Friday, April 23, 2010

More Sanditon Completions: Charlotte & The Brothers

I have just finished reading Jane Austen's Charlotte by Julia Barrett and The Brothers by Jane Austen and Another Lady by Helen Baker, the two Sanditon completions I promised to read in my review of Sanditon by Jane Austen and Another Lady. I continue to consider the latter the definitive completion of Austen's last novel. Though both Ms. Barrett and Ms. Baker's attempts are enjoyable, neither are such impeccable imitators of Austen's style as Another Lady.

I found, for the most part, Helen Baker's The Brothers (Austen's working title for the novel) perfectly delightful. For the most part, Ms. Baker develops Austen's characters in a very similar manner to Another Lady, but she dwells on subjects which seem out of place in Austen. Most particularly, she excessively emphasizes the difficulties of Miss Lamb's social status as a mulatto, which was referenced in such a way as to make me pretty uncomfortable. Mrs. Parker acts as the representative of these sentiments, making some blatantly racist remarks. These might be appropriate to the era, but I have a hard time excusing them, especially when they are unnecessary to the plot and in a modern book (copyright 2009). I do not think Ms. Baker intended anything other than an exploration of period perspectives on race, an issue frequently raised in all forms of Austen related media, from JAFF to criticism, due to those oblique references to slavery in Mansfield Park. However, well-intended though she may be, Ms. Baker only succeeds in offending, adding nothing constructive to her plot in the process.

This disagreeable aspect aside, I can reassert my claim that the book is perfectly delightful. Ms. Baker inserts another chapter into Austen's beginning, in which Charlotte Heywood writes to her sister, as a means of introducing the rest of her plot. Charlotte and Sidney Parker become co-conspirators in this book, protecting the young ladies of Sanditon from that wannabe Lovelace, Sir Edward Denham. I particular liked Ms. Baker's rendition of Esther Denham, which is the most sympathetic portrayal of the lady I have come across. Everyone gets what they deserve in this happy tale. Charlotte is an artist, and as she parts from Mr. and Mrs. Parker she gives them a caricature of the entire family, which perfectly captures the characters as Austen created them:

"Upon my soul, you have observed us well," commented her host as he laughed at the antics of his brothers and sisters. "There is Diana winding a second scarf around Arthur, while he snatches another tart from the table behind her back."

"I am trying to stop Susan dosing little Mary and tipping some of her drops out of the nursery window, while snatching up Baby with the boys clinging to my skirts," laughed his wife. "Meanwhile you, my dear, are inspecting your plans for the construction of an improved Royal Pavilion at Sanditon - well really! But what is Sidney doing - oh Charlotte! He will never forgive this." High above Sanditon, sitting on a cloud, a smiling Sidney Parker pulled on the tangled strings of his brothers and sisters, like a demented puppeteer.

Ms. Baker has written several other Austen continuations/sequels which I am now very anxious to read: Precipitation: A Continuation of Miss Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, The Book of Ruth (about Mary and Kitty Bennet's search for husbands), Connivance (a Persuasion sequel), The Watsons by Jane Austen and Another Lady, and Playfulness (a Mansfield Park sequel focused on Mary Crawford). All are available for download (at a price) at

Ms. Barrett's Charlotte is a more ambitious work than The Brothers - probably too ambitious. There is simply too much happening, far too quickly. She introduces many new characters, including one of some renown. As she says in the preface:

In these pages, Sir Edward Denham quotes the poetry of Charlotte Smith. She was a Sussex-born novelist and poet, admired by Sir Walter Scott, who wrote a brief biography of her. Jane Austen knew her work, and I have taken the liberty here of characterizing her as Emmeline Turner.

Now, I am not an expert on Charlotte Smith, having only studied some of her poetry in college, but I do know she was long dead when Austen was writing Sanditon and did not live the lifestyle Ms. Barrett provides Emmeline Turner. She becomes friends with Charlotte, who leaves Sanditon with her to enjoy the pleasures of London. Simultaneously, the fortunes of the small spa town are fluctuating rapidly, with smugglers lurking on the shore and fashionable Corinthians establishing a race track. The chronology is awkward, and there are some historical issues I noticed, like Lady Denham entering the dinning room first in her own house  and women being members of Brooke's. Still, the story is a wildly different take on the fragment than any other I have read, which makes it very interesting. I would have enjoyed it much more had Ms. Barrett not written such flourishing prose, which frequently obscured her meaning. She does a far better job of miming Austen in another entertaining book, Presumption, about Georgiana Darcy.

