The manuscript and the style of Sanditon are locked in an unresolvable conundrum because the style of Austen’s last work is impossible to apprehend as separate from its status as a work in progress. The frequently fragmented syntax of this unfinished novel is a key part of the problem. For some of its earliest readers it displayed something sketchy and unformed to be revised and expanded, while for other, later commentators it was a dramatically new style of writing that Austen would probably not have wished to edit in any substantial way. On the whole, the critical history of Sanditon—since James Edward Austen-Leigh first brought the manuscript to public attention in his Memoir of his aunt—shows a trend towards such a recuperation of its style into something that can be identified as distinct from the provisionality of the drafting process. The fragmentary and elliptical style of Sanditon came to be deemed a fully conscious departure by Austen into something new and experimental, or that same style was defined less as a marker of Austen starting a new work than of Austen’s end. In the latter case, Sanditon reveals a “breakdown” of style (Miller 80): some loss of control, even bad writing, influenced, perhaps, by Austen’s illness and failing strength.
My aim in this essay is to revisit the idea of Sanditon as, in places, comprising an originating sketch and even jottings. Counterintuitively, such a proposal need not be accompanied by the assumption that Austen would have intended to rewrite entirely such notes. Rather, Sanditon suggests how Austen may well have channelled the contingencies of the drafting process so as to generate her greatest technical and dramatic innovations. Austen’s notes can be read as sites of compositional origin—the emergence of a character or a character’s voice—as well as signs of a mature artistic confidence. Austen’s imminence as a writer, described so persuasively by Kathryn Sutherland (127–28), is astonishingly present in this last work, where the rawness of drafting can seem coterminous with her most significant stylistic innovations. This analysis sheds light not only on the style of Sanditon but on that of her earlier completed novels.
Jane Austen’s nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, issued Sanditon into the world in 1871 with the status of a preliminary draft or a sketch. The work could not be “presented to the public” in its rough form, but only in extracts. Characters were just evolving, “forming themselves in her mind,” wrote Austen-Leigh, though they were “sketched in with a vigorous hand” (182). R. W. Chapman, the first editor of the full fragment of Sanditon, described it in Jane Austen: Facts and Problems as an “early version” of an emergent book (207). Chapman followed the family view, originating with Anna Lefroy, that the caricatured, eccentric characters would be toned down. Chapman was firmly of the view that this rough satire was not due to Austen’s decline but to lack of revision and that she would have “smoothed these coarse strokes” (208).
Sanditon appeared in volume seven of Reginald Brimley Johnson’s The Works of Jane Austen, the prefaces to which were frequently reprinted. When introducing the fragment in 1934, Johnson attended to the written texture of Austen’s prose. The sketches and strokes that constituted Austen-Leigh’s and Chapman’s descriptions of the fragment become identified with an egregious construction of sentences. Johnson concluded that Sanditon could not even be deemed a first draft, and thus he moved the compositional identity of the manuscript back in time: Sanditon was not a rough sketch but “the beginning of a rough sketch,” a series of shorthand notes that would eventually form the basis of a draft:
This cannot, I believe, be accurately called even a first draft. It is rather the beginning of a rough sketch, which may almost be described as shorthand notes of a tale for which all details, possibly even the conclusion or main thread of the plot, have yet to be determined. . . . From the ampersands, broken sentences, and other clear signs of carelessness and haste in the original, we may be sure that Miss Austen was merely jotting down ideas for characters and scenes as they came into her mind without a thought for sequence or arrangement. With her experience and natural aptitude for expression, she may by chance have hit upon a phrase or two that could survive revision; but here we have no more than a few interesting and suggestive notes for reference, when she had time—alas! never granted her—to begin writing another novel. (x)
The stylistic evidence by which Johnson deems Austen’s writing to be “jottings” is slight. The signs of carelessness or roughness—ampersands and “broken sentences” (if by that Johnson means at least in part Austen’s use of dashes)—are routine features of Austen’s manuscript writing. They appear, at the beginning of her writing life, in the juvenilia prepared to simulate printed books (Sutherland 121) and, at the other end, in the cancelled chapters of Persuasion, which provide the best evidence for the sort of manuscript copy that Austen would have sent to the printers (Sutherland 155).
