Saturday, July 20, 2013

Sanditon Reviews

As we near the end of the short Sanditon YouTube series, I decided to re-read this completion of Austen’s last novel. But first, let’s go into the background of Sanditon (also appropriate, as the anniversary of Austen's death was just a couple days ago).

Austen wrote Sanditon in the midst of the illness which finally took her from this world. During this time she was no doubt surrounded by all manner of medical advice, as well as doctors. And, as with any illness, people must always one-up you on how bad their illness is. As such, much of this pervades Sanditon. The book begins when Mr. Parker and his wife get into a bit of a carriage accident on a steep hill. Luckily, they are close to the Heywood residence, where the sensible Mr. Heywood sends his men to fix the carriage while his wife and daughters tend to Mr. Parker’s injured ankle. It turns out that they were in the neighborhood searching for a doctor for their new fashionable seaside resort. Though they discover they’ve come to the wrong neighborhood, they convince Mr. Heywood to let his eldest daughter Charlotte visit with them to Sanditon.

Upon arriving in Sanditon, Charlotte meets many of the odd residents and visitors. Lady Denham is a penny-pinching harpy who chiefly tries to keep from being bamboozled by her equally greedy relatives. Sir Edward, her nephew, is a foolish young man whose ideas come straight from romance novels, and who believes the villains are the real protagonists of the stories. His chief goal is to seduce Lady Denham’s beautiful young cousin, who is staying with her for a time.

The real amusement, however, comes from Mr. Parker’s brothers and sisters. Arthur, Diana, and Susan are all hypochondriacs. They constantly discuss how dreadful they feel, how the doctors can never do anything for them, and their various strange remedies. Yet, somehow, they all manage to do enough when they feel like they will get credit for it. Charlotte sensibly thinks that they would feel well enough if they would throw out all their medicines.

In Austen’s original fragment, this is about as far as we get, with a single tantalizing glimpse of the hero, Sidney Parker, who is very different from the rest of his siblings.

In the completion, “Another Lady”, Marie Dobbs (also under the pseudonym Anne Telscombe) picks up where Austen left off. While there is a slight difference in the original fragment and the new writing (who can copy Austen’s subtle abilities?), the transition is quite smooth. Dobbs, thankfully, expands on the characterization set up by Austen. Sidney arrives with a friend of his, who has had a disappointment in love. He enlists Charlotte and Miss Brereton, Lady Denham’s young relative, to help his friend; but Charlotte can’t help but see that in some ways Sidney is as interfering as his siblings. Yet, she must struggle against the feelings she is developing while trying to decipher the hijinks going on in the town of Sanditon.

Overall, I enjoyed this completion very much. I’ve heard some criticism about the climax of the novel being very unlike Jane Austen; but I still found out a very amusing way of ending Sir Edward’s nonsense. It’s also one of the few completions still on the market; some of the older ones (particularly the one by Anna Austen Lefroy) are very difficult to find.

So, how does this compare to web series “Welcome to Sandition”? There is no comparison; this novel is infinitely better. While I know WTS is essentially a short series to get us through to the next project by the LBD creators, it still isn’t particularly compelling; nor is it very much like how Jane Austen set things up for the story in the first place.

In Welcome to Sanditon. Gigi Darcy (from the LBD series) comes to Sanditon to beta-test Domino on the populace at large. What she finds is that Domino appears to have developed a finely tuned sense for matchmaking, and the mayor is trying to shoehorn the whole town into becoming a health resort, which does not sit well with Clara Breton, owner of a popular ice cream shop.

While this could work on many levels, it doesn’t, and here is why. First off, they have changed much of Austen’s characterizations. In the novel, Mr. Parker was an overly enthusiastic developer, but otherwise benevolent. He was a bit foolish at times but clearly wanted everyone to enjoy themselves. In the series, he has been transformed into Mayor Parker, a scheming (but still foolish) politician who uses plenty of underhanded tactics to make people do what he wants. In this way he appears to have been combined with Lady Denham; but the difference is jarring.

Then there is Edward, who has transformed from a foolish gothic novel fanboy who wants to be like his favorite seducers, to an awkward geek who likes making sci-fi references and who works for the mayor just because his aunt got him the job.

The second thing that doesn’t work is the fan compilations. While the idea of including fan vlogs as part of the “Domino beta-testing” could be fun, many of the videos don’t appear to be very relevant; it’s just the fans babbling about Sanditon. They don’t really advance the plot at all, and it sort of excludes the fans who either don’t join in on the vlogging or can’t join in. As such, the weekly fan compilations are more of a nuisance to many of the viewers rather than a fun extra.

Now, in other ways, the series does work. The idea of the New Sanditon fans trying to force the Old Sanditon fans to make way is fairly accurate to the novel. The Parkers (who only show up in tweets-another problem, as not everyone can follow every twitter account) happily encourage the Mayor in his attempts to make Sanditon a health resort. Then there is the plot point of the two different people being brought to Sanditon by the Parkers-in the novel, it was simply the same group, with two different names being used. In the series, it is the Griffiths, competing brother and sister Spin classes, each with a different flair. We also have Mayor Parker shove Edward at Ms. Griffith (analogous to Lady Denham shoving Edward at Miss Lambe of the Griffith party), interrupting his romance with Clara (in the novel, it’s implied Clara’s just sort of tolerating Edward’s nonsense; in the vlog, there is clearly romance between them).

So, while some things are amusing, it’s not enough. Like New Sanditon, they’re trying to push the vlogs in a new “interactive” direction, but like Old Sanditon, a large part of the viewership cannot see why the old way had to be improved.

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