Sanditon (Continued), by Jane Austen and others

Most of our posts this week are going to be devoted to reviews, as our To Be Read shelf is once again looking like a potential earthquake hazard. And while the rest of the reviews are going to be of novels we've received specifically for Wordcandy, today I'm focusing on two books I picked up at my local library: Charlotte, by Jane Austen and Julia Barrett, and Sanditon, by Jane Austen and “Another Lady”.

Charlotte and Sanditon are both continuations of a novel Jane Austen began working on in January of 1817 and abandoned two months later, as her health worsened. Austen's unfinished fragment—the first 11 chapters of the book—was originally titled The Brothers, but after her death her family re-named it Sanditon. The chapters are set in the fictional seaside resort town of Sanditon, which remains not-quite-fashionable despite the best efforts of two of its most notable inhabitants: the perpetually enthusiastic Mr. Parker and his penny-pinching neighbor, Lady Denham. Austen also introduces Charlotte Heywood, a level-headed young woman who seemed likely to become one of her most appealing heroines, and a cast of memorable supporting characters, including Mr. Parker's intriguingly good-looking brother Sidney.

In the spirit of saving the best for last, I'm starting with my take on Julia Barrett's Charlotte. Barrett—the pseudonym of writers Julia Braun Kessler and Gabrielle Donnelly—has achieved moderate success as a writer of mediocre-at-best Jane Austen continuations, including Presumption, an aptly-named sequel to Pride and Prejudice, and The Third Sister, a deeply boring continuation of Sense and Sensibility. Charlotte is an even hotter mess than Barrett's previous books, with forgettable characters and an overly ambitious plot, written in a bizarre jumble of archaic and modern English. (Guess how often Jane Austen used the word “withal”? That's right: NEVER.) I usually try to find something commendable about the books I review, but in this case there's no point: just gently close the book after Austen's original eleven chapters and set it aside.

Sanditon, on the other hand, was so much better than Charlotte that it was tough to decide how much I actually enjoyed it and how much was due to me grading on a seriously steep curve. The book was published in 1975, and the “Another Lady” credit goes to a little-known Australian writer named Marie Dobbs. The transition between the original story and Dobbs's contribution isn't seamless, but the language is a respectable imitation of Austen's style and the story is lively and entertaining, if insubstantial. Dobbs remained faithful to the characters Austen had already developed, and she had a knack for creating memorable characters of her own. Her take on Sidney—intelligent, charming, and manipulative—was outstanding, like a mixture of Henry Tilney and Henry Crawford. Some people might be turned off by the romance novel vibe of the particular edition we're featuring at right, but trust me: even if you don't like romance novels, most hardcore Austen nerds will still enjoy this continuation*.

No matter how well-written, all Austen sequels, prequels, continuations, re-imaginings and horror mash-ups are a far cry from the real thing, but, seeing as we're unlikely to suddenly discover a treasure trove of Jane Austen's long-lost work, we must make do with pale imitations. This is why I am sincerely grateful to Ms. Dobbs—unlike Julia Barrett, her take on Austen's half-built world is much better than nothing.

*And you can easily find versions with more dignified covers. I just liked this one. So lurid!
Posted by: Julianka


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