Jane Austen’s Sanditon: a talk with illustrations by Prof Jan Todd

Sanditon is Jane Austen’s final novel, left unfinished when she died a few months later. Instead of centring on a great house and rural families, it portrays an upstart sea resort on the south coast of England being built by two speculators, an enthusiastic landowner and a greedy ‘great lady’, who hope to make a fortune through exploiting visitors. As always with Jane Austen, the characters are based on real people who breathe and walk, but here they are made larger than life, ebulliently exaggerated like contemporary cartoons and caricatures.

Given the Victorian image of Jane Austen as decorous and restrained, it is not surprising that her nieces and nephews, guardians of her reputation, should have found Sanditon unseemly and tried to suppress it. Happily for us, the fragment was published in the 20th century and ‘Janeites’, lovers of Jane Austen, have often been tempted to finish it!

The talk will introduce Jane Austen through her portraits, and describe her life in Regency England and her present global fame. It will deliver Sanditon through quotations from the novel and also through contemporary cartoons about the fashion for sea resorts, ‘bathing machines’ and the new-fangled notion of dipping in the sea and drinking salt water. The characters promote themselves and obsess about their bodies and self-images—so the book’s world is not a million miles away from our own one of selfies and compulsive desire for admiration.

Part of the University’s Festival of Ideas