Thursday, January 12, 2023

Book Review 2022 #6 - Jane Austen's Sanditon and Other Stories

Sanditon and Other Stories by Jane Austen
Published by: Everyman
Publication Date: March 28th, 1996
Format: Hardcover, 502 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Due to a geographical mistake and an accident Charlotte Heywood has been given the extreme pleasure of visiting Sanditon with it's chief cheerleader, Mr. Tom Parker. A seaside resort unlike any other. The water is clearer, the sand cleaner, and the prospects endless, as long as one or two large groups were to take homes for the summer. But not to worry, it's just the beginning of the season and Sanditon's year round inhabitants are characters enough for Charlotte. Especially when all the Parker siblings descend on the town and Mr. Arthur Parker shows Charlotte the joy of a perfectly toasted piece of bread. Well buttered. While in another part of England altogether Emma Watson has be thrust back on her family after being raised by her wealthy Aunt and Uncle. Her Uncle tragically died and her Aunt remarried, thus making Emma superfluous and no longer an heiress. She and her family make the best of this sudden reversal in fortune, but it is very odd being thrust back on one's family who now seem more like strangers. Whereas in another section of England entirely Lady Susan is concocting a scheme. Being recently widowed she was rather too open with her feelings and flirtations at some friends she was visiting and therefore has taken refuge with her brother-in-law and his wife, a wife that Lady Susan did her best to make sure he didn't marry. But Lady Susan is so eloquent with her words that she soon smooths over any reservations that anyone might have. She has been ill used and isn't the villain everyone makes her out to be. Or that is what she loudly proclaims while secretly scheming to get her daughter Frederica off her hands and carrying on her affair with a married man. Sadly for Lady Susan her sister-in-law soon starts to suspect that her first opinion of her was the true one and she works to disentangle her family from Lady Susan's copious affairs while also keeping her ill used daughter Frederica within the bosom of her true family. Will Lady Susan be found out or will she somehow slither her way free of scandal once more?

If you are someone who views Jane Austen's output as her canonical six books you are missing out. While yes, if you read this book you might forever be scarred because she was unable to finish Sanditon, once you get beyond this disappointment, made easier by the television adaptation, you will be delighted by the humor and wit of her unfinished works. These aren't polished, these aren't perfect, but that's what makes them genius. This is Jane Austen unfiltered. Her books are perfectly polished gems, these are the uncut rhinestones that will just delight you with their sheer absurdity. Here gentlemen of good fortune aren't in want of a wife, they are in want of animal traps to ensnare women who dare to come too close to their homes, as one does. And yes, I literally snorted out loud at that remark. And don't worry, the young lady's leg which was mangled ended up perfectly fine. I think. She might have fainted a time or twenty. And that was my impression over twenty-five years ago when I first read Austen's juvenalia and it still holds true. Women are passing out left and right, poisoning rivals, carrying on with married men, having husbands die in the most outrageous manner, and hating on Queen Elizabeth. Anything and everything was skewered by Austen and she took obvious delight in doing so. The novella Lady Susan is included in this collection and while many people sadly only know this story because of the subpar adaptation of it a few years back staring Kate Beckinsale confusingly called Love and Friendship, because Love and Friendship is an entirely different story, no one ever talks about how Lady Susan is a brilliant parody of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Seeing as at seventeen I had not read Les Liasons Dangerueses, though I was familiar enough with the story thanks to the Glenn Close/John Malkovich adaptation being omnipresent, I didn't get how Austen's writing style was aping Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. She was a beautiful mimic when she wanted to be, and she got right to the heart of everything I hate about that book and mercilessly poked fun at it. Seriously, if there's one thing rereading Austen's unfinished and early work all these years later has taught me is that I think she would have been the best and funniest friend a person could ask for.


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