There was an outcry at the ending of PBS Masterpiece Theatre’s Sanditon, Jane Austen’s final, uncompleted manuscript. Because the viewers did not get the “happily ever after” ending Jane Austen, and romance, is known for.
Not every story has to have a happy ending. But writers create a contract with readers based on expectations. And one of the expectations of romance is that, no matter the trials our couple goes through, they will be together in the end.
I wrote a bit of a rant in my readers’ group on Facebook about it.
Any Jane Austen fans here? Anybody been watching Sanditon on PBS’s Masterpiece? Anybody throw the remote through the TV at last night’s ending?
SPOILER ALERT: Don’t read any more of my rant if you are still wanting to watch the show. I’ll ruin it for you. Oh wait, Andrew Davies already did that.
For the rest of us, can you even believe it???? I DVRd it, and so when I heard rumors on Twitter of the ending, I could not believe it. And then I watched it for myself and it was WORSE than I expected.
I did a bit of research. Andrew Davies wrote this version of Sandition (Jane Austen died before she finished it) and he said, “One could also say that audiences, I think, are perhaps too used to having all their expectations fulfilled.”
Wait. What? Hello? That’s why we watch TV shows and read books. To have our expectations fulfilled. Because we know real life isn’t always HEA (happily ever after) but we can at least get them in our entertainment. Unless it’s Davies’s version.
The inviolate rule of romance, what makes a romance a romance, is that there is a happily ever after. Yes, there should be a lot of obstacles. But that’s what proves how strong their love is. Marrying someone else? That’s pretty much a game ender.
So I now I think I have to write my own version of Sandition. This one will definitely have a happy ending.
So I wrote a new ending. This made me immensely happier than the one Masterpiece Theatre created. And it is all seeded in the existing story. I hope you enjoy what I’ve written below. But I also suggest picking up a copy of Sanditon and reading how other people have finished Jane Austen’s final work. The Signet version from 1975 that I read is much more in keeping with Austen’s style.
There are a few places where I could have begun the rewrite. First of all, I think it all would have been more poignent if Sidney and Charlotte had gotten a dance together, a beautiful picture of their feelings for each other and how good they could be together. But I won’t go that far back.
I could also go directly to the ending when Charlotte is leaving on the coach and Sidney rides up. This is a common romance convention. He rides up to say he’s changed his mind, that his love for her is too strong, that he’s found another way. We could do that, but honestly, the kind of man that Sidney is by agreeing to marry Mrs. Campion is problematic. We want a hero who will fight through anything to reach the woman he loves. And since he also is dearly loyal to his family, he won’t stop until he finds a solution for both. That’s the kind of hero we want. Yes, marrying Eliza is a sacrifice for him. But it is also one for Charlotte, and I don’t see a true hero asking that of her.
So we must back up farther. We pick up where Sidney has left for London on the coach and Charlotte said goodbye to him.
New HEA Ending for Sanditon
Charlotte started down the stairs at Trafalgar House. She’d taken to her room after Sidney had left, but her thoughts were poor company. Surely there would be a plan, some sort of relief. She couldn’t imagine seeing these kind people bankrupt. And while she couldn’t help but wince at Tom’s blind enthusiasm that had brought his family to this crisis, he had a good heart and his family didn’t deserve to pay the consequences of his foolish optimism.
Tom’s voice floated to her from the parlor. “I don’t know who he’s going to talk to.” Anxiety laced his words. “The only person I can think of with that kind of money is Mrs. Eliza Campion. They did have feelings for each other at one time. It might be enough to make a match again.”
“Perhaps one or both of them have moved on.” Sadness filled Mary’s soft voice.
“You should pray not, Mary. You should pray not.”
Charlotte retraced her steps quietly up the stairs and into her room. From what she’d seen at the regatta, Mrs. Eliza Campion had most definitely not moved on. So what would Sidney do? He’d professed his love for Charlotte and his plan to offer for her in marriage. Yet could he stand by and see his family come to ruin just to ensure his own happiness? Could she let him? What would their happiness matter if the Parkers were ruined?
