For this summer’s beach read, I selected an uncompleted novel by Jane Austen. I was extremely skeptical about reading a work completed by someone else. Austen only composed the first eleven chapters before her untimely death. This novel was completed in 1973 by a writer who decided to be remain anonymous (although if you do your research, you can discover her identity). Since the cover of my version had a seaside setting, I figured it would be an interesting experiment in my summer reading. I went in with minimal expectations, knowing that there are tons of bad adaptions of Austen’s work out there.
Sandition centers on Charlotte Heywood, the eldest daughter of a large country family. After a chance meeting with a young couple, Charlotte is invited to be their guest at their home in Sandition, promised to be a new summer tourist attraction. Charlotte meets a whole cast of eccentric characters with varying degrees of absurdity.
I was pleasantly surprised by my reading experience of Sandition. The collaborator seamlessly imitates Austen’s style, so you would swear it was the great Jane herself that completed it. Although we have no idea what the original author’s intentions were in relation to plot, the completed half truly does feel like the full Jane Austen experience. A lot of groundwork was already established with all of the principle characters already introduced at the point where the new author takes over. She does an admirable job of fleshing them out through their ingenious and often witty interactions. This isn’t to say that it is perfect by any means. The collaborator does throw in a rather ridiculous plot development involving a failed kidnapping, but even this is handled quite well. Perhaps the author was having a bit of fun for the critics that claim that nothing important ever happens in a Jane Austen novel.
The characters in this novel really shine for me. I found the sensible Charlotte Heywood to be stand worthy among Austen’s established heroines. The supporting cast is great and follows all of your traditional roles in an Austen novel. There is the rich old lady, a male suitor who turns out to not be a good match for the heroine, as well as others who possess varying degrees of intelligence. My favorite characters by far have to be the hypochondriac siblings in the Parker family. I really felt everyone in this novel stood out well, particularly the male hero Sidney Parker. In fact, I will dare say that had this novel been completed by Austen, Sidney Parker would have stood out as one of the best male leads she had ever created.
I always try to find personal value in my reading experiences. From this novel, I recognized the importance of paying attention to details. There’s a scene in the novel where Sidney Parker tells Charlotte to pay particular attention to the interactions among everyone at a specific gathering. Unfortunately for the sensible Charlotte, her jealousy surrounding Sidney prevented her from fully grasping what was happening. I think there’s a great lesson in this for all of us, the importance of being observant. As someone who strives to be a better human being, I have come to realize that my powers of observation can often be clouded. Hopefully, this is trait where I can find improvement. Sometimes, we have to look deeper to truly understand one another.
“Those who tell their own story, you know, must be listened to with caution. When you see us in contact, you will judge for yourself.”