10 Facts About Jane Austen’s Sanditon

Rose Williams as Charlotte Heywood and Theo James as Sidney Parker in Masterpiece's adaptation of Jane Austen's Sanditon (2019).
Rose Williams as Charlotte Heywood and Theo James as Sidney Parker in Masterpiece's adaptation of Jane Austen's Sanditon (2019).
Simon Ridgway/© Red Planet Pictures / ITV 2019

Jane Austen published just four novels before her death in 1817—Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and Emma—but they, along with posthumously published works like Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, have all become classics of the English-language canon, beloved by readers and adapted countless times for the screen and stage.

Just before her death, however, Austen had planned to add another title to her catalog of novels skewering 19th-century British society. In early 1817, she began a book that would eventually be called Sanditon, which tells the story of an up-and-coming English seaside resort town. Sadly, Austen wasn’t able to complete Sanditon before her death in July of that year—but that hasn’t stopped others from trying to finish the book for her.

A number of writers have attempted to complete Austen’s story since she put it aside in the early 1800s. Most recently, it has become the basis for a British miniseries that premiered in the UK in late 2019 and premiered on PBS on January 12, 2020. Before you dive into the miniseries, here are 10 things you should know about Austen’s final, unfinished novel.

1. Sanditon explores some of the same topics as Jane Austen’s previous novels.

Jane Austen is known for her sharp critiques of the world of England’s 19th-century landed gentry, and Sanditon continues that tradition. It centers on a handful of people in Sanditon, a fictional town along the Sussex coast in southeastern England. Mr. Parker is an eccentric, overenthusiastic developer bent on transforming Sanditon from a quiet village into a fashionable seaside tourist destination.

At the beginning of the novel, he and his wife take in Charlotte Heywood, the elder daughter of a country gentleman with a large family in Sussex, as their guest for the summer. They bring her to Sanditon and introduce her to local society, including Parker’s hypochondriac siblings and his business partner in his resort scheme, the wealthy but tightfisted Lady Denham—plus the poor relations who may be vying for her fortune.

Austen casts a critical eye on each of her characters with her typical cutting wit: Parker is described as “generally kind-hearted; liberal; gentlemanlike, easy to please … with more imagination than judgment,” while Mrs. Parker is “equally useless.” Lady Denham, “like a true great lady, talked and talked only of her own concerns,” while her nephew and heir, Sir Edward Denham, is “very much addicted to all the newest-fashioned hard words, had not a very clear brain” and “had read more sentimental novels than agreed with him.”

2. The town of Sanditon was likely based on a real English resort Jane Austen visited.

A photo of the pier in Worthing, England in the early 19th century.The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

Scholars think that the fictional town of Sanditon was based on a real resort town Austen visited with her family. Austen spent at least a few weeks in Worthing, a seaside town in West Sussex, with her family in 1805, according to the diaries of Austen’s niece Fanny. At the time, Worthing was, like Sanditon, a newly established resort town. According to Antony Edmonds, the author of the 2013 book Jane Austen’s Worthing: The Real Sanditon, Sanditon’s Mr. Parker was probably based on Edward Ogle, a developer who purchased a large estate in Worthing in 1801 and set about turning the small village into a seaside tourist destination. Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra were acquainted with Ogle, and Parker’s home in Sanditon, Trafalgar House, may have been based on Ogle’s estate, Warwick House.

3. Jane Austen didn’t name the novel Sanditon.

Austen herself didn’t title the manuscript that would become known as Sanditon. In the 1871 edition of his biography A Memoir of Jane Austen, Austen’s nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh published a summary and quotations from her unfinished novel for the first time, calling it simply “The Last Work.” But it may have already been known as Sanditon by Austen’s family; Jane’s niece Anna Austen Lefroy, who eventually inherited the manuscript, referred to it by that name in an 1869 letter. That may not have been Jane’s intention, though; another Austen relative said that she planned to call her novel The Brothers. Lefroy went on to write her own continuation of her aunt’s novel, though she, like Jane, never finished it.

