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She could soon sit upright on the sofa, and began to hope she might be able to leave it by dinner-time. Then, forgetting to think of it, she was at the other end of the room, beautifying a nosegay; then, she ate her cold meat; and then she was well enough to propose a little walk. What links these hypochondriacs is restlessness. Even when staying put, they quiver with unease, incapable of finding peace and poise. True to her name, she sounds like the perfect victim.

What shadows lie across this bright and breezy book? Well, there are the mysterious events of , when the Austens spent a summer on the Devon coast.

Reading Jane Austen

What can be gleaned from family gossip is that Austen, then twenty-five, fell in love with a clergyman, and that the match was widely approved but he perished before things could proceed. The book, as it stands, feels ominously loveless, more hospitable to dolts than to eligible beaux, yet at least seven writers have sought to flesh it out and, in so doing, to warm it up.

The longest shadow, unsurprisingly, is cast by the physical decline of the author. Nothing exercises an Austenite more than this conundrum: What did she die of, and when did she become aware that the dying was under way?

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I must not depend upon being ever very blooming again. Sickness is a dangerous Indulgence at my time of Life. The last sentence, applying a little irony to herself as if it were an embrocation, is what we should value most. No doubt this debate will rage, or splutter, for years to come.


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And what of our own Sanditons—our holistic spas, our Ayurvedic yurts, our pan-piped wellness retreats? Whether Austen would have the stomach for colonic irrigation is hard to decide, but, oh, the fun she would have with coconut water, oxygen shots, or the paleo diet—fragile young ladies munching away on flesh like country squires.

Which Jane Austen Novel Should I Read First?

As for the Parkers of today, they would be online, researching their next twinge in the annals of digital quackery. But there is a better reason.


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The book is an exercise in courage. Its author may not have known that her end was near, but she could scarcely have deluded herself that it was far away.

ISBN 13: 9780485120325

We will all die, though probably not from the thing that we feared or foresaw. That certainty haunts the book, sharpens the pitch of its comedy, and sets it apart from her earlier works. It laughs against the dying of the light, and in that laughter there is not a coarseness but a semi-savage edge, as if the energy and the frivolity of a new epoch demanded no less. This is not a bad description of the uncertain ground of seaside novels, where the sea scours the land, identity is challenged, relationships falter, houses decay and narrative crumbles.

In these stories, the conventions of realism are strained. Sanditon turns everything inside out; visitors, drifting there for one reason or another, outnumber residents. In her final work Austen just as decisively sets the traditional village behind her for the half-built development with its empty amenities marching close to the cliff edge. Trapped inside their new-built schemes and bizarre idiolects, they are incapable of normal communication.

Reading Jane Austen

This is a society that has lost its social glue. It is, after all, the town built on sand. Sanditon is a study in fragments of a society in fragments. After decades of war, has England lost its moorings? A young Miss Marple, her detachment, along with the oblique angle of vision that persists through the novel, deepens its air of mystery. After 12 chapters, characters and events have assumed no predictive shape: no obvious heroine, no hero, no marriage plot.

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The wide panoramas across the South Downs, the seascapes and the sudden mist that descends, obscuring people and things, conspire to make us doubt what is real, what matters. Her naive, young protagonist, Catherine, uses novels and fairy tales to try and make sense of the world until she learns how to be the heroine of her own story. The novel explores ideas of what is valued; is it charm or actual goodness, is it money or what you do with it.

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