Janet Todd is the editor of a new edition of Jane Austen's unfinished novel Sanditon. Todd's other books include The Cambridge Introduction to Jane Austen. A former president of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge, she lives in Cambridge, UK, and Venice, Italy.
Q: You write of Sanditon that "the brilliant fragment remains enigmatic from beginning to end." Is it enigmatic mostly because it was unfinished, or are there other reasons?
A: Yes, because unfinished, but Austen lets us see round her endings even of the finished novels. Whatever she had in store for the resort of Sanditon and its shifting inhabitants, I suspect no fate would have been final.
Q: How would you compare Sanditon with Austen's other work?
A: It resembles the juvenile parodies and burlesques more than the finished psychologically subtle novels. It delights in quirks, oddities and snobberies, and in this way is wonderfully relevant to us in the 21st century as we take our selfies and aim to control media presence: the characters in Sanditon try constantly to impose their self-images on others.
Also, where the other novels depict country houses, Sanditon is a novel of seaside tourism.
Q: Do you have ideas about how the book would have turned out if Austen had been able to finish it?
A: In short, no. She supposedly wanted to call it “The Brothers” rather than “Sanditon.” In which case it might have been an interesting break with the other woman-centered novels.
Whatever couples were formed—and as comedy there would need to be a final marriage, presumably of the heroine Charlotte and the most attractive male, Sidney Parker--the fortune of the speculative project of Sanditon would, I suspect, have remained central.
Q: What first intrigued you about Austen's writing and led you to become a scholar of her work?
A: I came to Jane Austen late. She wasn’t a childhood favourite. As I worked on other, then fairly unknown, writers of her time, I found myself going to Austen for comparison. Increasingly I admired and was amazed at her skill, her succinctness, her combination of wit and realism. I now think her unequalled.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I have just finished a novel called Don’t You Know There’s a War On? (due out May 2020). Its energetically angry central character lives through the Second World War and into England’s diminished post-war reality. Her life—and that of her only daughter-- unravels behind the closed velvet curtains of suburbia.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I wish I’d started publishing novels earlier! At 77 I must rush to make up for lost time.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Janet Todd.