4. Jane Austen didn’t get very far into Sandition before her death.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Austen spent seven weeks working on Sanditon in 1817, beginning on January 27 and ending on March 18, according to the dates she wrote at the beginning and end of her manuscript. During those short weeks, Austen completed just 11 chapters, along with nine pages of a twelfth. The unfinished text is less than 24,000 words long—less than a third of the length of Austen’s shortest completed novel, Northanger Abbey. Austen abandoned the project as her health declined. Only a few days after she set Sanditon aside, she wrote in a letter, “I certainly have not been very well for many weeks, and about a week ago I was very poorly, I have had a good deal of fever at times and indifferent nights ... I must not depend upon being ever very blooming again.” She died only a few months later, on July 18, 1817.

5. Jane Austen’s nephew and biographer wasn’t sure Sanditon should be published.

James Edward Austen-Leigh expressed trepidation over making his aunt’s final manuscript public. But he was persuaded to at least include a summary and a few excerpts from Sanditon in the 1871 edition of his biography of Jane Austen. He prefaced these excerpts with the warning that it was “difficult to judge of the quality of a work so advanced ... there was scarcely any indication of what the course of the story was to be, nor was any heroine yet perceptible, who, like Fanny Price, or Anne Elliot, might draw round her the sympathies of the reader.” Because of this, he did not publish the unfinished text in full. “Such an unfinished fragment cannot be presented to the public, but I am persuaded that some of Jane Austen’s admirers will be glad to learn something about the latest creations which were forming themselves in her mind,” he wrote.

6. The full text of Sanditon wasn’t available until 1925.

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Unlike Austen’s other posthumous publications, including Northanger Abbey (1817) and Persuasion (1818), the full text Sanditon wasn't released until more than a century after the author's death, and more than 50 years after Austen-Leigh first made the novel’s existence known to the public in his biography of Austen. It was first published in 1925 thanks to Austen scholar R. W. Chapman, who transcribed the original manuscript and published it as Fragment of a Novel with Notes.

7. Sanditon received mixed reviews.

Though English novelist E.M. Forster described himself as a “Jane Austenite,” he was not impressed by Sanditon upon its publication in 1925, blaming the author’s declining health for what he perceived as a lackluster work. “Sometimes it is even stale, and we realize with pain that we are listening to a slightly tiresome spinster, who has talked too much in the past to be silent unaided. Sanditon is a sad little experience from this point of view,” he wrote in a 1925 review published in The Nation. But more modern writers have seen the novel fragment more positively. In 2017, critic Anthony Lane of The New Yorker wrote that Sanditon “is robust, unsparing, and alert to all the latest fashions in human foolishness. It brims with life.”

8. Several other writers have tried to “finish” Sanditon since Jane Austen's death.

Writers have been trying to continue the story of Sanditon since the 19th century, but many have struggled with the fact that Austen’s start to the novel introduces a number of colorful characters, but doesn’t give the reader a clear sense of where the plot might be going. Anna Austen Lefroy was the first to try her hand at the task of continuing the story. While some scholars have suggested that Jane had discussed her intentions for Sanditon with her niece during her lifetime, Anna also wrote that the “story was too little advanced to enable one to form any idea of the plot.” In any case, she only wrote about 20,000 words of her continuation before abandoning the project. She left her continuation unpublished, and it wasn’t publicly known until the manuscript appeared at an auction in 1977; even then, it didn’t become available to readers until 1983.

In the century-plus since Lefroy attempted to finish her aunt’s novel, numerous writers have published their own continuations, some of which are more faithful to the original text than others. For instance, there is a 2008 mystery novel that is billed as a continuation of Austen’s work which replaces Sanditon with another fictional English town, Sandytown. In 2013, the creators of the "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries" produced an interactive, modernized interpretation and continuation of the novel in a web series set in California. It was also the basis for a rock musical that debuted in the UK in 2014. As for the latest update of the story? The first episode of the new Sanditon miniseries, which first premiered on Britain’s ITV, sticks closely to the plot Austen wrote. But the subsequent seven episodes are almost entirely the invention of Andrew Davies, the Welsh television writer who adapted the story for television. Davies used Austen’s work as a jumping-off point, but created new characters and story lines as well as, in his words, “sexing it up.” (And yes, that includes what a Financial Times reviewer referred to as “a whiff of incest.”)