Her stomach twisted in a knot, and she was too stunned to even cry. The only one who knew how she felt right now would be Georgianna, with her being separated from her beloved Otis. It was not lost on Charlotte that Sidney had been the cause of that as well. She gathered her bonnet and gloves and headed out to pay a visit to her friend.
Georgianna greeted her warmly, grasping both of Charlotte’s hands in hers. “How is Trafalgar House coping after the dreadful fire last night?”
“Not well, I’m afraid.” She swallowed. It would soon be news anyway. “The building wasn’t insured. There aren’t the funds to rebuild, and Lady Denham is demanding the return of her investment in one week’s time. Sydney has gone to London to try to raise the funds.” Her voice broke on the last word, and she swallowed, blinking back tears as Tom’s words came back to her.
Georgianna studied her. “That’s terrible. Lady Denham is a wicked old bat who cares for no one but herself.”
“It’s true, and well you know it. You’ve seen how she treated me.”
“She does seem to enjoy using people as pawns in her schemes. But surely she can’t be so cruel as to turn the Parkers out into the street? Do you think there is any reasoning with her?”
Georgianna huffed. “She hasn’t a feeling bone in her body. If anyone could charm her, it would be Sidney, but he’s off to London.”
“Yes.” Charlotte blinked back tears.
“What is it? I know you care for the Parkers. Is it that distressing to you?”
“It does seem terribly cruel of Lady Denham.” Charlotte dabbed at her eyes with her handkerchief.
“But not surprising. I’m only surprised that Sidney didn’t advise Mr. Parker to be less dependent on her.”
“I don’t think Sidney knew how deep Tom had gotten in. Or he surely would have advised against it. He certainly would have insisted on purchasing insurance.”
Georgianna leaned forward. “How deep is Mr. Parker into Lady Denham?”
Charlotte let out a breath. “Eighty thousand pounds.”
Georgianna’s eyes widened. “Dear Lord! How did that happen?”
“They needed more workers, especially after Mr. Stringer’s accident. And then there was Dr. Fuchs. Tom’s heart was in the right place.”
“As much as Sidney has caused me pain of my own with his stubborn pigheadedness, I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. I can’t imagine who he thinks in London will loan him that kind of money. Or even invest in the project. Sanditon is never going to be Brighton.” She fingered her necklace. “Do you know of his plan?”
Charlotte picked at her skirt. “Not precisely. But I overheard Tom and Mary speaking. Tom mentioned that the only person who had that kind of money and would give it to Sidney was Mrs. Campion.”
Georgianna tossed her ringlets over her shoulder. “I just bet she would. She’d love to get her claws into Sidney.” She touched Charlotte’s shoulder. “But I’ve seen how he looks at you. He’s in love with you.”
Charlotte nodded. “Yes. And I him. But if he has to save his family, is it right for us to demand our own happiness at the cost of the Parkers’?”
“Because that conniving woman wouldn’t loan the money or even invest it, but use it as a leverage to force Sidney to marry her.” Georgianna stood and began to pace. “Well, well. Two can play at that game. Let me get a pen and paper and see what we can do.” She gave Charlotte a saucy grin. “For once, I think my fortune might actually be an asset instead of a hindrance.”
Sidney was just finishing his coffee with the morning paper at his London townhome when his man Carson brought him the note. “Just came by messenger, sir. He’s waiting in case there’s a reply.”
He recognized Georgianna’s looping script and tore open the seal. The messenger must have left directly on his heels to reach London so quickly after he had. What was the emergency?
It is imperative that you return to Sanditon at once as soon as you have received this note. I have information that will rectify the situation with the Parkers and Lady Denham, but I need to discuss it with you in person. I implore you not to speak to anyone in London about the situation until we’ve spoken. Please, I beg of you.
I know I have not been the easiest ward to be burdened with, and you’ve born it with far more equanimity than I deserve. However, I believe I can prove that I am not the child you think I am. Please send word with the messenger of your imminent return. Otherwise, Miss Heywood and I will be in London on the next coach.
