Welcome to Sanditon, the new web series from the creators of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, premiered its first video Monday (with another due today). Jane Austen wrote only about seventy-five pages of Sanditon before she became too ill to continue; she introduces the characters who seem likely to figure centrally in the plot, but the fragment breaks off before the direction of her story becomes clear. The big news about Welcome to Sanditon seems likely to be its innovative use of social media to turn viewers into co-creators – even residents -- of the seaside town of Sanditon. But we Janeites will be more interested in whether this update manages to illuminate Austen’s original even while inevitably going beyond it.
Although the makers of Welcome to Sanditon have already said they’ll be taking some liberties with the novel fragment, it’s too early to tell what they have planned. The initial episode introduced two characters clearly modeled on Austen’s originals: Tom Parker, a civic booster in the fragment and the mayor of Sanditon in the update; and Clara Breton, a slightly mysterious poor relation in the fragment and the manager of an ice cream shop in the update. Our new Tom Parker shares the motor-mouthed, over-the-top promotional enthusiasm of Austen’s version, but the contemporary Clara seems feistier than the original, who gives off a reserved, Jane Fairfax-like vibe the few times we see her. (Austen called her Clara Brereton – but I don’t think the omission of two letters in her last name counts as a liberty, even for a Janeite purist.) And of course our heroine is no longer Austen’s wry, self-contained Charlotte Heywood but Gigi Darcy, a far more outgoing and assertive version of the shy little sister from Pride and Prejudice. Looking forward to finding out where we’re headed. . .