My favorite part of Charlotte was the opening of chapter thirty three, where she beautifully captures the essence of a great Austen hero:

Susceptible young men, however vexed by a violent passion, will rarely be possessed by it. It is the clear-minded, those in command of their persons, who by resistance to love's frequent allures, exhibit true strength of character. A pledge from one of these reticents is the more intense, if finally obtained, and certainly most to be valued.

This might be the best depiction of what makes an Austen hero so very special that I have read. As I said before, Ms. Barrett's book is extremely ambitious and there are parts which positively shine, but as a whole her attempt at completing this book just doesn't quite work; the story has more potential than is achieved.

I haven't read Ms. Barrett's The Third Sister, about Margaret Dashwood, but I probably will at some point.


  1. I am so thankful that you read and reviewed these two books! I have been wanting to read another Sanditon completion besides Another Lady's and your review gives me an idea of what each one is about. Helen Baker has so many sequels written!!! I'm curious about the one for the Watsons and Mansfield Park.

  2. Hi Meredith! It was my pleasure! I'm really intrigued by Ms. Baker. I might have to read that Persuasion sequel next (in my impatience for Laura Hile's next book - just one more month!), but as I have yet to read a satisfying completion/sequel for The Watsons or Mansfield Park, those are calling to me too. The Brothers really was very good and I have great hopes for her other books.

  3. From Helen Baker, author of The Brothers by Jane Austen and another Lady
    Coming across your blog by chance, I was delighted that you enjoyed my book so much. I take infinite care that my continuations and completions should be as authentic as possible. Every single word I use is checked to ensure that Jane Austen would have known it and I even retain the old spelling from time to time, for effect. My latest (and last) book inspired by Miss Austen was published earlier this month. It is neither a continuation nor a completion but a complete rearrangement of her first attempt at a book – Lady Susan – which was written in the form of letters. I have written it as I believe she might have done later, at the height of her powers. This was difficult as her outlook on the world had changed so much since her adolescence. So difficult, in fact, that I can find no other scholarly attempt in the two hundred years since she wrote it. Perhaps I may be forgiven as she herself first wrote Sense and Sensibility as letters and then rearranged them into the book we know and love today. You can find the book
    Miss Jane Austen's Lady Susan - Revived by Helen Baker
    I do hope you enjoy it and, of course, my other books on Lulu, which I wrote for the best reason of all – for fun. (My personal favourite is Connivance!)
    Helen Baker

  4. My dear Ms. Baker,

    Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving a comment! I have not yet had the opportunity to read more of your work (busy summer!) but am very much looking forward to doing so. Connivance must be at the top of the list, upon your recommendation.

    I wonder if you were inspired to tackle Lady Susan before or after the publication of Lady Vernon and her Daughter? Your approach sounds far more to my liking, and I actually considered doing something similar myself. I'm very curious to read it and will review it here, as I do all the JAFF I read, upon completion. Perhaps you might be interested in doing an interview at some point? My email address is at the bottom of the screen in my disclaimer; please write to me if you are interested or just to chat about Jane.

    It was a pleasure hearing from you!


  5. WAS JANE AUSTEN (1775-1817) BLACK?

    "In person she was very attractive; her figure was rather tall and slender, her step light and firm, and her whole appearance expressive of health and animation. In complexion she was a clear brunette with a rich colour; she had full round cheeks, with mouth and nose small and wellformed bright hazel eyes, and brown hair forming natural curls close round her face."

    James-Edward Austen,
    Jane's nephew


    "... certainly pretty-bright & a good deal of colour in her face – like a doll – no that would not give at all the idea for she had so much expression – she was like a child – quite a child very lively and full of humour."

