Deborah Yaffe


By Deborah Yaffe, Jul 12 2018 01:00PM

For the Jane Austen world, it qualifies as blockbuster news: Revered screenwriter Andrew Davies, the man behind the iconic 1995 BBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice and adaptations of three other Austen novels, has adapted Sanditon, the novel Austen left unfinished at her death, into a miniseries of its own.

Earlier this week, PBS’s Masterpiece series announced that it is collaborating with Britain’s ITV on a version of Sanditon, the story of Charlotte Heywood's adventures in an up-and-coming seaside resort, that will likely begin filming next spring.

“The twists and turns of the plot, which take viewers from the West Indies to the rotting alleys of London, expose the hidden agendas of each character and sees [sic] Charlotte discover herself… and ultimately find love,” the press release promises.

Those of us who have read Sanditon’s tantalizing 24,000 words will not remember any scenes set in the West Indies or in London alleys, whether rotting or otherwise, so it’s pretty clear that this production will be more Davies than Austen.

Indeed, a lot more: Masterpiece is promising us eight hour-long episodes, and even shaving off a few minutes per episode to allow space to advertise Danube cruises, that’s a big chunk of airtime. Davies managed to squeeze all 122,000 words of P&P into a mere six episodes running to five and a half hours. Heck, his version of War and Peace ran less than six and a half.

Davies, famed for allegedly "sexing-up" Jane Austen, is apparently up to his usual tricks this time around: His new version of Sanditon features "quite a bit of nude bathing," he promises, possibly with tongue firmly ensconced in cheek (although, with Davies, you never know).

For Sanditon fans, the big unanswered question is what the new production means for an earlier Sanditon project, Fluidity Films’ long aborning feature-length version, based on the 1975 completion of Austen’s fragment by Australian journalist and novelist Marie Dobbs.

More than two years ago, we were treated to exciting casting news – Charlotte Rampling as Lady Denham! – and confident-sounding predictions of a 2017 release date. Late that year, filming was said to be delayed until 2018. And although Fluidity Films’ website still lists the production, it offers no details about timing.

Could two separate Sanditons – one a conventional two-hour-long period film, the other a sweeping seven-hour wallow in melodrama – find audiences, potentially within mere months of each other? If Janeites ran the world (and wouldn’t everyone be better off if we did? You know it), the answer wouldn’t be in doubt.

By Deborah Yaffe, May 5 2016 01:00PM

Regular blog readers know that I’m squeeing with excitement over the upcoming film adaptation of Sanditon, the novel Jane Austen left unfinished at her death. Though I've duly noted the casting announcements -- Charlotte Rampling as Lady Denham, Holliday Grainger as Charlotte Heywood, Max Irons as Sidney Parker -- somehow I’d missed until recently this link to the website of production company Fluidity Films, which answers a key question about the shape of the project: how the screenplay will finish Jane Austen's truncated story.

The site makes explicitly clear that the filmmakers plan to follow the plot of the best-known and most widely admired Sanditon completion, the 1975 version by Australian novelist and journalist Marie Dobbs (1924-2015). (Spoiler alert: the plot synopsis summarizes the whole plot, so don’t read more than halfway if you’d rather not know how it all ends.)

As I noted when I reviewed Dobbs’ book for my Sanditon Summer blog series, her version is workmanlike and enjoyable, although it lacks Austen’s biting wit. In the right hands, however, it should make a delightful film. My squeeing continues unabated.

By Deborah Yaffe, Jun 27 2013 01:00PM

The best-known and most widely admired completion of Jane Austen’s Sanditon -- and the subject of today's post in my Sanditon Summer blog series -- was published in 1975, the bicentenary of Austen’s birth. Originally credited to “Another Lady” – a coy nod to Austen’s own decision to publish pseudonymously, as “A Lady” – this Sanditon is in fact the work of Australian-born novelist and journalist Marie Catton Dobbs (b. 1924).

Dobbs and her husband -- a distinguished diplomat described at his death as “Britain’s leading Kremlinologist during the Cold War” – met while working in Moscow after World War II and lived in Russia, India, Poland, Italy and Yugoslavia before settling in Somerset, England.

In addition to her Sanditon completion, Dobbs published four other novels under three different pseudonyms: apparently because of a disagreement with her publisher, an early crime novel was attributed to both “Marie Cotton” and “C.M. Catton”; and three later books were credited to “Anne Telscombe.” Confusingly, editions of Dobbs’ Sanditon – otherwise virtually identical, as far as I can tell – can be found online attributed variously to Marie Dobbs, Anne Telscombe and “Another Lady.”

Whatever the name on the title page, it’s clear from the get-go that this Sanditon is the work of a professional. The prose is lucid, the plot ticks along smoothly, and the appealing hero and heroine – Dobbs follows Janeite conventional wisdom in putting Charlotte Heywood and Sidney Parker at the center of her courtship plot – spar and spark charmingly, on their way to a satisfying conclusion.

Why, then, does Dobbs’ Sanditon leave me a teensy bit cold? The answer, I think, points up the pitfalls for those Austen fan-fic writers who aim to write not a zombie mashup or a swashbuckling melodrama but, instead, something that could pass for another Jane Austen novel.

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