Originally published posthumously in 1925 under the title Fragments of a Novel, Sanditon is Jane Austen’s unfinished last novel. Austen was ill when she began the novel in January 1817, and she stopped working on it in March of the same year as her illness progressed. She died four months later, in July. Known for her wit and satirical criticism, Austen examines issues of class, health, and ambition through the eyes of the novel’s naïve protagonist, Charlotte Heywood. Although Austen’s other novels are romance novels, the unfinished novel leaves Charlotte without a romantic interest, with Austen focusing on issues of power and class rather than marriage and romance.
This study guide refers to the 2020 Dover Thrift edition.
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Content Warning: This novel features outdated and offensive language concerning people with disabilities. Additionally, the source material uses racist language that is reproduced in this guide only through direct quotes of the source material.
The SuperSummary difference
While traveling through the countryside, Mr. and Mrs. Parker get into a carriage accident. Mr. Parker sprains his ankle while exiting the carriage, prompting him to seek help from a nearby cottage. The cottage’s owners, the Heywood family, offer their home to the Parkers while they repair the carriage. The Parkers stay with the family for two weeks while Mr. Parker’s ankle heals. Mr. Parker is a friendly man with an imaginative personality whose main goal in life is to build up his town of Sanditon into a beach resort. Mr. Parker is convinced that Sanditon is a unique place where the saline air heals disorders and illnesses. Although Mr. and Mrs. Heywood do not have time or money to visit Sanditon, they encourage their daughter, Charlotte, to go with the Parkers so she can have a new experience.
As the Parkers and Charlotte travel to Sanditon, Mr. Parker describes the residents of the town. He emphasizes the importance of Sanditon’s great lady, his business partner, Lady Denham. Lady Denham is a widow twice over, and she inherited Sanditon House from her first husband, Mr. Hollis. Clara Brereton, Lady’s Denham’s poor cousin, lives in Sanditon House with her. Mr. Parker praises Lady Denham’s kindness, telling Charlotte that her only fault is loving money too much.
When they arrive in Sanditon, Mr. Parker receives a letter from his sisters, who are perpetually ill. His sister Diana writes that she is unable to travel to Sanditon because the sea air will kill her but that she has secured two families who are traveling to visit Sanditon. Mr. Parker is overjoyed by this news, believing it will jumpstart the popularity of the resort. Charlotte is shocked and concerned for the Parker sisters and their long list of ailments, but Mrs. Parker confides that sometimes the sisters make out that they are sicker than they really are.
Charlotte meets Lady Denham and Clara the next day. Her initial impressions are that Lady Denham is a kind but abrupt woman, and Clara resembles a heroine from a novel. Mr. Parker and Lady Denham discuss the families who are coming to Sanditon, one of whom is from Antigua, and how they fear the families will drive up the cost of living.
Charlotte meets Esther and Edward Denham, who are Lady Denham’s nephew and niece. Edward was previously the heir to Lady Denham’s fortune, but Clara’s new position makes Edward’s inheritance unsure. Charlotte is enamored with Edward because he is eloquent, but she soon finds out that he is an overly romantic man who reads too many novels.
Lady Denham confides in Charlotte about her issues with her relatives. She tells Charlotte that she is not going to let Esther and Edward stay at her house this summer, even though she knows they do not have money. Charlotte realizes that Lady Denham is cruel and has no compassion for anyone less fortunate than herself. Charlotte recognizes that Edward, Esther, and Clara are all trapped in their relationship with Lady Denham because their survival depends on whether Lady Denham approves of them.
The next day, Diana, Susan, and Arthur Parker arrive in Sanditon. Charlotte meets Diana and finds that she is consumed with her own self-importance. Since Diana declares herself sick, she thinks she is the best person to help Miss Lambe and the Griffiths with their illness. Charlotte meets Susan and Arthur and finds them similar in temperament to Diana. After watching the siblings, Charlotte admits that they do not seem ill, but rather are wealthy people who have too much time on their hands. Diana receives a letter indicating that she has made a mistake: The two families coming to Sanditon turn out to be just one family. The Griffiths arrive in Sanditon with Miss Lambe, who is a sick but wealthy heiress from Antigua.
After she has been in Sanditon for a week, Mrs. Parker decides that Charlotte should visit Sanditon House. On their way to the house, they meet Sidney Parker, Mr. Parker’s other brother. Sidney has come to visit Sanditon and says he will meet them later. As Charlotte and Mrs. Parker walk up to Sanditon House, Charlotte spots Edward and Clara in a secret enclosure speaking intimately together. Charlotte thinks they must be involved in a secret romance, but because of Clara’s sad position, she does not judge Clara harshly. However, it is obvious that the lovers want privacy, and Charlotte is the only one who has seen them.
As Charlotte and Mrs. Parker enter the drawing room of Sanditon House, Charlotte explores the room before Lady Denham arrives. The room has extravagant decorations. A large portrait of Sir Denham hangs over the mantlepiece, whereas there is only a small picture of Mr. Hollis on the other side of the room, where no one will notice it, which seems sad to Charlotte because it was originally his house.
By Jane Austen