    Mr Fowle,
    family friend


    "... her's was the first face I can remember thinking pretty ... Her hair, a darkish brown, curled naturally – it was in short curls round her face...Her face was rather round than long – she had a bright but not a pink colour – a clear brown complexion and very good hazel eyes. Her hair, a darkish brown, curled naturally, it was in short curls around her face. She always wore a cap ... before she left Steventon she was established as a very pretty girl, in the opinion of most of her neighbours."

    Caroline Austen,
    Jane's niece


    "Her hair was dark brown and curled naturally, her large dark eyes were widely opened and expressive. She had clear brown skin and blushed so brightly and so readily."

    An early description of young Jane at Steventon by Sir Egerton Brydges


    "She was tall and slender; her face was rounded with a clear brunette complexion and bright hazel eyes. Her curly brown hair
    escaped all round her forehead, but from the time of her coming to live at Chawton she always wore a cap, except when her nieces had her in London and forbade it."

    Edward Austen Leigh of Jane's appearence in the years just after the family left Southampton


    " Her stature rather exceeded the middle height; her carriage and deportment were quiet but graceful; her complexion of the finest texture, it might with truth be said that her eloquent blood spoke through her modest

    " Her pure and eloquent blood spake in her cheeks and so distinctly wrought that you had almost said her body thought."

    Henry Austen said of his sister

    posted by Egmond Codfried

  6. Hi Mr. Codfried. Very interesting. I assume you are expecting my skepticism. I have looked at your papers online and found them both startling and compelling, but still my instincts do not allow me to accept your hypothesis. Even if we allow that Austen's race is ambiguous, I think the textual evidence you supply from her novels is suspect. When one approaches a text with an agenda it is all too easy to find it. That being said, I found your Blue Blood is Black Blood essay very interesting and intend to explore it in more depth when my schedule allows it. Thank you for your fascinating comment - I have always been in favor of questioning what is obstinately declared to be incontestable truth, especially in regards to history. Long ago Thucydides made it clear that historians are not to be trusted.

  7. You are most friendly.

    What is there suspect about understanding: 'Mr. Elton, spruce, black and smiling.' Or Mr. Crawford: 'Absolutely plain, black and plain.?' His beautiful sister is brown, with a lively eye.
    But by doing so we can get to the precious subtext. In Emma, dear Emma tries to marry Mr. Elton with Miss Smith, who is a blue eyed blond, and all sweetness too. Race-mixing in Regency Britain? Is that why Mr. Kingley is so upset?
    Fanny Price is a true mulatto, her unsuitable father is white. Mrs. Norris reminds her not to forget 'who she is and WHAT she is.'Among other leads.

    Was Jane Austen Black?;f=15;t=003159;p=1#000015

    Egmond Codfried

  8. Well, I would say that Mr. Elton is "black" because he is dressed in black (a clergyman), and that Mr. Crawford has black hair while Miss Crawford has brown. Mr. Knightley thinks the marriage between Harriet Smith and Mr. Elton foolhardy because she is a bastard whose origins and connections are unknown. Regarding Fanny Price, Mrs. Norris keeps her in her place as a child dependent on her relatives' generosity, in the same way that all unprotected children are kept down in 19th century literature, from Jane Eyre to Oliver Twist. Also, as the Miss Bertrams are explicitly described as "fair" which, according to your hypothesis, establishes them as white: why would their Aunt Norris favor them while shunning Fanny for having a white father? It is commonly presumed that Sir Thomas Bertram's business in the "Indies" refers to a Caribbean plantation where he undoubtedly held black slaves - how does this fit into your theory? Would black Europeans hold African slaves?