In the mid-twentieth century, the stylistics of Sanditon began to be seen in a new light, largely due to the work of Brian Southam. In Southam’s 1975 facsimile of the manuscript he dissented from Chapman explicitly: “My own view is that although Sanditon is a first draft, it is not a rough sketch but a version that only requires continuation and minor changes (such as the expansion of abbreviations and paragraphing) to be ready for the printer” (ix). Previously, in Jane Austen’s Literary Manuscripts, Southam promoted the view that in Sanditon Austen was “moving into a new, experimental style” (125). Speaking of the novel’s revised third sentence, Southam posited that “roughness is a contrived effect” (126). In the light of this view, the disconnections of Sanditon are no longer to be read as primitive plotting, a license for caricature, or the author’s own stream-of-consciousness as she drafted, but as a sophisticated experiment. The aspects of the writing that had seemed, in some respects, so unlike Austen demonstrate a new thematics and stylistics of disconnection. Austen’s Johnsonian inheritance has given way to a new, fragmentary, elliptical style.
Mr. Parker’s language best emblematizes this fragmentation, most overtly in the novel’s two opening chapters, where he disjointedly conveys to Mr. Heywood his passion for the newly-established resort. This combination of subject and delivery allowed Tony Tanner ingeniously to conflate topographical and grammatical erosion:
[Mr. Parker’s] speech is conspicuously marked by asyndeton (i.e. omitting particles which usually begin sentences). This is exactly right; for in his hurry he does “omit” (forget) “beginnings” and connectives. He is no longer concerned with the syntactic rules which govern the correct linkings and relationships and positionings of society. Among other things, Sanditon is built on—and by—careless and eroding grammar. Indeed, one could say that Sanditon is Asyndeton built large. (260)
Mr. Parker builds the resort of Sanditon on or close to a terrain that is “half rock, half sand” (Later Manuscripts 137), and the underpinning structures of his language are similarly inclined to erode.
Tanner’s grammatical analogy with asyndeton is applicable to other passages in the fragment. There is a new perspectival obscurity within the work, omissive qualities in the plot and also in the qualities of the writing. At the end of the fragment, Charlotte Heywood’s visit to Sanditon House results in a vision of “something White & Womanish” over the palings as she enters the grounds (JAFM b3: 37; LM 207).1 The disjointed vision that palings themselves allow was not sufficient to Austen’s purpose. Elm trees and thorns follow the course of the fence, in which “there were intervals vacant spaces.” The “something” that Charlotte sees by means of these spaces is associative rather than definitive, bringing “Miss B. into her head.” Roughness is a deliberated effect in the opening chapter of Sanditon: there the manuscript reveals Austen inserting as a later thought the richly symbolic “half rock, half sand” (b1: 1; LM 137). In this last chapter, Austen rewrites the more regularized spacing implied by “intervals” to something more incoherently “vacant.” Mr. Parker’s syntax is subject to “vacant spaces,” while the asyndetic fragmentation—lack of connectivity—that characterizes his speech is transformed in chapter 12 into a mood.
Elliptical language: what is missing?
But what, more specifically, are these “vacant spaces” in Mr. Parker’s language? The following passage exemplifies Mr. Parker at his most elliptical:
“ . . . Such a place as Sanditon Sir, I may say was wanted, was called for.—Nature had marked it out—had spoken in most intelligible Characters—The finest, purest Sea Breeze on the Coast—acknowledged to be so—Excellent Bathing—fine hard Sand—Deep Water 10 yards from the Shore—no Mud—no Weeds—no slimey rocks—Never was there a place more palpably designed by Nature for the resort of the Invalid—the very Spot which Thousands seemed in need of.—The most desirable distance from London! a ^One complete measured mile nearer than East Bourne. . . .” (b1: 13; see LM 143)
Mr. Parker produces a series of highlights to convey Sanditon’s blessings. While his “speech” has received much critical attention, Austen’s use of tense in it has not. He begins, in the past tense: “‘Such a place as Sanditon Sir, I may say was wanted, was called for.—Nature had marked it out—had spoken in most intelligible Characters.’” Sanditon had long been needed, hence the occurrence of that need in the past. But as Mr. Parker continues, it starts to become uncertain whether he speaks directly or whether we encounter an indirect summary of his words (i.e., he believed that Nature had marked it out). This possibility becomes exposed the more Mr. Parker becomes rhetorically fervent: “‘Never was there a place more palpably designed by Nature for the resort of the Invalid—the very Spot which Thousands seemed in need of.’”
