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.

Scribner via Amazon

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!”

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

14 Black Authors You Should Read Right Now

Pexabay, Pexels // CC0
Pexabay, Pexels // CC0

With the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, works on anti-racism have been flying off the shelves of Black-owned bookstores. But anti-racism doesn’t start and end with philosophical theories—it’s also a matter of shifting your current reading patterns. If you’ve found yourself purchasing Stamped but not The Hate U Give or With the Fire on High, then you’re doing yourself a major disservice. To help you get started, here are some groundbreaking Black authors you should read—and a few suggested books for you to check out.

1. Jason Reynolds

Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, Amazon

Jason Reynolds has a true gift when it comes to describing the Black male experience. He began writing poetry at age 9 and published his first novel in 2014. With his books—more than 10 so far—he’s created a space for Black boys to see themselves on the covers of fiction as much more than victims. On his website, Reynolds acknowledges that “I know there are a lot—A LOT—of young people who hate reading. I know that many of these book haters are boys. I know that many of these book-hating boys, don't actually hate books, they hate boredom… even though I'm a writer, I hate reading boring books too.”

Add to Your TBR Pile: The Boy in the Black Suit, Ghost

2. Nic Stone

Nic Stone has been kicking down the door on issues that have been overlooked for decades. Through her books, she brings attention and nuance to subjects like grief, discrimination, and questioning one’s sexuality in a way that has rarely been seen before in Young Adult and Middlegrade fiction. Up until 2013, The New York Times bestselling author didn’t think she could write fiction. “Part of the reason I didn't think I could do it is because I didn't see anyone who looked like me writing the type of stuff I wanted to write (super popular YA fiction),” Stone writes in an FAQ on her website. “But I decided to give it a shot anyway. (Life lesson: If you don't see you, go BE you.)”

Add to Your TBR Pile: Dear Martin, Odd One Out

3. Angie Thomas

Angie Thomas made waves after the release of The Hate U Give, a New York Times Bestseller that was made into a critically acclaimed film. Thomas’s second novel, On the Come Up, takes place in Garden Heights about a year after the events of The Hate U Give. It follows a 16-year-old up-and-coming rapper who goes by the nickname Bri. As a former teen rapper herself, Thomas knows the topic well. Just don’t ask her to participate in a rap battle. “I hoped that with writing these scenes and with showing people the ins and outs of it and the internal part of it, of coming up with freestyles on the spot, that maybe—just maybe more people would respect it as an art form,” Thomas told NPR. “But I can't do it.”

Add to Your TBR Pile: The Hate U Give, On the Come Up

4. Brittney Morris

Simon Pulse/Amazon

In her debut novel, Slay, author Brittney Morris shows the ways that Black people are discriminated against in the gaming industry. In its review, Publisher's Weekly wrote, “This tightly written novel will offer an eye-opening take for many readers and speak to teens of color who are familiar with the exhaustion of struggling to feel at home in a largely white society.”

Add to Your TBR Pile: Slay

5. Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor is a Hugo and Nebula Award-winning Nigerian-American author who intertwines African mysticism and science fiction in her writing, masterfully addressing societal issues while showing us how the world can become a better place. Okorafor never envisioned a career as a writer; she planned to be an entomologist until, as a college student, she was paralyzed from the waist down after back surgery. She began writing to distract herself while she recovered, and never looked back. “Nigeria is my muse,” Okorafor told The New York Times. “The idea of the world being a magical place, a mystical place, is normal there.”

Add to Your TBR Pile: Binti, Akata Witch

6. Tiffany D. Jackson

If you love psychological thrillers and haven’t read Tiffany D. Jackson’s first two novels, you’re missing out: Jackson has an ability to twist elements of her story to include new perspectives while keeping readers second-guessing their own theories. Her writing was influenced by many of the authors she discovered in her teen years. “I was, and still am, a HUGE R.L Stein fan, so his Fear Street series took me into my teen years," she writes on her website. "But then I was introduced to Mary Higgins Clark, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, and Jodi Picoult, to name a few.”

