Deborah Yaffe


By Deborah Yaffe, Jun 24 2013 01:00PM

Jane Austen fan-fiction writers -- including the authors of the Sanditon spinoffs I'm blogging about this summer -- can be divided into two categories: those who are trying to write, essentially, another Jane Austen novel (domestic, realistic, short on plot); and those who use Jane Austen’s raw materials to write something completely different (a zombie tale, a melodrama, a detective story).

Alice Cobbett’s Somehow Lengthened falls squarely into the second category. Beginning with its disarmingly goofy title and proceeding through a narrative replete with a Caribbean love potion, a kidnapping, a near race riot, a blindfold nighttime journey over rough terrain, a smuggling gang, a dying prostitute, and a filthy-rich countess with a philanthropic bent, this Sanditon completion will never be mistaken for the kind of book Jane Austen would have written. That doesn’t prevent it from being quite a lot of fun.

Alice Mary Violet Cobbett (1872-1942) was the eldest child of a pioneering British sports journalist, Martin Cobbett. After her father's death, she edited two collections of his articles, prefacing one of the books with a short, affectionate memoir of his life. Although she listed her occupation as “playwright” in the 1911 British census, I found no online evidence of plays published or produced; besides Somehow Lengthened, Cobbett seems to have published only one other novel.

Part of the inspiration for her Sanditon completion may have been geographic: much of Cobbett’s life was apparently spent in or near Sussex, the coastal county in southeast England where Austen set her fragment. In a brief introduction to Somehow Lengthened, Cobbett asserts that Austen’s Sanditon must have been modeled on Hastings, the real-life Sussex town near which Cobbett herself was then living.

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