Sidney tossed the letter on the table and rubbed his chin. Confound it! What had Georgianna done this time? He could only imagine. He didn’t have time for her games. And yet… Surely she wasn’t suggesting what he thought she was. No, it would be highly improper.
“Will there be a reply?” Carson gave a slight bow.
Sidney sighed with a frown. She had him trapped and she knew it. He’d be blamed if he’d let her get on that coach. Miss Heywood either. Reading her name had caused his pulse to throb, and his chest to squeeze. Given the stakes, he supposed he owed it to everyone concerned to hear out Georgianna’s plan. He was sure he wouldn’t like it. But then, he didn’t like anything about this situation.
“Tell the messenger I’ll be returning to Sanditon directly.”
Professional that he was, Carson showed no surprise. “Very good, sir.” He left the dining room.
Sidney picked up the note and let his eyes linger on Miss Heywood’s name, the image of her face brought to mind, the feel of his lips on hers, his arm around her. He was torturing himself with what could not be.
He didn’t relish a hard trip back to Sanditon that was likely a fool’s errand with the result that he would be making a return trip to London shortly. But perhaps he could take a stab at persuading Lady Denham for more time while he was there. Now that the heat of her temper had passed, she might be more reasonable. He’d been able to jolly her in the past. It was worth a try, anyhow.
Sidney knocked on Georgianna’s door. He was filthy and exhausted. The ride from London had been long and hard. This had better not be one of her flights of fancy.
The door flew open and Georgianna rushed into his arms. “You came! Come inside.” She grabbed his hand and tugged him into her sitting room. “Shall I ring for tea?”
He shook his head and tossed his hat on the table. “Be quick about it, Georgianna. I have no time for games.”
She nodded and perched on the settee across from him. “I know all about the difficulties the Parkers are in and the purpose for your visit to London. May I surmise that you haven’t found an investor?”
“I wasn’t there long enough to inquire after anyone. But no, I do not have an investor. Yet.”
She pursed her lips. “I would like to be your investor.”
He shot to his feet. “Absolutely not. I won’t hear of it.”
“Why not, pray tell? I have the money.”
He paced the few steps the small room allowed. “I would be improper. You are my ward. There will be talk that I unduly influenced you for my own benefit.”
“No one needs to know.”
“I will know!”
“Sidney, listen to reason. My father made his fortune speculating in trade where few dared to risk. It paid off handsomely for him. And me by default. However, I grew up with a simple lifestyle. The lavishness of the beau monde will never suit me. I could never spend my fortune in several lifetimes if I tried. I would prefer it be put to good use, saving my friends, rather than on fripperies and ridiculous parties. This fortune has become a prison for me, making me second guess everyone’s interest in friendship with me.”
She stood and touched his arm. “I also have a slightly more selfish motive. You accused Otis of only wanting my fortune. Well, now that it would be tied up in investments, you will see that he truly loves me.”
He opened his mouth but she raised a hand. “I will abide by your wishes concerning Otis for now. But you will see. When I turn one and twenty in six months’ time, Otis will still love me with eighty thousand pounds fewer.” She paused. “Surely you can see this is advantageous for both of us. I will prove that Otis’s affections for me are true. And you will be able to save your family.”
Sidney’s head spun with the possibilities. Georgianna had inherited the shrewd bargaining skills of her father. What she said made sense, though his gut still rebelled at the thought.
He took her hand and met her gaze, searching for the truth. “Are you certain? I cannot guarantee a return on your investment. In fact, I cannot guarantee you won’t lose the entire amount. I fear, despite my brother’s enthusiasm, Sanditon will never be another Brighton.”
“I care nothing for that, Sidney, truly. But if it reassures you, you can tell Mr. Parker that I insist you approve all expenditures as my representative.”
