An obituary caught my eye recently: Author who…finished Jane Austen’s last novel.
Sanditon! The book Jane Austen was writing just before her death, and which was completed so delightfully forty years ago by ‘Another Lady’.
Marie Dobbs, originally from Australia, used the pseudonym ‘Another Lady’ because the early Jane Austen novels were attributed to ‘A Lady’. My copy of her completed Sanditon is as dog-eared as any of my other Jane Austen paperbacks; Marie Dobbs had a remarkable ability to capture something of Jane Austen’s irony and wit. It has to be said that this isn’t true of most other Jane Austen completions and spin-offs.
The break is practically seamless, coming in chapter eleven, after a splendid Jane Austen sentence: Poor Mr Hollis! It was impossible not to feel him hardly used: to be obliged to stand back in his own house and see the best place by the fire constantly occupied by Sir Henry Denham.
Sanditon’s heroine Charlotte is rather like Eleanor in Sense and Sensibility, but more impressionable; Jane Austen describes how she is initially attracted by the flattery of Sir Edward: I make no apologies for my heroine’s vanity. If there are young ladies in the world at her time of life more dull of fancy and more careless of pleasing, I know them not and never wish to know them. Sidney Parker, whose character is entirely filled in by Marie Dobbs, (he makes his first appearance only a page before Jane Austen leaves off, but a typical Jane Austen clue earlier in the novel marks him out as the intended hero) is as fun-loving and attractive as Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey.
Every neighbourhood should have a great lady, wrote Jane Austen at the beginning of chapter three, and Lady Denham is as monstrous as Lady Catherine in Pride and Prejudice while Sir Edward develops nicely into the role of self-deluded seducer and the ghastly Miss Beauforts make perfect targets for delicious Austen-like sarcasm.
So what was there left to worry about in completing Jane Austen’s last manuscript? Only the way she wrote it… for deficiencies in this seventh novel I do apologise. Marie Dobbs in the afterword to her completed Sandition had no need to apologise; her work will continue to bring endless pleasure to all of us who can’t get enough of Jane Austen.
I only wish I had known before now who ‘Another Lady’ was, and written to thank her.