Jane Austen’s Sanditon and Masterpiece Theatre’s “Wretched, wretched mistake!” Sanditon, Part 2, Chap.1

Anyone who watched Masterpiece Theatre’s Sanditon  likely agrees that the ending was an error nearly rising to the level of the Charge of the Light Brigade: somebody blundered, and it was tragic. I was so put out by the ending that I needed to act. I don’t care if Masterpiece comes out with a Season 2 (they’ve said they have no plans to do so) because I don’t trust them to do it right.

So I wrote Season 2 as a novella (not a screenplay) to fix the many wrongs I perceived in Masterpiece’s approach. Reader, I admit it’s not perfect and may contain substantive and typographical errors. I admit I took some liberties. I admit Jane Austen might shake her head at me in disappointment both in the plot and the language  and behavior. Nevertheless: it sure made me feel better to fix things for Charlotte Heywood, Georgiana Lambe, and James Stringer,  who I felt were wronged by the  Masterpiece writers.

I will post each chapter separately. Chapter One begins below. I hope you enjoy it and that it brings you some measure of satisfaction, which is what all Austenphiles desire.

Sanditon Part 2

(a continuation of the unfinished Jane Austen novel,

in an effort to repair its desecration by PBS)

Chapter 1

It took Charlotte a full week to be able to discuss with her family any of her experiences in Sanditon; it took another two before she was able to mention Sidney Parker’s name. Mrs. Heywood observed her daughter carefully over those weeks, compared the subjects of Charlotte’s current conversation to those of her letters over the past several months, and concluded with satisfaction and accuracy (for most who knew her admitted that her conclusions were, indeed, accurate) that although Charlotte’s heart may have likely been broken, the effects would be temporary, and that within quite a reasonable span of time their dear girl would be back to shooting game, teasing her siblings and parents, and gently breaking the hearts of the local Willingden population, just as before.

Mr. and Mrs. Heywood were very glad to have Charlotte back. Despite a household crowded with children, Charlotte’s absence had been keenly felt, especially by Mrs. Heywood, who relied on Charlotte’s capable mind and household management talents. The two women, together, ran the home much like a business. Trade ran in Mrs. Heywood’s blood. Indeed, Mrs. Heywood was unashamed of her father’s work as a silk merchant; it was at his desk that she had learned her figures and basic business principles; and in his shop that she learned how to convince customers to make decisions that they had not begun the day intending to make, and in fact had emphatically told themselves they would not make. And so Mrs. Heywood happily managed fourteen children in the same way, children who contentedly kept their faces moderately clean, their bellies full of simple but healthy foods, and who, most importantly, spent most of the day outside of the house and away from their mother altogether, to the satisfaction of all relevant parties.

Mrs. Heywood’s unusual skills may have also played a role in Charlotte’s remarkable recovery from her visit to Sanditon; it is difficult to say. But anyone who knew Mr. Ellis of Brown’s Lane, London,  and could now observe his daughter and granddaughter, would certainly have remarked that the former did appear to circle around the latter much like a salesman working to entice a customer who has been informed that her favorite, desired product has been — to her great fortune — sold out.

The healing of Charlotte’s heart was also aided by her resolution that she would never expose herself to heartache again. It was too great a risk to embark on the mysterious, uncertain journey of courtship; a man’s mind was hardly knowable, and his prospects even less so. Even where affection was mutual, a myriad of forces could ensnare a couple and separate them. It had happened to her; it had happened to Georgiana.

No, Charlotte had all the affection and family she needed, and of all people, her mother loved and needed her the most. She could happily live out the rest of her days caring for this large family, and it would provide all the necessary distractions from old love and the protections from new.

Once Charlotte’s solitary recovery from heartache began, her lively, talkative nature and her natural penchant for storytelling returned. This meant that she could regale her family for hours with tales of Sanditon. Much of the information had already arrived in summary form in her letters, but, as one of her younger siblings insisted, and nearly every other sibling agreed, “The real stories were so much better.”  Because Charlotte was disinclined to speak of Mr. Sidney Parker (who, despite Charlotte’s letters, had never interested the general masses in the least), and because eliminating Mr. Sidney Parker from her stories made descriptions of the other Parkers too challenging, her family found that most of Charlotte’s best and most interesting stories were about Miss Lambe and Mr. Stringer.

The latter was an easy case: the entire family had, throughout Charlotte’s stay in Sanditon and by way of her letters, monitored news of Mr. Stringer’s professional progress with keen interest. Mr. Heywood’s liberal leanings, along with the remarkable personality of his own wife, allowed him to recognize the ascendancy of the middle class through its hard work, brains, and merit. In Mr. Stringer, he recognized many of the qualities that had drawn him to Elizabeth Ellis of Brown’s Lane. Mr. Heywood felt a particular sting when Charlotte revealed that James Stringer had given up a promising apprenticeship in London in order to stay in Sanditon. Upon hearing the distressing news, Mr. Heywood had lined up his six boys in a row, from youngest to oldest, and looked at them sternly. “Never,” he said, walking slowly back and forth before them, “never, my sons, pay tribute to your father by abandoning progress. Always forward, boys. Always forward.” After the solemn – and very brief –  speech, the two eldest boys consulted with each other, and agreed that Mr. Heywood’s insistence arose more from an understanding of his wife’s preference for fewer children in the house than from any particular desire for the boys’ individual advancement.

