Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sanditon and Other Stories by Jane Austen

Sanditon and Other Stories by Jane Austen is a collection of some of her unpublished and unfinished works, along with some of her juvenilia and miscellanea.  As the editor, Peter Washington, notes in the introduction, “The purpose of the present text is unashamed enjoyment of a novelist who, great or small, major or minor, never fails to provide it” (xxv). 
Ultimately, this book is for the Jane Austen fan, or Janeite; a person who wants to read anything and everything by Austen even if it includes works that are unpolished.  Albeit, even when unpolished, the writing is surprisingly witty.  And the reader is bound to walk away appreciative of how Austen revises her writing. 

For those who have been following this blog, you may recall that I’d read a part of this book earlier thisyear.  I wanted to read Austen in the order in which she wrote her, although Northanger Abbey was written before Persuasion so I made a valiant effort.

Part Two, because it included her juvenilia is where my reading began.  I then back-tracked to Part One and read her novella Lady Susan.  You can read about those parts here.

Part One also includes two unfinished novels:  Sanditon and The Watsons. Both have been published with the help of a “continuator.”  Sanditon is the unfinished novel that everyone especially seems to praise.  The typical Austen elements are in place with a family trying to get a beachside resort town established and taking in a young girl who will naturally find true love when all is said and done.  And it likely would have been typically gratifying with few surprises. 

The Watsons is another unfinished novel and I especially enjoyed this one.  A young girl, who had been raised by a more affluent family member, returns to her family of origin where she doesn’t quite fit in because of the disparity between her education and upbringing (nurture) and that of her siblings.  The nature and nurture theme that is evident in many of Austen’s novels, is obviously at play here.  I would have very much enjoyed seeing how this novel would end, even though it would obviously end with a happily-ever-after marriage.

I then moved on to read the second half of Part Two, the miscellanea.  This was, in my mind, the lease cohesive and interesting part of the collection.  I don’t begrudge the editor’s choice to be inclusive but if I were to want to reread this book at some point I doubt I would choose to read this part of the book.  The “Plan of a Novel” is not as interesting as I had hoped it would be.  There are then two short pieces:  “Opinions of Mansfield Park” and “Opinions of Emma” are of most interest in that one is bound to come upon an opinion that matches one’s own.  But a few snippets of comments, a sentence or two at most, is not as interesting, perhaps, as a full book review.  Last and  subjectively least, the last two parts, “Verses” and “Prayers,” are not particularly exciting.  The verses do exhibit some of Austen’s wit but they are only moderately inspired, quatrains that sometimes sink into a sing-song rhythm.  The prayers are typical, complete with thee and thou and contrived elevated language.  I was disappointed that polished prose of her novels wasn’t evident in the prayers. 

As I said at the beginning of this review, this book is written for the reader who adores everything Jane Austen has written.  I cannot deny that I love Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion.  I very much like Sense and Sensibility and Emma.  But I doubt I’ll ever reread Northanger Abbey or Mansfield Park.  I suspect that someone who can honestly say that they love all of the published novels will at least like every page.  Some die hard loyalists will likely love this book cover-to-cover.  I did not.  I guess my admiration of Austen has its limits.  I do, however, wish that “The Watsons” had been completed before Jane Austen’s death.  I would have loved it; of this, I have no doubt.

Aside:  I was not aware that I had not already posted my review for Northanger Abbey which I finished a couple of weeks ago.  It could be that I saved it as a draft and forgot to publish it.  If not, I'm sure I have it in a file somewhere and just thought I'd published it.  Either way, I dropped a ball somewhere and I need to pick it up.  Oops.

This book is a part of the Books I Should Have Read By Now Challenge because I've been wanting to read Austen's juvenilia ever since I first heard it was published and I promised myself I would the next time I read Jane Austen.  That was many years ago and I'm only now getting around to it.  

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