with Cassandra, and had casually called it The Brothers, as there are two brothers at the middle of the plot. Her family later called it Sanditon after the town in which it is set.
Jane’s plot is built around a group of residents who want to turn their fishing village into a spa resort on the Sussex Coast. Jane loved the sea, and she set her novel on the Sussex Coast. Charlotte Heywood is her heroine who helps Mr Parker and his family after an accident. She returns to Sanditon and encounters the formidable Lady Denham, her wicked nephew Edward, and his odd sister Esther. Clara Brereton is the beautiful companion to Lady D, who rivals Charlotte for the heart of Sidney Parker.
There were mixed reviews about whether to publish Jane’s unfinished novel. In 1871, Jane’s fondest nephew wrote that, ‘Such an unfinished fragment cannot be presented to the public.’ However, he changed his mind and included a short summary of the work in, A Memoir of Jane Austen. The original manuscript was then published in full in 1925 under the title, Fragment of a Novel.
King’s College Cambridge Links to Jane’s Family
Cassandra had kept the unfinished novel and upon her death in 1845, left it to her niece Anna. It was then passed down the family until 1930, when it was given to King’s College, Cambridge, where Anna’s nephew Augustus Austen Leigh had been provost. It is very fragile and sensitive to light, so rarely seen.
A New TV Production
In 2019 it was announced to great excitement that a screenplay of Jane’s novel was to be made by the BBC. Andrew Davis, of Colin Firth and Pride and Prejudice fame was commissed to write the screenplay and create his own ending to the novel.
Rose Williams and Theo James in the lead roles. Set during the Regency era, the plot follows a young and naive heroine as she navigates the new seaside resort of Sanditon. The series first aired on ITV in the United Kingdom on 25 August 2019 in eight parts and was a great success.
However, the production gained many mixed headlines. Mainly about saucy scenes that Jane would never have included.. and once it got to it.. the ending. In all Jane’s novels, her heroine goes through a period of enlightenment, holds out for the man she loves who then proposes and they live happily ever after. Not so in the BBC production..
I won’t spoil it for you.. Now, what would Jane have thought of that ending?
Read Jane Austen’s Sanditon for free at Project Gutenberg
To find out more about Sanditon see a photograph of the original script in the Jane Austen 200 book