9. The creator of the Sanditon miniseries has adapted Jane Austen’s work many times before—to great success.

Rose Williams as Charlotte Heywood in Sanditon (2019).Simon Ridgway/© Red Planet Pictures / ITV 2019

Sanditon writer Andrew Davies is already well known for his other literary adaptations for the small screen. He has previously adapted a number of classic English novels for television, including Vanity Fair, Middlemarch, several works by Charles Dickens, and three other Jane Austen novels: Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Northanger Abbey. His widely beloved 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice is credited with catapulting Colin Firth to stardom.

10. The Sandition miniseries’s ending has been divisive for Austen fans ... but the show might be as unfinished as the novel itself.

When the Sanditon miniseries wrapped up its UK run on ITV, some fans were outraged by the show’s finale, which—spoiler alert!—doesn’t feature quite the happy ending that fans of books like Pride and Prejudice might have expected. And how might Jane Austen herself have felt about it? Experts are divided on that, too. “I imagine she’d have switched to Peaky Blinders on BBC after episode one,” Kathryn Sutherland, a Jane Austen scholar at Oxford University, told The Guardian. But Paula Byrne, author of the biography The Real Jane Austen and a literary consultant on the show, told Radio Times that she thinks Austen would have loved it: “I think she would have loved the lavishness and the beauty of the production. I think she would be writing for Hollywood if she was alive today.”

It’s possible that the Sanditon miniseries hasn’t yet reached its conclusion, though. While there hasn’t been official news of a second season of the show, Davies has said that he would love to continue the story. According to Radio Times, he told press in October that “I hope we’ve ended at a point where the audience is going to say: well you can’t end it at that!”

Amazon's Best Cyber Monday Deals on Tablets, Wireless Headphones, Kitchen Appliances, and More

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11 Fascinating Facts About Mark Twain

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Mark Twain is widely considered the author of the first great American novel—The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—but his rollicking tales aren’t the only legacy he left behind. His poignant quotes and witticisms have been told and retold (sometimes erroneously) over the last century and a half, and his volume of work speaks for itself. Over the course of his legendary career, Twain—real name Samuel Langhorne Clemens—wrote more than a dozen novels plus countless short stories and essays and still found time to invent new products, hang out with famous scientists, and look after a house full of cats.

1. Mark Twain is a nautical reference.

Like many of history’s literary greats, Mark Twain (né Samuel Langhorne Clemens) decided to assume an alias early on in his writing career. He tried out a few different names—Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass, Sergeant Fathom, and, more plainly, Josh—before settling on Mark Twain, which means two fathoms (12 feet) deep in boating jargon. He got the idea while working as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River—a job he held for four years until the Civil War broke out in 1861, putting a halt to commerce. (However, another popular theory holds that he earned the nickname in a bar. According to reports in a couple of 19th-century newspapers, he’d walk into a pub and call out “mark twain!,” prompting the bartender to take a piece of chalk and make two marks on a wall for twain—two—drinks. Twain denied this version of events, though.)

2. In addition to being a steamboat pilot, Mark Twain also worked as a miner.

Shortly after his stint on The Big Muddy, Twain headed west with his brother to avoid having to fight in the war. He took up work as a miner in Virginia City, Nevada, but the job wasn't for him. (He described it as "hard and long and dismal.") Fortunately for Twain, he didn’t have to work there long. In 1862, he was offered his first writing job for Virginia City’s Territorial Enterprise newspaper, where he covered crime, politics, mining, and culture.