It is often said that Mr. Parker speaks in the language of advertisement. But do advertisers distance their wares by situating them in the past? Why would Mr. Parker, rolling out his favourite puffs for Sanditon, promote its desirability as a completed action: “the very Spot which Thousands seemed in need of” rather than “the very Spot which Thousands seem in need of”? The words are certainly conceivable as direct speech, as he describes the origins and (wishfully) the permanence of the resort. But the use of the past tense may also indicate that Austen has somewhere in this passage moved to an indirect voice, with the subject of the sentence and main verb elided—it was the very spot which Thousands seemed in need of—thus reducing the sentence to the subject complement (“the very spot”). There is a resulting uncertainty as to whether this passage is to be read as direct or indirect speech. Furthermore, its manuscript status raises questions that would probably not arise were we to encounter it in a published form. If we accept Mr. Parker’s words as an indirect report, do we understand them to be conveyed by the narrator? Or is the passage the summary of Austen as she composed, listing for herself the key elements of Mr. Parker’s thought? In other words, Austen’s celebrated technical innovation of free indirect speech seems curiously akin to compositional notes to oneself.
Mr. Parker is an extreme example of this elliptical speech characteristic, but, less overtly, fragmented syntax can characterize the speech of less excitable characters. In these opening chapters, Mr. Parker seems to be contrasted with the solid Mr. Heywood, who disputes the flighty characteristics of his interlocutor, preferring a stable and traditional home-life and economy. But Mr. Heywood, in the first chapter, adopts speech patterns that are elliptical and paratactic, as he gives his view on seaside towns. (Parataxis denotes clauses or sentences that are simply juxtaposed without the grammatical subordination that would express the relation between them.)
“. . . How they can half of them be filled, is amazing to me! the wonder! Where People can be found with Money & or Time to go to them!—Bad things for any a Country;—^—sure to raise the price of Provisions & make the Poor good for nothing ^ as—I dare say you find, it so Sir.” (b1: 11; see LM 142)
Mr. Heywood, therefore, also has a propensity to fragmented speech. He too elides subjects and verbs in a form of exclamatory muttering: “‘Bad things for a Country;—sure to raise the price of Provisions.’” If Mr. Heywood were speaking in something other than introspective sotto voce muttering, surely he would say, “they are Bad things for a Country,” and “they are sure to raise the price of Provisions.” In both instances, grammatical elision occurs, erasing any indication as to whether these phrases are an unusually fragmentary form of direct speech (they are Bad things for a Country) or whether speech has moved into an indirect summary (he thought they were Bad things for a Country). Austen’s addition of “sure to” before “raise the price of Provisions” reveals that Mr Heywood’s utterance here was even more truncated in its first iteration. That his speech is briefly akin to Mr. Parker’s, in an author famed for the distinctiveness of her characters’ voices, could suggest a compositional manner rather than an individuated stylistic choice according to character.
