‘Sanditon’ 101: What to know before the PBS series airs

“Sanditon” — the latest Jane Austen period adaptation to make its way from across the pond — hits the airwaves in the States on Jan. 12. Are you ready? Here’s what you need to know.

The premise: Created by Andrew Davies (yes, the man behind the 1995 “Pride and Prejudice” and other Austen adaptations), the series centers on Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams), a spirited young woman who finds herself in Sanditon, a seaside town with big ambitions to become a popular resort. During her stay, she encounters the unpredictable Sidney Parker (Theo James) and a cast of characters who will surely impact her life.

412Sc92vskL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgFive things to know about the novel

  • Written in 1817, “Sanditon” is Jane Austen’s last, unfinished novel.
  • Originally called “The Brothers,” it centered on the Parker brothers: Tom, Sidney and Arthur. 
  • The 11-chapter fragment also features Austen’s only black character, Georgiana, a West Indies heiress. 
  • Few knew much about the “Sanditon” novel until it was published in 1925. 
  • There have been numerous attempts to complete the novel. A new completion by Kate Riordan is being released in conjunction with the TV series.

Historical context

Travel: In Jane Austen’s lifetime, traveling over water was more efficient, but many people traveled over land in coaches. If you were rich, you had your own carriage, but most rode in stagecoaches with fellow travelers — and the going was slow. Travel by coach from London to Margate, a seaside resort town like the fictional Sanditon, could take about two days in good weather. (Today by car, London to Margate is about 90 minutes, according to Google Maps.)

Seaside resorts: The Regency saw the rise in popularity of the seaside resort, which attracted those in the upper and middle classes. Many flocked to the shore for their health, on doctors’ orders. A physician named Richard Russell extolled the advantages of sea bathing and drinking sea water to cure or ward against illness. The popularity of resorts can also be attributed in part to the Prince Regent, who favored the seaside town of Brighton, where he built his exotic Pavilion. [See our primer on Brighton here.]

Jane Austen’s holidays: Austen was no stranger to the seaside. She herself visited a few towns on the southern coast of England, including Worthing, Eastbourne, Totnes and Bognor Regis. 

“Sanditon” premieres on PBS on Jan. 12; check local listings for times. The companion book “The World of Sanditon,” which explores Austen’s novel as well as the production of the TV series, is out now.

For N.C. JASP-ers: A special screening of ‘Sanditon’ in Research Triangle Park

If you live in the Chapel Hill/Durham/Raleigh area, we’ve got an invitation to a special event for you!

Sanditon on Masterpiece Preview & Dessert Reception

UNC-TV invites you to a special preview screening of the first episode of “Sanditon” on Masterpiece!

Who: You and a guest or two
What: Special preview screening of Sanditon on Masterpiece
When: Thursday, Jan. 9, at 7 p.m. (Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Welcome remarks at 6:45. Screening begins at 7 p.m. Dessert reception immediately following the hourlong screening.)
Where: UNC-TV, 10 UNC-TV Drive, Research Triangle Park, in Durham County (View Map). The studio is conveniently located minutes away from I-40 and the Durham Freeway (Hwy 147), and there is plenty of free, accessible parking.
Dress: Sanditon is a costume drama, so it’s time to break out the costumes! Come in Regency dress for the optional costume contest. (And bring a sweater—the studio can get quite chilly!)

This is a free event and space is limited; therefore registration is required. Please register by January 7 via Eventbrite or by contacting Karen Nowak at knowak@unctv.org or 919-549-7273 (please provide full name and email address) or for any other assistance.

About ‘Sanditon’ on Masterpiece

While chronically ill with a mysterious disease in early 1817, Jane Austen turned her thoughts to a happier subject and started work on a delightful, witty novel set in seaside Sussex. Although Austen didn’t live to finish it, noted screenwriter Andrew Davies (Mr. Selfridge and Les Misérables) has now completed the story.

Masterpiece’s bold and lavish adaptation of Austen’s final work stars Rose Williams as lively but levelheaded heroine Charlotte Heywood, Theo James as humorous, charming and slightly wild Sidney Parker, Anne Reid as forthright grande dame of Sanditon Lady Denham, Kris Marshall as Sanditon’s compulsively enterprising promoter Tom Parker, and Crystal Clarke as mysterious West Indian heiress Miss Lambe.

Sanditon tells the story of Tom Parker, who is obsessed with turning the sleepy, seaside village of Sanditon into a fashionable health resort and enlists the backing of local bigwig Lady Denham. Through a mishap, Tom makes the acquaintance of the Heywoods and invites their eldest daughter, Charlotte, for an extended stay at Sanditon. Meanwhile, Lady Denham, a widow, plays matchmaker for her destitute nephew, Sir Edward, who is determined to seduce Lady Denham’s ward, Clara. The arrival of wealthy, mixed-race heiress Miss Lambe, under the protection of Tom’s upright brother Sidney, adds an interesting twist to the drama.

Registration for the 2020 Jane Austen Summer Program is now open!

It’s finally time: Registration for the 2020 Jane Austen Summer Program — “Jane Austen’s World,” exploring Austen’s letters and Claire Tomalin’s Austen biography — is NOW OPEN! CLICK HERE TO REGISTER.

(Video by Zeina Makky. Can’t see the video above? Click here!)

We expect to sell out once again, so make sure to register early. Our fantastic lineup of guests includes author Robert Morrison (author of “The Regency Years”), noted scholar Janine Barchas (author of “The Lost Books of Jane Austen”) and award-winning novelist Mary Robinette Kowal (whose books include her Regency-set “Glamourist” series). Plus, two popular speakers from JASPs past are returning for 2020: Benjamin Bartgis, a historical-penmanship enthusiast, and historical tailor Samantha Bullat.

Early bird registration ends Jan. 31, so make sure to take advantage of our discount now by registering ASAP. And — psst — here’s a pro tip: If you’re looking for a present for someone special, we offer gift cards to JASP, so you can treat someone to the gift of Austen.