The family had always been even more fascinated by Miss Lambe, and their greatest disappointment was that they had no means of learning what she looked like. Charlotte insisted very strongly that Miss Lambe looked nothing like the shocking woodcut that young Peter had found in a book about Africa, and the children participated patiently in Charlotte’s lesson that followed, on geography and the slave trade and abolition, in the hopes of learning precisely what Miss Lambe looked like, ate, wore, and if, most importantly, she slept in trees. Charlotte was a reasonably good instructor, but it is fair to say that were it not for a fortunate occurrence shortly after this ambitious but failed lecture, a large percentage of the population of Willingden would have been exceptionally misinformed regarding the West Indie asnd its people.

Charlotte had been home for approximately three weeks when she received a letter from Miss Lambe. Once it was made known, Charlotte had no choice but to read the letter aloud to her entire family. Much was made of the nature of the address, the quality of the paper and of the seal, and once Charlotte opened the letter, Peter, peering over her shoulder, noted with astonishment and glee, “Well, her handwriting is even better than Mama’s!” This particular comparison completely altered the young Heywoods’ conception of Miss Lambe’s character, and from that moment onward the young woman became, in their minds, as prim and exacting, and therefore as ordinary and uninteresting, as their own mother.

Miss Lambe wrote:

“Dearest Charlotte,

“You cannot imagine how dull Sanditon has become for me in your absence. Mrs. Griffiths and her daughters talk of little else but the scandals that now surround the Parker family, and how Lady Denham has completely cut ties from them. The reverend stays nearby always, as though his presence will shield us from the evils that apparently emanate from the very family that he had previously admired so much. Strangely, he does not seem to recall his previous adulation of the Parkers.

“Sidney, thankfully, has remained away; I rarely suffer either his presence, or that of his newly intended bride, Mrs. Campion. I believe you can imagine the strained encounters we do endure occasionally. I cannot believe that she despises me any more than I despise her, and in this, at least, she recognizes our equality. Their wedding is planned for the end of June. Mrs. Griffiths says that of course I must go, but I shall address my plans for that later.

“I enclose, on behalf of Mr. James Stringer, charming drawings of a cupola. It was only upon my teasing that he admitted that he was the creator of the designs, and furthermore, that it was in part your urgings that caused him to seek a position with an architectural firm in London. He still grieves the death of his father, and I do believe that other sudden, but less mortal, departures from Sanditon have compounded his distressed state. Mr. Stringer’s manners commend him: he insisted that it would be improper for him to write directly to you, so he entreated me most ardently to express his very best wishes for your health, and asked me, and then confirmed quite a few times thereafter, that he might continue to inquire after your health through my correspondence with you. I think you would be hard pressed to find another soul in England as interested in your good health as Mr. Stringer.”

Mr. Heywood had, up to this point, made no indication that he was distracted from his intent study of a book on water fowl of the Lakes District.  But now he interrupted, “Let me see those drawings,” saving Charlotte from blushing from the foolish sounds her siblings were making in response to the last sentence. Charlotte dutifully passed along the two architectural drawings, which made their way with curious murmurs across a dozen pairs of hands before arriving in Mr. Heywood’s. He decamped from the room.

Charlotte continued:

“I must report on two events that took place just after your sudden departure. First, you of course are aware of the financial disaster in which the Parkers have found themselves thanks to Tom Parker’s questionable business practices. I was invited to dine with the Parker family. Although I am now aware that many more were invited, Mrs. Griffiths and I were the only ones who accepted the invitation. Mrs. Griffiths assured the Reverend, of course, that her attending the dinner was a means of offering good Christian example to the lost sheep of the Parker family. During our gathering, I suggested in no ambiguous terms that I would be willing to take the place, in a manner of speaking, of Lady Denham as an investor in the Sanditon project. The reaction was not as enthusiastic as I an anticipated. Far from it. In fact, Charlotte, they made clear that they had no interest in my role as an investor. I must admit my surprise. Their prejudice toward me, or toward the idea that one such as I might assume a partnership role, or any role of significance, in their venture, was so great that not even a substantial financial motive might mitigate it. They prefer to struggle, to turn to the likes of Mrs. Campion, than to admit parity with the likes of me. Thus, Charlotte, I feel justified in repeating my warning to you to not trust certain members in that family, and I rejoice that you are safe from their influence. My own welfare, however, remains in question. ”

Charlotte stopped reading, and began to fold the letter. “And then she closes it with her warmest regards to me and to my family,” she said.