Sidney nodded. If that had been a previous condition, they never would have found themselves in this place. He once again remonstrated himself for not paying closer attention to Tom’s fancies. He let all of Georgianna’s words tumble through his mind. And his glorious future with Charlotte spun out in front of him. He hardly dared to hope that there could be a future for them.
“If you are sure, Georgianna…”
She pressed his hand. “I am. Now—” she made a shooing motion with her hand. “Go find Charlotte and offer her marriage.” She sniffed. “But do clean up first.”
Charlotte left Trafalgar House and headed for the cliff walk. Knowing that even now Sidney could be engaging himself to Mrs. Campion was more than she could bear. She couldn’t read or concentrate on anything. A walk in the bracing sea air might offer her some solace. She only hoped that she encountered no one. She was not up to polite conversation.
How had she let such affection for Sidney develop? She certainly had no intentions of making any sort of match in Sanditon. Rather she enjoyed the location and the hospitality of Mary and Tom and their children. She didn’t even like Sidney when she first met him, with his hard, unfeeling words. And yet as they interacted over time, his loyalty towards his family and Georgianna was quite evident.
Having grown up in a small parish as the daughter of a gentleman farmer of a modest estate, she had never felt more or less than her station. But she should have realized that at Sanditon, she had no place mingling with the beau monde. If only she had kept that firmly in her mind, perhaps her heart would have listened.
She should plan on returning home soon. The Parkers didn’t need her underfoot with their troubles, and did she truly want to wait to hear Sidney inform her of the inevitable? Her heart twisted at the thought. Georgianna was a dear, but she had no idea how to deal with the machinations of society. Charlotte held out no hope that whatever Georgianna was attempting, fortune or no, would come to any fruition.
A voice floated to her on the sea breeze, and her heart sank. She did not want company. She fixed a polite smile on her face before turning to see who hailed her.
A tall, masculine figure strode toward her that made her heart leap. But surely she was imaging things. Sidney was in London. He could not be on the cliff walk. And yet as he grew closer, she could not deny that it was he. Her chest tightened. What could it mean that he was back from London so soon? Had he already proposed to Mrs. Campion and was returning to give her the courtesy of informing her before she heard it from anyone else? Tears pricked her eyes, and she studied his figure, trying to determine if his mien gave any indication of the news. But if it did, she could not determine it.
“Charlotte.” He drew near enough to grasp her hands.
“Sidney. I thought you were in London. How can you have returned to quickly? Did you find an—” her voice broke—“investor?”
“Of a sorts, yes.” He gave a small smile. “Georgianna wrote me. Did you know of her plan?”
“No. What plan? Not to elope with Otis, is it? She mentioned a plan, but she did not tell me what.”
“Oh no. She promised to wait. No, her plan to become an investor in Sanditon.”
Charlotte drew back and blinked. “No. I had no idea. But you’re her guardian. She needs your permission, does she not?”
“She does. I was against it at first, thinking that it would appear I manipulated her for my own gain. But she insisted that it would prove to me that Otis was not interested in her fortune. I’m not as convinced of that as she is, but it will prove itself out soon enough. Regardless, she brought me around to her way of thinking. She has her father’s shrewd mind.”
Charlotte could not contain her happiness. “What wonderful news for you Parkers. And how like Georgianna to see a solution no one else did.”
Sidney grasped the side of Charlotte’s face, running his palm across her cheek. “And what wonderful news for us. I tell you, Charlotte, I felt like a condemned man heading to London.” He touched his forehead to hers. “Now, whatever the future holds, we’ll face it together. You are my future, Charlotte. And without you I am nothing.” He gazed into her eyes. “Can you stand to make this brute of a man your husband, knowing that he’ll spend the rest of his life trying to make you happy? Will you do me the very great honor of consenting to be my wife?”
Charlotte’s heart felt like it would pound right out of her chest at his words. Happy tears sprung to her eyes. he nodded. “Yes, Sidney. I would be honored to be your wife.”
He captured her face in his hands and kissed her tenderly. All the world fell away and time stood still as the two of them joined their hearts toward the future on the cliff overlooking the sea in Sanditon.