Deborah Yaffe

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Companions

By Deborah Yaffe, Aug 15 2019 06:00AM

Thirteen years ago, when PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre aired a new adaptation of Jane Eyre, the network offered viewers a chance to buy something advertised as, if memory serves, “the companion novel.” That would be Charlotte Bronte’s 1847 masterpiece, one of the landmarks of English literature.


Beginning next week, ITV in Britain will air a new adaptation of Sanditon, the novel Jane Austen left unfinished at her death. As Maggie Sullivan of AustenBlog has noted, ITV is clearly hoping that Sanditon will become another Downton Abbey-style period blockbuster. Since the screenwriter is Andrew “Wet Shirt” Davies, famed for turning Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy into the definitive Historical Hottie, we’ve already been treated to a moony trailer and many, many teasing allusions to All!The!Sex! we’re going to see.


And now . . . the companion novel.


Yes, it seems that Trapeze Books, an imprint of the UK’s Orion Publishing Group, itself a subsidiary of Hachette, will be issuing two Sanditon tie-in books this fall, just in time for the show’s UK airing, which begins August 25. (Sanditon will make it to the US sometime next year.)


One of the new books, The World of Sanditon, is a non-fiction work by Sara Sheridan, whose numerous previous books include a mystery series set in post-World War II England and a non-fiction tie-in to Victoria, another PBS-ITV costume-drama-cum-soap-opera. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!) The other new book is a novel entitled Sanditon by -- shall we guess? Jane Austen?


No, by Kate Riordan, a British journalist and fiction writer who has published three historical novels.


Many writers have tried, with mixed success, to finish Austen’s fragment; six years ago, I reviewed most of those efforts. But Riordan’s book is not another continuation of Austen. It’s a novelization of Davies’ screenplay for an eight-hour series that uses up Austen’s material halfway through Episode 1. Yes, this Sanditon is a novel that expands a screenplay that adapts a fragment of a novel. I get dizzy just trying to keep all the layers of adaptation and reinterpretation straight.


I’ve never seen the point of novelizations myself. Why not just watch the movie/TV show? And although Riordan may be an excellent writer -- I've never read anything of hers -- it’s pretty obvious that this particular effort is motivated not so much by a burning artistic drive as by a desire to put the name “Jane Austen” on the cover of a book that is not yet out of copyright.


Personally, I’ll be watching the Sanditon show and skipping the Sanditon book – except for the Sanditon book that is out of copyright. You know -- the one by Jane Austen.


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