Sanditon by Jane Austen and "Another Lady" (aka Anne Telscombe/Marie Dobbs <--- same lady)
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Classic Completion, 320 pgesPublished October 6th 1998 by Scribner Paperback Fiction (first published January 1st 1975)
*Please note: the author, who published this under the name of "Another Lady" also publishes under the names Anne Telscombe and Marie Dobbs. I'm not sure if either is her real name, but for the sake of brevity, I'm calling her "Dobbs" from here on out.
To properly explain to you why I love this novel, first I need to set the scene: the year was 2008, I wasn't blogging yet, and was in need of some structure; I was planning my summer reading and wishing for something like Jane Austen, when I realized that there were all these adaptations out there. At first, I was a bit startled. People would dare to "continue" and "adapt" Jane Austen? The horror. But then I thought, Maybe I could just embrace it? Maybe I could have a "Summer of Jane" and read all the adaptations I can get my hands on... (sound familiar?) Well, it didn't work out quite the way I'd planned, because the first few I picked up (the names long since forgotten) were dreadful. Awful, awful, awful stuff. In fact, I had just read another completion of Jane Austen's last unfinished work (ie this one) called "Charlotte" - about which I wrote my most scathing review EVER...only to have a Goodreads pageload error when I hit publish and I lost everything. Thwarted!
Anyway, I was about to give up and write off all Austen adaptations as puerile trash, but I had one more book in my stack of library books that was waiting to be read. I was really hesitant to read it, not only because it was another Austen adaptation, but because it was an adaptation of the very same work I'd just finished and loathed. Even if it turned out marginally better (I wasn't expecting much), I doubted I'd be able to separate it from the crap that filled the other book. But I decided to suck it up and give it a chance, and oh my sweet Jane, if it didn't completely change my mind about Austen adaptations. It was a revelation.
Now, I'm not saying this was perfect by any means. And I don't know how Jane Herself would have actually finished out the story (the fragment, if you didn't know, is 11 chapters long, so a good amount of the groundwork had been laid), but I have to say, Dobbs did a really admirable job of taking what she had to work with, parsing it out and figuring out where Austen may have intended the story to go, as well as where modern readers might want it to go, and then embracing that and going there. Aside from one particular sub-plot (that of the foolish wannabe-rake who takes things too far), I really didn't have any trouble believing that the story Dobbs presented was the one Jane intended. It has her characteristic wit, and skewers the foibles of a population in a very Jane-like way. The hero and heroine Dobbs presents feel very well-suited to each other and to Austen's world, like they may be close to what Austen intended of them, and most of the things they go through worked for me.
I was also very impressed with how seamlessly Dobbs blended her writing with Austen's. I was so invested in the story (both the first and second times I read it) that I was 3/4 of the way through before I ever had the thought to wonder where specifically Austen's fragment left off and Dobbs writing picked up. I had to google, and then flip back and forth and compare. Dobbs did a very admirable job of mimicking Austen's tone and style without feeling forced or hitting many false notes. She captured that sly sense of humor, the sharp eye towards the follies of others, the characterization, the structure - she really took her time to make the story and the style - Austen's style - shine, rather than letting her own style intrude. Rather, when it came time for her to take over the story, she injected her style gradually, so that - even though the plot does become more absurd and somewhat modern in its telling - the transition happens at such a good pace, and the style remains consistent enough, that the reader is never jarred out of the story by an abrupt shift in style or content.
Now, four years later, my "Summer of Jane" - which was to be a single, read-it-all and move on project - has evolved into a yearly tradition, and I've stumbled across many more good - and more than my share of bad - adaptations. To make sure my enjoyment of Sanditon wasn't a fluke due to the horrid nature of the other adaptations I'd read, I bought a copy and curled up with it for a second time. It wasn't a fluke; I fell just as in love with it as I did the first time around, and if it weren't for the fact that people would look at me like, Who? in Austen conversations, I'd talk just as readily of Charlotte and Sidney as I do of Elizabeth and Darcy, Catherine and Tilney, Wentworth and Anne... This was the first Austen adaptation I read that made me feel anything even close to what I felt the first time I read any of Austen's works, and it remains one of the few to have done so.