Austen, Jane and “Another Lady (Marie Dobbs). Sanditon. 1975. New Toark: Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1998. ISBN-13: 978-0-684-8432-1. $14.00.
One of the worst tragedies is the death of an author with work left unfinished, and Austen had a few such manuscripts, Sanditon being the eleven-chapter fragment of a novel that Austen set aside in the months prior to her death in 1817 (There is one other, The Watsons, written prior to beginning her career as a published author, that has also received a few continuations by later authors). And like the rest of her body of work, and most definitely her published novels, the chapters written by Austen are impeccable, showing her talent as a writer and observer of the human condition. And though it has its drawbacks in that is clearly mostly setup, with the character most scholars and readers (including Dobbs) speculate to be the hero not appearing until the last pages of the fragment, there is clear potential there, with characters that feel familiar with a mix of new ones. For example, Austen introduces the character of Miss Lambe, who represents what life might have been like for some mixed race people in the era.
Where the book begins to drop in quality is, as you might expect, the part where Dobbs takes over. While it is not immeditately obvious if you have not done a lot of research into the fragment and where the cutoff occurs, and the portion written by Dobbs starts off strong, it fails to capture the magic of Austen’s works without borrowing from some of her other novels. There are some bright spots, as we see some of the supporting characters, especially Miss Lambe, get their own happy endings, but, ultimately, it does not compare to what I think we might have gotten from Austen had she lived to see the novel to completion.