    I'm sorry to continue skeptical, but I cannot overcome the sensation that you are combing Austen's texts for evidence of your agenda without fully considering the context of the quotes or acknowledging the very great difference between English as spoken in the early 19th century and our modern usage. If your goal is convince both myself and other Austenites that Jane was black, I think you are going to have to do far more than throw about quotes from her book. To successfully argue your point you will need to perform a clear, precise, and (frankly) exhaustive examination of her work, following the racial subtext in a linear manner from her earliest writing to her last. Your current manner of proceeding is working against you, as you claim Austen favors black over white while holding up some of her most despised characters (like Mrs. Norris and Mr. Elton) as examples of black racial superiority. I do not know the full extent of your familiarity with Austen so please accept this as a friendly warning - until you know her backwards and forwards, you will never convince her devotees that you have found anything in her novels that we have not already discovered for ourselves. When you mistake the names of characters (like calling Mr. Knightley Mr. Kingley) it feels like your examination of Austen has only been superficial, fueled by a specific agenda. Nothing is so likely to set up the backs of Austenites (far more so than examining her race, I assure you) than a failure to read her with the attention we believe her due. I recommend rereading her body of work and presenting a more methodical and deliberate statement of your theory than you provide in "Was Jane Austen Black?" I will be excited to read it when/if you do and hope you will inform me of its publication. Good luck!

  9. Thank you most kindly,

    I ‘m not trying to convert Jansenites. Why! they are beyond redemption. I address the very people Jane Austen addressed, namely; the 3 or 4 families in a country village. Not the multitude, only the 3 or 4 that INTERESTED her, which resembled her. Thank you for your solicitude about my method, at present I’m reading through the mountain of scholarly works, but they all ignore the black and brown COMPLEXIONS. My article has bloomed into an illustrated, 70 page scientific research, with notes and bibliography.

    Emma should be read as an allegory on the history of European Blacks. Blacks were always involved in black slavery like whites were involved in WWII in slaughtering whites. Nothing new there. I do not think there is something wrong with asking people to review the source of sources: Austen’s novels. They will read: Eliza Bennet: brown and tanned, Catherine Morland: sallow, meaning light brown, Mrs. Ferrars: sallow, Mr. Tilney: brown, Jane Fairfax: sallow, Marianne Dashwood: very brown, Emma Watson: very brown, Mary Crawford: brown, Henry Crawford: black, Mr. Elton; black, Miss Harriet Smith: white, blue eyes, blond and Emma: nut-brown with hazel eyes. Fanny Price and Miss Lamb are mulatto’s. Blacks come in many hues and shapes.

    When we have established these simple facts we can proceed. Like why a brown skin should be ‘the annihilation of every grace?’

    The Watsons:

    Quote: ‘The next morning brought a great many visitors. It was the way of the place always to call on Mrs. Edwards the morning after a ball, and this neighbourly inclination was increased in the present instance by a general spirit of curiosity on Emma's account, as everybody wanted to look again at the girl who had been admired the night before by Lord Osborne. Many were the eyes, and various the degrees of approbation with which she was examined. Some saw no fault, and some no beauty. With some her brown skin was the annihilation of every grace, and others could never be persuaded that she was half so handsome as Elizabeth Watson had been ten years ago.’

    Egmond Codfried

  10. I fear we have fallen into a back and forth argument with little resolution in sight. When your complete research is done, please let me know as I am very curious to read it, but I do not think the argument will be terribly convincing unless you acknowledge that for two hundred years people have been reading the lines you quote without seeing a racial discourse in them. Though I know very little about the overall composition of your research, please believe I am only trying to be subjective when I say that you need more to support your argument than the assertion that these lines are about race. You will need to convince Janeites, as we are the ones most likely to care. I am not sure what you mean by "beyond redemption", but if you are able to prove that Jane was of black descent, or even better that her works contain an explicit message of black empowerment, you will find a very interested community. The problem is that you do have to prove it, and I fear that her use of language in her novels will always be disputable.

