Inspiration is the key!
“Unfinished novel“: just these words put together can cause a mix of feelings. A novelist’s work without an ending, abandoned, whose destiny is that of leaving thousands and millions of people of many generations wondering about it. In the post “What would Charles Dickens write today?“, it was mentioned how the BBC was going to broadcast an adaptation which included an ending, and specifically one provided by Gwyneth Hughes. Right? Wrong? The debate has no end (like the novel itself).
However, one of the most wanted ‘half books‘ for continuation is “Sanditon” by Jane Austen. A novel, unfinished and untitled: despite there being eleven chapters written at the time of Austen’s death, the manuscript’s title “Sanditon” was the name her family chose to replace the working title Austen had chosen: “The Brothers“.
That was probably the first unauthorised change the forming novel had gone through. Why change the name of the original manuscript? Would Austen have renamed it “Sanditon“? That would be a minor problem, if we take into consideration the many attempts at finishing the novel which have taken place over the years.
This town, its inhabitants and its founders have been part of the first eleven chapter brought to completion, but no one knows what was going to happen after such introduction. Among her first continuators are her two nieces, Anna Austen Lefroy continuing “Sandition” (also left unfinished like the original), and Catherine Hubback continuing the other unfinished novel Jane Austen left, “The Watsons“, which bears the title “The Younger Sister” in its mid-nineteenth century publication.
As previously discussed in posts such as “Unofficial sequels: a matter of perspective?“, whether or not another author should continue a work someone else started is matter of debate. It would be one thing to be inspired by Jane Austen’s unfinished script, but it’s another to try and continue where she left off. What if some characters were brought to life by Austen for one sole purpose, one we will never find out about, one she had in mind and never wrote down. What if the continuator of this plot manipulates the characters in doing things Austen would have never intended them to do? Sometimes, quite often probably, a writer sets a story and its characters knowing exactly where they are going, their evolution, their purpose in the plot. It’s similar to driving an abandoned car full of things one would have used at the beach and drive it to the mountains.
Surely, most continuators have read all of Jane Austen’s novels, studied her life and her narrative and would write a story that Jane Austen “could have written” but the thing is, she did not.
I know exactly how tempting it is to continue a story which had to be abandoned, but out of respect for the idea and the genius of the writer who could not bring it to completion, it must not be finished. In fact, no matter how many continuations “Sanditon” gets, it will always be known as the novel Jane Austen left unfinished. Nobody, no matter how successful such book could be, could come up with a continuation Jane Austen would have approved of, for this is the one thing we will never find out about.