SANDITON  – Historical Background

Jane Austen’s last unfinished novel was ‘Sanditon’ also known as  ‘The Brothers’

Jane Austen began her last work on January 27th 1817 and wrote her last word on March 18th 1817. She died with the work uncompleted.

Her niece, Anna Lefroy, the daughter of Jane’s eldest brother James, inherited the manuscript on the death of Jane’s sister Cassandra in 1845.

The Portsmouth artist R.H.C. Ubsdell created a miniature portrait of Anna Lefroyat at Oakley Hall on his painting tour of the Upper Test Valley in October 1845. A very similar looking lady appears in Ubsdell’s painting “A Sermon at St Lawrence”, dated April 1844 which is a composition that contains the images of many famous people Ubsdell had previously depicted in miniatures. In this allegorical painting the lady would appear to be seeking reassurance from a figure we believe to be the Bishop of Winchester, Charles Richard Sumner.

R.H.C. Ubsdell (1812-1887) was my great, great , great grandfather, and fascinated by his story, I wrote and published two books of his collected paintings, and the stories behind them entitled, “Hampshire, Discovering the 19th Century World of Portsmouth Artist R.H.C. Ubsdell , ISBN 978-0-957-3236-0-5 and ISBN 978-0-957-3236-1-2 as well as the website

The miniature of Anna can be said to depict her as a writer, leaning on her writer’s table, and the composition of the picture has much in common with the image said to be of Jane Austen (the subject of a BBC documentary) and currently in the possession of Ms Paula Byrne.  Ubsdell is also the artist responsible for some of the images we have of Jane Austen’s brothers Charles and Francis who lived in the vicinity of Portsmouth at Anglesey Ville, Alverstoke, and Portsdown Lodge respectively..

Anna had for some years been brought up with Jane and her family at Steventon, and was close to Jane in her final years at Chawton.  Jane is known to have discussed her writing with Anna both as an adult and a child, including Jane’s letters to Anna commenting on her first effort to write a novel initially titled “Enthusiasm” and subsequently  “Which is the Heroine”.

Jane Austen’s unfinished  “Sanditon” was eventually published in 1925,  Anna wrote a continuation of Sanditon, similarly unfinished, and this was published as a limited edition in Chicago in 1983, although much of the edition was subsequently destroyed in a warehouse flood. I acquired Anna’s original manuscript and her manuscript contribution to the biography of her Aunt in 2013. Few people will have read “Sanditon” all the way through from the Jane Austen version to the end of the continuation by her niece, and by making the Lefroy Continuation available on this website I hope I will give far more people the opportunity to do so.

Anna clearly intended to finish and publish “Sanditon” as a combined and continuous work. The fascinating question, is why she didn’t.

The Jane Austen work is descriptive and discursive and introduces the characters, whilst the Anna Lefroy fragment builds on this and adds motivations to the characters.  It is believed that Jane had intended to call her novel “The Brothers” and in Anna’s continuation she builds the characters for the other two brothers, Arthur and Sidney.  Arthur is an overweight hypochondriac whilst Sidney and his friends, who include the slightly sinister Mr Tracy are clearly men of the world. Jane Austen finishes her original story on the clandestine meeting  between Sir Edward Denham and Clara Bretherton.  Lefroy builds at some length the background of Clara so we have some understanding of what her motivations might be.

Similarly Lefroy carefully builds the character of Lady Denham to make it clear that here is not a character we should like.  But above all, to this seaside resort without visitors that Jane Austen created, Lefroy creates Sidney Parker’s view that Mr Parker has “responsibilities that might lead him to very serious embarrassment” This is therefore a novel primarily about money and property speculation, and one where we might expect Sidney Parker with his fortune left to him by his rich City Uncle – “Old Kit Sidney” to come out on top.

Possibly it is the most intriguing possibilities that Austen sets up, that Lefroy does not have the background knowledge or courage to pursue. A bank crash based on Jane’s brother Henry’s experience, the financial dependency of two of the characters to Lady Denham, the mixed race heiress from St Lucia, for example. Potentially this could have been Austen’s most brilliant and radical novel. So with the possibilities so clearly and interestingly drawn, why could Lefroy not finish the book?

The only clue we have is Anna’s letter to her half brother, James Edward Austen-Leigh (JEAL) dated Aug 8th 1862, in which she is replying to his earlier letter discussing how Sanditon might be made ready for publication.  JEAL clearly knows that Anna has written a continuation and probably has at some time seen it or a part of it, but it would not appear to be in his possession, for he is more concerned about the quality of the Jane Austen original and what might be done with it.  The perplexing sentence appears halfway through Anna’s letter …”but it is time to finish, so I will only add, that in nothing do I so entirely disagree with you all in the comparison of my own addition with the original. There seems to me just the same difference as between real Lace & Imitation”

Many authors have attempted a continuation of Sanditon. Here for the first time is a continuation of Lefroy’s continuation of Sanditon and freed from the constraints of the novel format and the need to contrive an exact mimicry of Austen’s prose, my necessarily modern interpretation in the second half of where the combined plots could have led.  For lovers of Austen’s words I have tried to keep the adaptation up to the interval as pure Austen as possible.

I make no apology for seeing Sanditon as a humerous but thought provoking romp, for having adapted the Austen fragment, I’m sure that must have been the author’s intention, and her mental release from the illness that was killing her.

Chris Brindle

Feb 2014