    I hope you thought seriously about what I said regarding the relevance of which characters you put forward as black. You claim that "There can be no doubt that she is writing about brown, very brown and black skinned persons belonging to the gentry and aristocracy." But remember that Austen does not determine the worth of people by their class but by their actions, and the actions of the characters Henry Crawford and Mr. Elton (whose gentility is subject to question) are thoroughly despicable. It is notable how little physical description Austen provides of her characters, instead focusing on their mental attributes and moral fiber (in Sense and Sensibility, it isn't until chapter ten that we get any kind of description at all of what the Dashwood sisters look like - Marianne is indeed described as "brown" but "translucent" while Elinor is "delicate" - how do you interpret those last two adjectives?). You also fail to acknowledge all those characters who are of both genteel birth and fair complexion, many of whom are relations of the characters you have determined to be black. For example, Catherine Morland is described as having "a sallow skin without colour" (the same complexion attributed to her brother James when Isabella Thorpe describes the looks of her favorite men, quoted in your article) and as being Miss Tilney's "fair friend". As she is certainly an Austen heroine, I think you have to contend with her to make your argument convincing. While Elizabeth Bennet is described as having being "brown", she is also repeatedly described as "fair" ("my fair cousin Elizabeth", "your fair daughter", "your fair partner") while Mr. Darcy - the ultimate symbol of the aristocracy in this most class conscious of Austen's novels - is never described in terms of his coloring at all. Your quote from the Watsons would seem very apropos but for the fact that the Watsons are by far the poorest family Austen ever depicted.

    (comment continues below)

  11. (continuation of above comment)

    Perhaps the part of your argument that I find most perplexing is the assertion that Fanny Price is a mulatto. Other than this line from Mrs. Norris, "who she is and what she is," where does this notion stem from? The Bertrams girls are described as fair - how does this reconcile itself to your assumption that the family represents pure black blood? I have found no descriptions of Mr. Price's person, other than being drunken and slovenly. These are very sincere questions and, I believe, very much like those any would ask after reading your article. Until you can answer them satisfactorily, my skepticism has little choice but to remain.

    Two other, quick thoughts. First a question: have you contacted Austen's descendants about this and, if so, what kind of response did you receive? Second, in the appendage to your article regarding Aisha, you assert that Emma is Austen's final novel when it was Persuasion. These are very important details to get right if you want to hold the ear of the Janeite community, who I strongly suggest you do not dismiss.

    Best of luck to you,

    Alexa Adams

  12. Granted, Fanny Price as a mulatto is a recent brainwave. The fact that Mrs. Price family was so upset. And Sir Bertram claimed he could not advance Mr. Price because of his profession, in the navy. Yet Crawford could do a lot for Fanny's brother, also a mulatto.
    I will return, but imagine that blacks and browns have black and brown siblings, from the same parents.

  13. Dear Madam,

    Your forum came up when I punched Jane Austen + forum in google, but only you show true friendliness, independence of mind and a most prudent distrust of historians. Never loose these qualities. But speaking of qualities; it’s incumbent on me to thank you for showing excellent judgement by not accusing me about three times of having an agenda. So I’m looking out for you when I urge you to discard all prejudices you might have been taught about Blacks, just like all men should discard their prejudices they were taught about women. I’m like Mrs. Norris, only when she is speaking with Jane Austen’s voice: ‘My object, Lady Bertram, is to be of use to those that come after me […] and [enable me] to live so as not to disgrace the memory of the dear departed.’

    I have pointed out to you some passages that scholars have consciously ignored since 1860 and have asked you to use your own powers of understanding. When you write: ‘Your quote from the Watsons would seem very apropos but for the fact that the Watsons are by far the poorest family Austen ever depicted,’ you are taking a step forward and many backwards because you mix two observations that are not related. You assume that a Black identified writer will only show all Blacks in a favourable light, and whites as devils. That’s not what I have learned about good writing, and nobody surpasses Jane Austen in that department.

    Personally I do not find Mr. Henry Crawford such a despicable person; neither did Sir Bertram, nor did the Miss Bertrams, nor did Edmund. His excellent sisters dote on him! He is a flirt and he hits on those who like to flirt, even though they are engaged to be married and should know better, and were warned too. I assume him a virgin until Maria Bertram, a married woman, seduced him. My only quibble with Mr. Crawford is that he would accuse Maria, like Adam accused Eve, for leading him astray. However; Maria Bertram did not rape him. Like a truly high-born lady she was able to contain herself for a maximum of six months. Any ordinary women would have him as soon as she could get her hands on him, in the Mansfield Park shrubbery, for instance. If I were a woman I would have married Mr. Crawford in a heartbeat, even claiming pregnancy if I must, and if he took lovers, so would I. As a wife of his I would have many resources to gratify all my needs. I’m joking a bit, but I do not find him such a sinner, nor would I throw the first stone.