“What is the second event?” chanted the older pair of twins.

Charlotte folded the letter with precision and finality. “I suppose she did not have enough time to add it to this letter,” she answered, and tucked the letter into her pocket. “Perhaps we shall learn more in her next one.”

The children voiced the injustice of this aborted correspondence, but Mrs. Heywood noticed the quick look that Charlotte cast toward her and she stood.  “Children!” she exclaimed, setting aside her knitting. She smoothed down the front of her apron and lifted her chin in an all-too-familiar way. “Is it not Thursday? Is it not on Thursdays that we experience the pleasures of Latin?”

Charlotte soon found herself quite alone in the room, listening to the decrescendo of shrieks as her siblings scattered out of the house. She flung herself fully across the sofa which she’d earlier shared with several of her siblings. Georgiana’s offer of help had given Sidney the opportunity to disengage himself from Mrs. Campion – the opportunity he had hoped for, and promised Charlotte he longed for; and yet his disinclination to allow Georgiana any power over him or his family still outweighed his feelings for Charlotte. Charlotte allowed herself a full moment of grief over this fact. How could Georgiana be so prescient about, so aware of, Sidney’s character? Did she know more about her guardian than she had yet shared? Wasn’t it entirely possible that there was even worse? Yet, when Charlotte had been reading, her eyes had caught the familiar shape of Otis Molyneux’s name; this is what had given her pause, that her parents might learn of her reckless trip to London and her role as go-between for two lovers. Was it possible that Georgiana’s judgment was so clouded by her unhappiness, by her separation from her own beloved, that any overprotective guardian would have been similarly labeled, regardless of his morality and judgment?

Charlotte briskly withdrew the letter from her pocket, and read on.

“Therefore, Charlotte, I come to my next great news. Thanks to the kind intercession of, shall we say, a Good Friend, I have resumed my correspondence with Otis. Please do not come to any conclusions until you read on. When I learned, weeks ago, of Otis’ behavior, and his debts, I was shocked into consciousness: he was the sort of man ready to take advantage of a young girl’s regard for his own benefit. Sidney, of course, caused me to see this, and to consider Otis’ behavior unforgivable. As you can imagine, ending my association with Otis, even as limited as it had been at that point, caused me enormous pain. Yet, I felt at that time that I could not trust a man willing to take such risks with his own money, let alone the money of others.

“Then, I learned of Tom Parker’s own gambles, the risks that he took with the money of innumerable others, with the livelihoods of good men like Mr. Stringer. Otis’ missteps suddenly paled in comparison. And yet, Mrs. Tom Parker forgave him. His entire family stood with him, determined to find a solution and weather this storm.

“Charlotte: I asked myself, and now I ask you: How do Mr. Parker and Otis differ? Mr. Parker defended himself by claiming the desperation of his circumstances. Could not Otis similarly claim? Mr. Parker’s family envisioned a possibility of redemption for him and for their circumstances. Could not Otis also find his way to the right path when he had strayed so little from it in comparison? And, significantly to me, Mrs. Parker forgave her beloved husband. Why should I hold my beloved to a higher standard – was it because Otis was not a white man? Why should the color of his skin cause me, of all people, to hold him to a higher standard?

“That is why I turned to my Good Friend to assist me in renewing my correspondence with Otis. My first step was to ask for forgiveness, to humble myself before a man who, I realize now, was willing to risk all he had in order to make himself a financial equal to me, to prove that his love was for me and not my fortune. As with Mr. Tom Parker, Fortune did not respond to Otis’ call, but I now promise that I shall. And I shall be forever grateful for Otis’ willingness to forgive me.

“Which leads me to this:  Good Friend has helped me to devise a plan that will bring me two great delights. First, in a fortnight you shall expect me on the evening coach at the White Hare in Willingden. Ease your worries: I shall be accompanied by my Good Friend, and well protected from any dangers. I hope that you will allow me to impose on your family’s hospitality for one evening, before I depart the next day.

“For my second great delight awaits in London. Otis has arranged for a small wedding to take place. My Good Friend shall accompany me, and my hope is that you might also, and be my guest and friend at an event that shall bring me the greatest happiness of my life. I recall that you have an older brother, and my prayer is that he shall chaperone you to assuage any concerns your parents may have about your traveling to London.

“I beg of you that you not share this information, even with your family; I will rely on speed and surprise for my scheme to work. If you have any hesitations in participating in it, please simply respond by sending me a letter quoting an appropriate passage from Fordyce’s sermons. I shall understand, and hope that you will still await the happy news. If you are willing to serve as my accomplice, then please do not otherwise respond, for any communications with you will be known here, and suspicions will turn toward Wellingden once my absence in Sanditon is detected.

“Your grateful friend, Georgiana Lambe”

“It seems that adventure and experiences of Sanditon have followed me to Wellingden,” Charlotte said to herself with delight.

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