Saturday, March 1, 2014

Margaret Drabble on Jane Austen

We know that she liked to view her characters as real people, imagining futures for them beyond the end of the book, even telling her family what would have happened in a book she did not write, and declaring that Mrs Bingley liked green and Mrs Darcy liked yellow.

It is not too much to speculate that, as she felt death approaching, she did not wish to create characters that she would feel pain at abandoning. Anne Elliott abandoned would have been a tragedy: Mr Parker left wondering is a joke. She was too ill to moralize in fiction, and cheered herself up by seeing the world as a joke: she comments on the change of manners in Miss Denham, obliged to flatter Lady Denham, by saying it was ‘very striking — and very amusing — or very melancholy, just as satire or morality might prevail’. In this fragment, she chooses to let satire prevail, and the novel ends unfinished, appropriately, with a posthumous joke played by Lady Denham upon the dead.


There are a very great number of minor alterations in the text of Sanditon, most of them merely second thoughts about phrasing. I have only recorded a very few of the more interesting ones. It is worth noting that although it was the last thing Jane Austen wrote, and she was ill while she wrote it, Chapman says ‘the latter part of the manuscript shows no change in legibility or accuracy’.