The Neutering of Jane Austen

I was going to wait until Masterpiece Theater’s version of Sanditon (Jane Austen’s final novel) finally ended before completing my review (begun here) but they’re stretching out the plot like one of those Netflix shows that go on season after season until you realize you’ve been sucked into a damned soap opera. One that will go forever and ever, long after the original stars have died and been reborn and now fight twins who swap brains, obsessive orangutan nurses, and dolls that come to life.

Vampire actors are perfect for Soaps as they never die! They can go on and on and on. But Jane Austen heroines?

Jane Austen only finished eleven chapters of Sanditon before she died and so all of the characters and plot twists had to fleshed out by other authors, based on what she “laid out for them.” After eleven chapters, you can often guess where an author is headed.  But, by the end of the eleventh chapter of Pride and Prejudice (Austen’s most revered work)  we hadn’t even met Mr. Collins. 

For those you who’ve never seen a production of Pride and Prejudice, of which there have been many, he’s the distant cousin who, by reason of an archaic system of patriarchy,  will eventually kick the heroine (Elizabeth Bennett), all of her sisters, and their widowed mother to the curb, leaving them homeless.  Unless, of course, they marry.  Marriage in Austen’s time was the only way for respectable women to leave their parents and take their place in society and what better way to illustrate that injustice than by creating Mr. Collins, a man in whom “the deficiency of nature had been little assisted by education or society …’’ 

Yup, in jolly ole England even a man who was a pompous nitwit was worth more than a sensible woman and you gotta bet Austen wasn’t too happy about that!  So how did the writers who took on the task of completing her last, unfinished novel deal with that anger?  Well, they neutered it. Charlotte Heyward isn’t looking for a husband nor does she seem too worried about a future without one.  Heh? 

I had not read Sanditon in decades so I couldn’t really claim that  the screen writers were taking obscene liberties with her work. Luckily the story is only 66 pages long and so I reread it last night.  I won’t bore those of you who could give a figgy pudding about Sanditon or Austen or even Masterpeeve Theatre any further but, I wasn’t wrong.

Anyway, today’s Valentine’s Day and here in Northern California we’re seeing the first glimpse of green which to me is a romantic sight.

Who will win … Austen or Bronte?

2019 was, for me, a year of frustration.  I’d no sooner complete one project when I was late on another.  Things I assumed I’d handled successfully, unraveled into chaos.  Appointments were cancelled and rescheduled at the last minute. Checks and invitations got lost in the mail. 

You know … it was that kind of year and so when I heard that Masterpiece Theatre was broadcasting a new rendition of Jane Austen’s incomplete and posthumously published novel Sanditon, I figured, finally something to look forward to. But alas. Not that it was bad entertainment; it just wasn’t the Jane I’ve known all these years.  Below we have the hero and the heroine in some screenwriter’s idea of a romantic scene:

Mr. Parker: “I say Miss Heyward.  Would you mind dreadfully if I warmed my frigid male instrument in your silk petticoats?”

Miss Heyward:  “Mr. Parker. Kindly return to the sea so that the bass who nibbled off half your cock can bite off the rest!”

The first thing amiss for me about Sanditon was the father sending his daughter off to a naughty seaside resort with perfect strangers and only a brief admonishment to “trust no one.”  While it’s true that fathers in Austen novels tend to be either doddering hypochondriacs (as in Emma), vain and conceited nitwits (Persuasion), or witty curmudgeons (Pride and Prejudice)  they would have never sent their daughters off with a couple they just met.  

Mr. Bennet of P&P: For what do we live but to make sport of our neighbors and laugh at them in our turn?

Even if her father was worthless (or dead), an Austen heroine could always depend on a wise older woman to dispense good sound moral judgment. In some cases the advice is wrong (Lady Russell in Persuasion) but it’s always well meant. The only woman giving advice to the heroine of Sanditon is Lady Denham who reminded me of an aging madam in a house of ill-repute.  No woman of that day and age would discuss money with a man except a prostitute. 

The heroine of Sanditon, Charlotte Heyward

Which brings me to the main character.  Was it just me or does the actress playing Charlotte Heyward bear an uncanny resemblance to Meghan Markel? I half expected Prince Harry to show up and  comment on her ruddy complexion. “I say, you’re no English Rose but won’t my granny shit her knickers if I marry an American divorcee!” 

The real Meghan Merkel

Instead Sidney Parker roars along a coastal cliff in a two person carriage scowling like a mad dog.  And why?  Apparently he’s responsible for a rebellious and suicidal heiress from the West Indies. Life is such a drag. Plot sound familiar? 

Rochester, old chap, you’re in the wrong production! Return to Jane Eyre, immediately.

Of course, being an Austen-inspired production, Charlotte and Sidney Parker will misunderstand each other, pout and huff about, and then fall madly in love after he selflessly saves the town.  However, if Bronte again haunts the screenwriters, we may find out Sidney Parker is secretly married to the heiress from the West Indies. After he suggests that they lock her in an attic and live in sin, Charlotte will have a come to Jesus moment, and run off to live on the moors with a religious zealot and his two sisters who coincidentally turn out to be long lost cousins.  When she finally returns, Sanditon will be in ruins and Sidney Parker hobbled and at her mercy.  A true Bronte ending to a Jane Austen story.