Precedents and parallels
The experimental quality that Brian Southam attributed to Sanditon must be modified by accounts of Austen’s propensity towards a similarly fragmentary style elsewhere in her writing. Kathryn Sutherland has connected Sanditon—both its raw manuscript form and its signs of “stylistic difference” (173)—as a development of “the emotional and asyndetic compression that characterised Persuasion” (172), as in the scene where Louisa falls from the Cobb, with its short, paratactic clauses:
He advised her against it, thought the jar too great; but no, he reasoned and talked in vain; she smiled and said, “I am determined I will:” he put out his hands; she was too precipitate by half a second, she fell on the pavement on the Lower Cobb, and was taken up lifeless! (P 118)
Sutherland describes this section from a larger passage as “like a sequence of notes for a scene before the imposition of subordination. . . . It is also the dissolution of style, its decomposition into the jottings and memoranda that precede writing” (173). Writing seems to dissolve into something more primitive or instinctive, as best attuned to the pace, the intensity, and the feeling of the scene. The compositional direction of the elliptical here is towards a beginning, something that is minimally planned or edited. One also wonders whether in manuscript form this passage was composed with dashes.2
In addition, the fragmentary quality of Sanditon is extremely reminiscent of some of the experiments with speech in Emma. Characteristic of the fragmentation of Sanditon, as we have seen, is the ellipsis of the subject and verb, so as to rely on subject complements, and with this elision comes a resulting uncertainty about direct and indirect speech. Most of all, Mr. Parker’s grammatical elisions, the heavy dashes, the uncertainties about direct or indirect speech are very much akin to the strawberry-picking episode—an expedition that Mrs. Elton leads—comprised as it is of extremely elliptical utterances:
The whole party were assembled, excepting Frank Churchill, who was expected every moment from Richmond; and Mrs. Elton, in all her apparatus of happiness, her large bonnet and her basket, was very ready to lead the way in gathering, accepting, or talking—strawberries, and only strawberries, could now be thought or spoken of.—“The best fruit in England—every body’s favourite—always wholesome.—These the finest beds and finest sorts.—Delightful to gather for one’s self—the only way of really enjoying them.—Morning decidedly the best time—never tired—every sort good—hautboy infinitely superior—no comparison—the others hardly eatable—hautboys very scarce—Chili preferred—white wood finest flavour of all—price of strawberries in London—abundance about Bristol—Maple Grove—cultivation—beds when to be renewed—gardeners thinking exactly different—no general rule—gardeners never to be put out of their way—delicious fruit—only too rich to be eaten much of—inferior to cherries—currants more refreshing—only objection of gathering strawberries the stooping—glaring sun—tired to death—could bear it no longer—must go and sit in the shade.” (389–90)
This passage is conventionally described as Mrs. Elton’s “monologue,” and certainly parts of it (“‘Bristol—Maple Grove’”) can be firmly attributed to her. But as a whole the passage is more elusive than that, especially if one considers that Austen, remarkably until its very end, gives no indication as to the person or tense in which the passage is written. Even then, only tense is provided in “‘could bear it no longer.’” There is no specificity of speaker (both they and she “could”). In other words, we do not know, absolutely, as we read, if this is Mrs. Elton speaking, Mrs. Elton in conversation with other individuals, or, in places, a collective voice. There are examples elsewhere in Emma of “Highbury” speaking (16, 422; see also Moler). We are uncertain whether this instance represents direct speech delivered by an individual, or groups of individuals, or the summary of a narrator. Furthermore, the whole “conversation” (390) as the narrator calls it (ironically or perhaps not) may be filtered through Emma’s consciousness.
