Sanditon Revisited, The Characters

Jane Austen, 1810

Sketch of Jane Austen (1775-1817) dated 1810.

PBS is currently running an eight-part series of Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, Sanditon.

When I watched the first episode, I hadn’t read Sanditon.

I had read all six of Austen’s complete novels, but never bothered with Sanditon. Looking forward to seeing it adapted for Masterpiece Theatre, I trusted the PBS version would capture the vibe of the Austen universe even as it addressed modern sensibilities and social concerns.

After watching the first television episode, however, and staring open-mouthed as Sydney Parker gives Miss Heywood a most ungentlemanly, spittle-spewing tongue-lashing upon their early acquaintance, I sensed that something was amiss. I can’t recall such a breach of manners in any of Miss Austen’s ungentlemanly characters—not even the dastardly George Wickham in Pride and Prejudice.

Racing to my search engine to find the Sanditon fragment, I satisfied myself as to how Jane Austen introduced the characters.

Viewers of the PBS Sanditon may find it interesting to compare what Austen says about the characters to their depictions in the television reconstruction.

Charlotte Heywood: The eldest daughter of a respectable rural family and “a very sober-minded young lady.” When the Parkers have a coach accident near their home and Mr. Parker injures his ankle, the Heywoods put them up for two weeks. When they are ready to resume travel, the Heywoods trust them enough to permit Charlotte to accompany them to stay the summer with them at Sanditon.

Lady Denham: “a very rich old lady, who had buried two husbands, who knew the value of money, and was very much looked up to and had a poor cousin living with her.” She is looking for an heiress for Edward Denham. Tom Parker describes her as “generous,” but in fact she is very mean with her money. She is easily deceived with flattery.

Clara Brereton: the beautiful but impoverished relation living with Lady Denham. Tom Parker describes her as “lovely, amiable, gentle, unassuming, conducting herself uniformly with great good sense.” Charlotte suspects her of having a liaison with Sir Edward because she sees them sitting together in a secluded spot.

Sir Edward Denham: a foppish, fatuous nephew of Lady Denham’s second husband. He hopes to inherit from Lady Denham. Charlotte finds him “very much addicted to all the newest-fashioned hard words, [lacking] a very clear brain, and talking “a good deal by rote.”

Esther Denham: Sir Edward’s sister. She is “a fine young woman, but cold and reserved, giving the idea of one who felt her consequence with pride and her poverty with discontent.” Her manner is subservient in the presence of Lady Denham.

Tom Parker: The promoter of Sanditon. “Upon the whole, Mr. Parker was evidently an amiable family man, generally kind-hearted, easy to please, with more imagination than judgement.”

Mary Parker: Mr. Parker’s wife, “a gentle, amiable, sweet-tempered woman, the properest wife in the world for a man in need of cooler reflection, but useless to provide it.”

Diana Parker: A busybody who tries to organize everyone. A self-proclaimed invalid.

Susan Parker: Another Parker sibling.  (She does not appear in the TV adaptation.) Susan also perceives herself as an invalid. When Diana diagnoses one of her ailments as stemming from her gums, Susan has three (presumably healthy) teeth drawn.

Arthur Parker: Having heard about all their health problems, Charlotte expects Arthur to be “a very puny, delicate-looking young man, materially the smallest of a not very robust family, [but is] astonished to find him quite as tall as his brother, and a great deal stouter, broad made and lusty, and with no other look of an invalid than a sodden complexion.”

Sydney Parker: The only Parker sibling other than Tom who does not claim to be an invalid. Tom describes him as “saucy” in the way he makes fun of the claims of the family hypochondriacs. He has a pleasant manner and is “about seven or eight and twenty, very good-looking, with a decided air of ease and fashion and a lively countenance.” When introduced to Charlotte, he responds with “a very well-bred bow and proper address.” He turns down an invitation to stay with Tom and his family because he is in Sanditon on business and wants to stay at the hotel.

Mrs. Griffiths: The head of a girls’ school, who has brought three of her charges to Sanditon for the summer. She is “a very well-behaved, genteel kind of woman, who supported herself by receiving such great girls and young ladies as wanted either masters for finishing their education or a home for beginning their displays.” She is especially solicitous of Miss Lambe because of her money.

Miss Lambe: “a young West Indian of large fortune, in delicate health, about seventeen, half mulatto, chilly [probably in the sense of “susceptible to cold”] and tender.” Her guardian, Mrs. Griffiths, has chosen Sanditon especially on Miss Lambe’s account because of its quiet seclusion and her delicate health. Miss Lambe has her own maid and is given the best room in the house. She fears her first dip in the ocean.

The two Miss Beauforts: They had “showy figures, an assured look, were very accomplished and very ignorant.” Their principal object is “to captivate some man of much better fortune than their own.”

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