Edited by Inger Sigrun Brodey

Clues to Austen's Writing Habits

A Transcription and Analysis of Jane Austen's Last Work, Sanditon
By Teran Lee Sacco.
The Edwin Mellen Press, 1995. vi + 181 pages.
3 b/w illustrations. Hardcover, $90.

Reviewed by Mary Jane Curry.

Teran Lee Sacco has transcribed the manuscript of Sanditon to show all of Jane Austen's revisions. For anyone wanting to see Austen's imagination working, this printed version of the fragment is a treasure--especially since no manuscripts of the completed novels survive. At 24,804 words, Sanditon is the longest text we have in Austen's own hand. King's College, Cambridge owns the manuscript, and a facsimile is kept at The College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Massachusetts.

Jane Austen left few hints about the direction Sanditon would have taken had her health allowed its completion. Only one reference appears in the Letters, and it refers to the heroine's namesake: on II- 12 October 1813, she told Cassandra, "I admire the Sagacity & Taste of Charlotte Williams. Those large dark eyes always judge well.--I will compliment her, by naming a Heroine after her," More than three years later, in January 1817, when Austen began the novel we call Sanditon, she recalled her promise. Charlotte Williams, a family friend in Manydown, became the source for Charlotte Heywood--perhaps in "Sagacity and Taste" as well as given name. From January through March 1817, Austen worked on the manuscript; her illness worsening, she stopped at 12 chapters. During this period her letters show concern for the novels-in-progress of her niece Fanny Knight and her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh, but her own is not mentioned, perhaps because she feared she could not complete it.

Sacco's is the third transcription of Sanditon. The first was made by R.W. Chapman in 1925, revised for Oxford University Press's 1954 Volume VI of The Works of Jane Austen, and further revised by B. C. Southam. The Oxford edition includes only Austen's last version. An intermediate edition, R. Brimley Johnson's Sanditon and Other Miscellanea, corrects some 1925 errors but keeps others.

In Chapman's 1925 edition, Austen's revisions appear following the transcribed text; Sacco's more helpful format prints them within it. Seeing the changes where Austen made them gives a sense of her thinking, and of the relationship of context to each deletion and addition. In addition, Sacco's edition shows the manuscript pagination.

The text is followed by 12 pages of commentary. Here Sacco asks some stimulating questions. For example, she considers the speech in which Mr. Parker, having just praised Lady Denham, describes her "young female relation" Clara Brereton to Charlotte. The first version reads, with revised passage in italics:

Charlotte listened with more than amusement now;--it was solicitude and Enjoyment, as she heard her delineated and not with to be lovely, amiable, gentle, unassuming, conducting herself uniformly with great good sense, & evidently gaining by her innate worth, on the affections of her Patroness.

Sacco's questions also suggest possible patterns in the text. Her commentary calls attention to some representative changes and analyzes a few revisions. There are a few errors in the preface and commentary, such as spelling Anna Lefroy's name "Lafroy." As Sacco notes in conclusion, "Used in conjunction with the published facsimile edited by Southam, this transcription allows readers unfamiliar with the author's hand... to see [her] creative processes." Perhaps future study will suggest why, if Austen family lore is true, Jane Austen called it "The Brothers."

Mary Jane Curry is an associate professor of English at Auburn University Montgomery, Alabama. She has published on Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Henry James, and was recently awarded a Life Membership for having founded the Alabama Region.

JASNA News v.15, no. 3, Winter 1999, p. 27

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