The sentence fragments—e.g., “‘Morning decidedly the best time—never tired’”—exemplify the issue. There are many ways of filling in these ellipses:
Morning is/was decidedly the best time—I am never tired
Morning is/was decidedly the best time—she was never tired
Morning is/was decidedly the best time—they were never tired [a narratorial summary of the group’s speech or feeling]
While most of the ellipses allow for such variability of speaker, and there are moments where, as we have seen, Mrs. Elton comes into focus, there are other moments that incline more towards topic summary than to speech. For instance, translating the fragments “‘Chili preferred’” or “‘beds when to be renewed’” into direct chatter is not so easily done. Indeed, the visual effect of the strawberry-picking episode overall, with its evolving topics marked out by dashes, is reminiscent of the summarizing notes that accompany chapter headings in books of the period.3
Austen’s manuscripts provide evidence that Austen could embrace many voices within one set of quotation marks and that the punctuation of the strawberry-picking episode is quite likely to be Austen’s own. In The Watsons, Austen sought to capture “the general voice” (LM 130) in this manner:
The wheels rapidly approached;—^ in two minutes the general expectation was answered; they stopped beyond a doubt at the garden gate of the Parsonage. “Who could it be?—it was certainly a postchaise.—Penelope was the only person ^creature to be thought of. as tolerably likely She might perhaps have met with some sudden ^unexpected opportunity of returning.”—A pause of suspense ensued. (b9: 5; see LM 126)
In this passage, there is some optionality between direct and indirect speech in “‘Who could it be?’” before the passage settles into indirect, unattributed speech (“‘it was certainly a postchaise,’” not “it is”) within speech marks, either a summary of what the group said or fragmented snatches of individual speakers. The ambiguity that Austen allows to prevail in the strawberry-beds in Emma does not negate any one interpretive possibility. The passage may indeed be Mrs. Elton’s monologue, comically compressed. But the scene in Emma can also reveal a virtuosic—and brilliantly funny—play of voice and perspective, and next to it, Mr. Parker’s fragments seem mild rather than experimental or new.
Emma has been linked to Sanditon for reasons other than this fragmented, elliptical style. Mr. Woodhouse with his poor health and obsession with thin gruel seems a forerunner of Sanditon’s hypochondriacs. Also, Austen’s interest in loquacity in Emma, in the character of Miss Bates especially, takes on a new force in Sanditon, which is peopled with characters who cannot stop talking. There is Mr. Parker, who “could talk of [Sanditon] for ever” (148); Lady Denham, who may have “a natural love of talking” (177); Edward Denham, who can “talk so much nonsense” (176); even poor Arthur Parker is described as “by no means indisposed to talk” (195). Chapman’s belief, like Anna Lefroy’s, that Austen would have gone on to temper Sanditon’s caricatures has been modified: when Austen revised in Sanditon, she often made her characters more eccentric or absurd, not less (LM lxxxii). There is also evidence that Austen could revise to accentuate verbosity and extend characters’ propensity towards paratactic accumulation. Austen lengthened out Mr. Parker’s description of Lady Denham as “‘a good-natured Woman, a very goodnatured Woman;—a very obliging, friendly Neighbour,’” with the addition: “‘a chearful, independant, valuable character’” (see b1:27; LM 151). It may be a small point, but it shows Austen in this case expanding rather than reining in the loquacious listing in Sanditon. Accretive, fragmented prose was not necessarily to be edited out, but it could be added in. She had been long developing this style in earlier and published writing.
Austen at work
But is there a distinction to be made between the note-like and the note? In other words, is there a means of distinguishing between the fragmented and paratactic as consciously-adopted style, or is such grammar the fall-out of drafting? Does Reginald Brimley Johnson have to be so wrong in deeming “shorthand” in Sanditon to be Austen’s own as she composed, rather than being exclusively the idiom of her characters?