3. A story Mark Twain heard in a bar led to his “big break.”

Historic American Buildings Survey (Library of Congress), Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1864, Twain headed to Calaveras County, California in hopes of striking gold as a prospector (he didn’t). However, it was during his time here that he heard the bartender of the Angels Hotel in Angels Camp share an incredulous story about a frog-jumping contest. Twain recounted the tale in his own words in The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. It was published in 1865 in The New York Saturday Press and went on to receive national acclaim.

4. It took Mark Twain seven years to write The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Twain started writing the sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1876, but he wasn’t too pleased with his progress. After writing about 400 pages, he told a friend he liked it "only tolerably well, as far as I have got, and may possibly pigeonhole or burn" the manuscript. He put the project on the back burner for several years and finally finished it in 1883 following a burst of inspiration.

5. Mark Twain invented a board game.

While Twain was putting off writing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, he was busy working on a game he dubbed Memory Builder. It was originally supposed to be an outdoor game to help his children learn about England’s monarchs, but he ended up turning it into a board game to improve its chances of selling. However, after two years of work, it was still too convoluted to be marketable and required a vast knowledge of historical facts and dates. That didn’t stop him from patenting the game, though.

6. Mark Twain created "improved" scrapbooks and suspenders.

Memory Builder wasn't Twain's only invention; he also patented two other products. One was inspired by his love of scrapbooking, while the other came about from his hatred of suspenders. He designed a self-adhesive scrapbook that works like an envelope, which netted him about $50,000 in profits. His “improvement in adjustable and detachable straps for garments” also ended up being useful, but for an entirely different purpose than Twain originally intended. According to The Atlantic, “This clever invention only caught on for one snug garment: the bra. For those with little brassiere experience, not a button, nor a snap, but a clasp is all that secures that elastic band, which holds up women's breasts. So not-so-dexterous ladies and gents, you can thank Mark Twain for that."

7. Thomas Edison filmed Twain at home.

Only one video of Twain exists, and it was shot by none other than his close friend Thomas Edison. The footage was captured in 1909—one year before the author died—at Twain’s estate in Redding, Connecticut. He’s seen sporting a light-colored suit and his usual walrus mustache, and one scene shows him with his daughters, Clara and Jean. On a separate occasion that same year, Edison recorded Twain as he read stories into a phonograph, but those audio clips were destroyed in a fire. No other recording of Twain’s voice exists.

8. Mark Twain did wear white suits, but not as often as you might think.

Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

When you think of Mark Twain, you probably picture him in an all-white suit with a cigar or pipe hanging from his lips. It’s true that he was photographed in a white suit on several occasions, but he didn’t start this habit until later in life. According to The Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum, “In December 1906, he wore a white suit while appearing before a congressional committee regarding copyright. He did this for dramatic emphasis. Several times after that he wore white out of season for effect.” He also refused to trade his white clothes for “shapeless and degrading black ones” in the winter, no matter how cold it got. So take that, people who subscribe to the “no white after Labor Day” rule.

9. At one point, Mark Twain had 19 cats.

Twain really, really liked cats—so much so that he had 19 of them at one time. And if he was traveling, he would “rent” cats to keep him company. In fact, he had a much higher opinion of felines than humans, remarking, “If man could be crossed with the cat, it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat.” He also had a talent for coming up with some great cat names; Beelzebub, Blatherskite, Buffalo Bill, Sour Mash, Zoroaster, Soapy Sal, Pestilence, Bambino, and Satan were just a few of the kitties in his brood.

10. Mark Twain probably didn’t say that thing you think he said.

Twain is one of the most misquoted authors in history. According to one quote wrongfully attributed to him, “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.” What Twain actually said was, “[He] was endowed with a stupidity which by the least little stretch would go around the globe four times and tie.” There are many, many examples of these.

11. Mark Twain accurately predicted when he would die.

When he was born on November 30, 1835, Halley’s Comet was visible from Earth. It appears roughly every 75 years, and Twain predicted he would die the next time it graced the sky. As he put it in 1909, “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.’ Oh, I am looking forward to that.” He ended up passing away at his Connecticut home on April 21, 1910, one day after Halley’s Comet appeared in the sky once again.

This story has been updated for 2020.