In rereading Jane Austen, we are able to experience something of that age of elegance which too often eludes us in the twentieth century. We are unrepentant about this form of escapism and turn to her six novels for relaxation… Like Mr Woodhouse, we enjoy the company of these old friends best; and though we prefer their actual company to secondhand discussions and speculations about them, anything concerning them will always hold a fascination for us…. writes Another Lady AKA Marie Dobbs.
In her An Apology from the Collaborator, included at the end of Jane Austen’s Sanditon completed by Another Lady published in 1975, Marie Dobbs admits that she offers her version for our sheer enjoyment, aware that Jane Austen’s language, integrity and meticulous technique cannot be faithfully copied.
She was too hard on herself. Marie Dobbs’ completed Sanditon is peppered with delightful passages poking fun at human vanity and folly, which feel as though they could be written by Jane Austen herself. The Miss Beauforts… were certainly no longer content to remain on their balcony now these two personable young men were to be perceived strolling about admiring the Sanditon views. Indeed, they felt a definite obligation to improve the landscape for them immediately by dotting graceful feminine silhouettes wherever they be most visible. The very next day Miss Letitia carried her easel out of doors and began moving it from sand to shingle, from hill to Terrace with tireless and unselfish activity. No concern for completing her own sketches interfered with her sense of duty to adorn whatever vista might require her presence.
There is some splendid Austen-ish dialogue too, as in this speech from Reginald Catton, one of the only two on-stage characters added by Marie Dobbs: ‘So that was Miss Denham! Predatory female – Sidney warned me. He said I would not be in the least danger from anyone else – could handle all the Miss Beauforts with ease – but Miss Denham would be hanging about me forever if once she caught sight of my barouche. I told the groom to keep it well out of sight in the stables.’
Reginald Catton may also remind fans of Georgette Heyer of her comic young men about town, such as Ferdy Fakenham in Friday’s Child. Marie Dobbs makes the hero Sidney Parker resemble the witty, charming, teasing Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey, but in his unassuming kind-heartedness there are echoes of Georgette Heyer’s endearing Freddy in Cotillion. The later developments of the plot come close to Heyer regency romances too – no problem for those of us who love both authors, as we must suspect Marie Dobbs did – but perhaps some literary critics might argue that Jane Austen was intending to take a different and sharper line.
It’s difficult not to feel disappointment that Andrew Davies’ recent television adaptation of Sanditon didn’t follow the story and tone of the Another Lady/Marie Dobbs completed version. In the eleven chapters Jane Austen wrote before illness stopped her in March 1817, she set up everything we love in her other novels and Marie Dobbs fulfils the sparkling early promise with grace, respect and humour. Added to this we have in Sanditon a merciless satire of hypochondriacs and medical quackery, speaking to us all the more poignantly when we remember that Jane Austen was only four months away from her death on 18th July.
But as the ever-so-sensible heroine Charlotte says to the would-be seducer Sir Edward who has read more sentimental novels than agreed with him: ‘our taste in novels is not at all the same.’ Nor is our taste in television adaptations all the same, and this is probably a very good thing.