I have suggested with respect to Mr. Parker’s speech in chapter 2 that, in its manuscript context, a narrative shift into free indirect discourse can be indistinguishable from authorial summarizing. Later in the Sanditon manuscript, monologue seems even closer to memorandum, as Charlotte Heywood listens to Lady Denham’s meanness about Esther and Edward Denham. Since the passage is quite significantly revised, I also provide the text from the Cambridge edition of Jane Austen’s Works, which has the revisions incorporated:
She [Charlotte] kept her Countenance & she kept a civil Silence. She could not carry her forbearance farther; & but without attempting to listen longer, while Lady D. still talked & only conscious that Lady D. was still talking on in the same way, allowed her Thoughts to form themselves into such a Meditation as this.—“She is much worse than I expected—meaner—a great deal meaner. She is very mean. thoroughly mean. I had not expected anything so bad.—Mr. P. spoke too mildly of her.—His own kind Disposition makes him judge too well of others His Judgement is evidently not ^ always to be trusted. in his opinion of others.—His own Goodnature misleads him. in judging of others. He is too kind hearted to see clearly.—I must judge for myself.—And their very connection prejudices him.—He has persuaded her to engage in the same Speculation—& because their object in that respect Line is the same, he fancies she feels like him in others.—But she is very, very mean.—I can see no Good in her.—Poor Miss Brereton! —And she makes every body mean about her.—. . .” (b2: 39–40)
She kept her countenance and she kept a civil silence. She could not carry her forbearance farther; but without attempting to listen longer, and only conscious that Lady Denham was still talking on in the same way, allowed her thoughts to form themselves into such a meditation as this:—
“She is thoroughly mean. I had not expected anything so bad.—Mr. Parker spoke too mildly of her.—His judgement is evidently not to be trusted.—His own good nature misleads him. He is too kind hearted to see clearly.—I must judge for myself.—And their very connection prejudices him.—He has persuaded her to engage in the same speculation—and because their object in that line is the same, he fancies she feels like him in others.—But she is very, very mean.—I can see no good in her.—Poor Miss Brereton!—And she makes every body mean about her.—. . .” (LM 181)
This is a passage of interior monologue, and it is like Jane Austen to keep it approximate. We are told that this is not a transparent account of Charlotte’s thoughts: rather the thoughts are formed “into such a Meditation as this.” The principle of approximation is akin to free indirect discourse, where Austen moves into the thoughts or speech of a character while remaining in the voice of narration, so we have a sense of a character’s mind or voice, but nothing that is definitively verbatim. In this passage, Austen allows Charlotte’s emergent thoughts to be presented directly, while giving those thoughts the quality of approximation by means of their frame.
Charlotte’s thoughts are not fragmented in the manner of Mr. Parker’s speech, nor do they emerge as fluently. But they are unusually staccato in their development, as well as when they are completed. Even in the revised form they take, they comprise a list of unusually short sentences, marked with full stops. There is minimal subordination and also, to start with, minimal coordination (unlike the later “And,” “&,” “but”). The passage is not grammatically elliptical as is Mr. Parker’s, but it is similarly asyndetic in its missing connectives and its paratactic style. If, with this in mind, we look back at the phrase “into such a Meditation as this” and reconsider it as not necessarily the narrator’s but Austen’s own comment to herself about what she thinks Charlotte’s thoughts might become, we may have a frisson of authorial presence. That is, we are encountering Austen’s own thoughts as they form, and we hear the author, Austen, not a narrator, commenting on her own writing at this point as approximate, abbreviated, and provisional.
This passage reads as narrating its own composition. Charlotte ceases to listen to Lady Denham and instead passively “allowed her thoughts to form themselves.” Austen too switches her attention from Lady Denham and allows her thoughts about Charlotte to take shape. It can be the quality of thoughts that they are abrupt or fragmented. As with Mr. Parker, summary (“such as this”) provides an intensity to characters’ words: here, the vehemence of Charlotte’s reaction, clinging, as she does, to the word “mean.” Brimley Johnson believed that Austen “was merely jotting down ideas for characters.” But Austen may have found that “ideas for characters” could be interchangeable with characters’ ideas, the representation of which is arguably her greatest technical innovation.
Austen’s manuscripts suggest in other ways that she found herself seeking to transcribe her characters. Elsewhere in her writing, characters’ voices emerge, seemingly without plan, and indirect summary becomes inflected by the speech of others. Moments of compositional infelicity—what might be described as errors of “haste” or rough drafting—in missing or unusually placed speech marks are especially revealing of this tendency. In The Watsons, when young Charles Blake converses excitedly with Emma, Austen closes a sentence with inverted commas without an opening set to make them a pair. The passage begins in summary, but becomes increasingly possessed by the quality of a heard voice:
Her little partner she found, tho’ bent cheifly on dancing, was not unwilling to speak, when her questions or remarks gave him any thing to say; & she learnt, by a sort of inevitable enquiry that he had two brothers & a sister, that they ^ &their Mama all lived with his Uncle at Wickstead, that his Uncle taught him Latin, that he was very fond of riding, & had a horse of his own given him by Ld. Osborne; ^ & that he had been out once ^already with Ld. Osborne’s Hounds,.” (b4: 4–5; see LM 99)
The missing quotation marks may be an oversight, but they also alert us, along with the sentence’s increasingly childish, accretive rhythms, to a movement from indirect summary to free indirect speech, which is close to direct speech, as is acknowledged by those closing speech marks.