    Egmond Codfried

  14. part two

    But seriously, I take my cue from her nephew who writes about readers with ‘true abilities’ and they, like me, will understand ‘pure and eloquent blood.’ The rest who came after are victims of revisionism. All of Austen’s books take the same stand, are one concept of the world. ‘Black’ as in Emma, should be ‘black’ as in M.P. and Mr. Crawford, following your fancy, should be a vicar too; which most definitely he is not. Black or brown girls have black or brown sisters, who might have regular or irregular features, as not all Black girls are beauties nor are all Black girls ugly. I almost believe you not to be a native English speaker, like me, by your struggling with the word ‘fair.’ This word has many meanings, like ‘the fairer sex’ includes all women, even if they are coal black or hideously ugly with a moustache; they remain members of the fairer sex. Then you have your Ex-Miss America Vanessa Williams who is Black, but quite fair. The runner-up who replaced her, when those gynaecological photo’s came out in Playboy, was much browner. The Bertrams are ‘fair,’ lighter then Mary Crawford, yet all the Bertrams are so exceedingly greedy for the Crawfords. And because they shunned poor Mrs. Price for so many years, we know how they feel about mix-race marriages. There is no pure Black blood, I never made that claim, but Mr. Crawford is pitch-black, for sure. Yet even Rushworth finds only fault with his length and Fanny does not think him handsome at all. There is never a slur on his black skin. Instead, he is a natural Shakespeare reader, gentlemanly, educated, perfect manners, countenance, charming, caring and an accomplished landlord; a quintessential British gentleman and a true Renaissance man.

    My other latest brainwave regards Eliza Bennet whose brown complexion strikes fear in the hearts off both Caroline Bingley and Lady de Bourgh. Not a beauty, nor rich she has something they do not have: colour. This by Austen’s equates with health. Darcy is not an aristocrat, but came from trade. It’s his accomplishments as a good landlord and a good master which make him worthy to have Eliza Bennet. He is Black but some colour is wanting. Like with Jane Fairfax.

    Complexion is complex, texture and health play a role. You might know that black skin is thinner then white skin, and if the blackest person scrapes his knee you will see the white, non-pigmented skin layers. Some exceptional black or brown beauties have a very transparent upper skin which shows the white underlying skin and give a certain ‘translucence’ or brilliancy to their skin. It would be like brown, opaque, silk velvet versus brown silk chiffon. This I learned after reading Austen and going out in the street to actually look at women and men and the qualities of their complexions. I advise everyone to do the same.

    Egmond Codfried
    Part three follows...

  15. Part three

    To finish, please hold on to your scepticism rather then your skepticism, and favour me with your questions, rather then favor, and do not be fueled by acquiescence but be fuelled by a distrust of revisionist historians. I have been addressing you, not the Austenites, nor the Austen family. This Austen research is just a sub part from my Blue blood is Black blood (1500-1789) research and confirms everything I have been saying since 2005. My improvements are my method of identifying a person as Black, by accepting that Blacks, like the Irish or Jews, have an identity. Like you would not go and measure someone’s ears or nose to determine his Jewish identity, so the nuance of black skin on Blacks, is of less importance. There are more or less Classical African features among people of colour, which do not automatically exclude them from beauty. As a writer, Austen gives clues about her identity by writing about matters which concern Blacks: Blacks among a majority of whites, Blacks losing power, Black beauty versus white beauty, mix-marriage, skin bleaching with Gowland’s and rouging with white face-paint. And we are provided with at least eight descriptions which state that Jane Austen herself was dark brown. As to the plausibility of gentle families who are black and coloured, the extended Austen family is proof. Comtesse Eliza de Feuillide describes herself as ‘the native brown of my Complexion,’ and is proud to show off her Tan.

    Thank you and god bless

    Your Friend and well wisher,

    Egmond Codfried
    The Hague
    The Netherlands & Surinam