Add to Your TBR Pile: Allegedly, Monday’s Not Coming

7. Nafissa Thompson-Spires

Nafissa Thompson-Spires catalogues the plights of the Black community with stories that are so intricate, they could be true. One story follows a Black cosplayer shot by police; another addresses post-partum depression. She also showcases the joy that surfaces throughout our lives, despite the hardships. Thompson-Spires’s writing has earned her comparisons to the likes of Paul Beatty, Toni Cade Bambara, and Alice Munro. “I think the goal of a writer should be to tell the truth in some way, even if it’s to tell it slant—or to imagine a better version of the truth," she told The Guardian. "We have to find ways to confront difficult subjects.”

Add to Your TBR Pile: Heads of Colored People

8. Justin A. Reynolds

Katherine Tegen Books/Amazon

No, Justin A. Reynolds isn’t related to Jason Reynolds, but he’s just as talented. In his debut novel, Opposite of Always, Reynolds uses common YA tropes in an innovative way; a star-crossed lovers plot with the added effect of time travel truly sets this story apart.

Add to Your TBR Pile: Opposite of Always, Early Departures

9. Tony Medina

Tony Medina, the first Creative Writing professor at Howard University, has published 17 books, and his fight for social justice is evident in his writing. In his graphic novel, I Am Alfonso Jones, Medina uses Hamlet as inspiration for explaining issues of police brutality and social justice to Young Adult readers.

Add to Your TBR Pile: I Am Alfonso Jones

10. Elizabeth Acevedo

Quill Tree Books/Amazon

The Black experience is not a singular one, and Elizabeth Acevedo—whose debut novel, The Poet X, was a New York Times bestseller and won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2018—expands the canon with beautifully detailed Afro-Latinx narratives. “I feel like it’s hard to dream a thing you can’t see," Acevedo said in an interview with Black Nerd Problems. "And I think growing up like I knew I loved music and I loved poetry and I loved the feeling of being with other poets and listening to other stories and thinking, like, I think I can do that just as good.”

Add to Your TBR Pile: The Poet X, With the Fire on High

11. N.K. Jemisin

N.K. Jemisin is a voice for the marginalized in science fiction. She has won a number of awards for her work, including a Nebula Award and two Locust Awards, and she was the first person to win three Hugo Awards for Best Novel in a row, for her Broken Earth trilogy. "I’ll use whatever techniques are necessary to get the story across and I read pretty widely," Jemisin told The Paris Review. "So when people kept saying second person is just not done in science fiction, I was like, well, they said first person wasn’t done in fantasy and I did that with my first novel. I don’t understand the weird marriage to particular techniques and the weird insistence that only certain things can be done in science fiction."

Add to Your TBR Pile: The City We Became, The Fifth Season

12. Renée Watson

Renée Watson uses her novels to address gentrification, discrimination, and what it’s like to grow up as a Black girl. “My motivation to write young adult novels comes from a desire to get teenagers talking," she said in an interview with BookPage. "I hope my books are a catalyst for youth and adults to have conversations with one another, for teachers to have a starting point to discuss difficult topics with students.”

Add to Your TBR Pile: This Side of Home, Piecing Me Together

13. Maika and Maritza Moulite

Inkyard Press/Amazon

In their book Dear Haiti, Love Alaine, Haitian-American sister-author duo Maika and Maritza Moulite have created an exciting and riveting story of self-exploration and the meaning of family. These two have already secured a publishing deal for their next novel, One of the Good Ones.

Add to Your TBR Pile: Dear Haiti, Love Alaine

14. Talia Hibbert

Although you may have heard her name more recently due to her USA Today bestselling novel Get a Life, Chloe Brown, Talia Hibbert isn’t a newcomer to the world of adult and paranormal romance: In books, she writes narratives that often follow characters who are diverse in race, body types, and sexuality—because, as her website bio states, “she believes that people of marginalised identities need honest and positive representation.”

Add to Your TBR Pile: Get a Life, Chloe Brown, A Girl Like Her

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.