Other manuscript details suggest spontaneously emergent speech. Later in The Watsons, Emma meets her sister Margaret for the first time in a passage that begins a page:
She was now so “delighted to see dear, dear Emma”, that the words seemed likely never to end.— ^ she could hardly speak a word in a minute. “I am sure we shall be great friends—” she observed, with much sentiment, as they were sitting together. (b8: 5; LM 119)
In the opening sentence here, the speech marks do not, in fact, fall within the line. Rather, it seems that they have been added subsequently, hanging high over already-written letters (the “o” of “so” and between the “m” and “a” of “Emma”).4 The spoken quality of “delighted to see dear, dear Emma” within an indirect account is belatedly acknowledged by punctuation. There is a similar instance, thirteen years later, in Sanditon, when Diana Parker first turns up in Trafalgar House:
She began an account of herself as soon as they were in the Drawing roomwithout delay. —Thanking them for their Invitation, but “that was quite out of the question, for they were all three come, & meant to get into Lodgings & make some stay.” (b2: 48; see LM 186)
While Austen tends to give a lot of space to her speech marks, as in the second of this pair, the first seems retrospective, filling the natural space between “but” and “that,” put into the narrator’s account once Austen finds that Diana speaks. A delay, however slight, of Austen’s punctuation testifies to the emergent quality of voice in her compositions and also to how she accommodated it. This is, in action, the composition of free indirect discourse.
Austen’s writing is, in so many ways, a complex orchestration of voice. In Sanditon, we may even catch the tones of Austen’s own voice, planning the shape of her characters’ speech, through which the characters speak in turn. But perhaps I hear Austen’s voice in Sanditon because she is otherwise so present. Given the context of Austen’s illness, it has always been difficult to distance her from Sanditon, with its preoccupation with sickness. She even shared symptoms of “bile” and immobility with Diana Parker.
Diana, like other characters of Sanditon, is a fantasist who creates her own stories, and, at one point, she comments on her own style:
“. . . But I seem to be spinning out my story to an endless length.—You see how it was all managed. I had the pleasure of hearing soon afterwards by the same connectingsimple link ^of connection that Sanditon had been recommended by Mrs. Darling. . . . I heard again from Fanny Noyce, saying that she had heard from Miss Capper, who by a Letter from Mrs. Darling understood that Mrs. G.– has expressed herself in a letter to Mrs. D more doubtingly on the subject of Sanditon.—Am I clear?—I would be anything rather than not clear.”—“Oh! perfectly, perfectly. Well?” (b3: 3–4; see LM 188; ellipsis added)
Austen seems reflective in this passage about stories that permit the unclear. She is also constructing characters, in Sanditon, who deliver sequences of clauses without carefully articulated connections between them. Often the energy and also the comedy of Sanditon arise from such thematic and stylistic absences of connectivity. (Diana’s “simple link of connection” proves anything but.) Furthermore, the manuscript suggests that Austen could compose in notes that eschew fully articulated links. Yet it is in those vacant spaces where we would expect subordination, person, verb that Austen’s technical brilliance comes to the fore—that is, in free indirect discourse and in interior monologue, in the quick movement of the mind and in a complex hybridity of voice.
1In this essay, quotations from Jane Austen’s manuscripts follow as closely as possible Kathryn Sutherland’s transcriptions in Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts, with booklet and page number noted. In all cases, however, ellipsis points within quotations are editorial and do not feature within the original texts. The page number for the text, with revisions incorporated, in Later Manuscripts is also provided.