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Hello, dear friends. Rachel Dodge here. I just moved to a new city (and state) and I’m feeling under the weather and can’t do too much at the moment. I won’t be able to post the article I’ve been working on for this month, so I thought I’d just hop on and say a quick hello to you all.

Watch Lists for the Ailing Austen Fan

While I’m recuperating, I’m in need of some good Jane Austen / Downtown Abbey type shows or movies to keep me going. I know this group will be a great place to ask for some watch lists!

Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet, 1995.

In the comments below, please tell me the shows or movies that get you through sick days. There’s nothing like a warm cup of tea and a lovely movie to help the hours pass.

Good Neighbors

After we moved in, a neighbor left flowers and a card on our front porch! I texted her to say thank you and to let her know I’d love to meet her in person once I felt better, and she immediately asked if she could get anything from the grocery store for me. I needed a certain brand of vitamins and she went right out and got them. What a good neighbor!!

My kids have been walking our dog which gives them outings to fight off the boredom. It also means they get to wave at people as they walk up and down the sidewalk. Here’s a picture of our dog if you want to see why he’s a great helper when it comes to making new friends.

Has anyone ever done something for you when you first moved into a new house? What do you like to do for new neighbors?

Caring Friends

Once my friends “back home” heard I was sick, I soon received a flurry of text messages, calls, and Door Dash gift cards.

One dear friend who lives about 30 minutes from our new home set up a meal train with her friends in the area, even though she just broke her ankle! I can’t begin to express my gratitude.

A few care packages have arrived as well. Perfect timing! If you’ve given or received a care package, what was in it? If you could choose the perfect care package, what would you like to find inside? I found a note, a candle, a packet of tea, and a beautiful book of poetry. Absolutely perfect!

Be Still

Like most people, I’d much rather be the one to serve others, rather than be the one who is served, but I’m learning to be thankful and be okay with letting people help. It’s okay (and even needful) to be still sometimes. I’ve been thinking about the verse, “It is better to give than receive.” It certainly brings a lot of joy to both people, don’t you think?

Signing off now. Here’s to a new article next month that’s much more on topic. Wishing you all the very best in the meantime!


RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog. She is the bestselling author of The Little Women DevotionalThe Anne of Green Gables Devotional and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

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Inquiring readers, I caution those who unconditionally love Sanditon, the TV edition, that this belated review is guided by my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. My fingers had no choice but to obey its command, for my brain is still processing what I saw. I must admit to liking this season more than the previous one, for it has lost almost all pretensions of adhering to Austen’s last work.

________

Well, here we go again, just when I thought Sanditon had been laid to rest with Sydney Parker leaving poor Charlotte to marry his rich bride in order to save brother Tom, the series rears its confused head once more. Thanks (or no thanks) to the pleading of millions of devoted fans, the streaming services of Britbox and PBS ordered up two more seasons. Andrew Davies’ S 1 deviated so much from Jane Austen’s unfinished novel in both plot and character that I rolled on the floor with laughter, or wept copiously from the changes the writers made, most notably with Sir Edward Denham’s egregious transformation from an insufferable but clueless literature spouting buffoon (with social aspirations) to a ruthless villain.

This year, the writers left any semblance of Jane’s intentions behind (well, they had no choice) and embarked on a plot more in Georgette Heyer’s style, with a nod to Austen here and there. Don’t get me wrong. I love Heyer’s novels and have read them all. She is historically accurate and, unlike Jane, detailed in her descriptions of countenances and expressions, architecture, fashions, carriages, and landscapes. Heyer’s heroes, heroines, villains, and villaineses are a delight to visit for a few hours of entertainment, but I don’t reread her novels over and over. (As a friend once remarked, her books are great to read when on vacation or in need of some light entertainment.) Most of Heyer’s characters follow stereotypes and one can almost tell from the start how their trajectories will lead to their logical end.

Jane Austen, on the other hand, has given me something new and fresh to ponder throughout the stages of my life. These days I reread her novels with a renewed understanding, and former cherished passages and novels have made a place for new favorites.

This season, a few cast members — Sydney Parker, Lord Babington, and Young Stringer — have left Sanditon for other favorable acting shores. New characters, notably Alison Heywood as Charlotte’s younger sister; a group of 100 red-coated militia led by Colonel Francis Lennox; and a reclusive widower, Mr Alexander Colbourne, who is distant from his young daughter, Leonora (Leo), and orphaned niece, Augusta Markham, spiff up the plot.

It’s been some years since Sanditon graced our screens. Season 1 left loyal viewers robbed of a happily-ever-after ending for Charlotte. When that season’s last episode ended, I yelled, ‘What the Fudge!’ and threw popcorn at my screen. Unhappy viewers, in a tizzy of persuasive letter writing, aided Davies in his campaign to extend Sanditon’s seasons from 1 to 3. (Britbox and PBS are paying the moolah up front.)

This season, Tom Parker’s vision of a successful seaside resort has come to life. Ugly scaffolds, unsightly structures, and the sound of incessant hammering have given way to pastel colored houses and a variety of shops that line a wide seaside promenade, whose center boasts a picturesque pavilion or band stand. Below are two images I took of my TV screen. Please hover your cursor over them for a description.

Sanditon’s journey from a working fisherman’s village has been transformed into a respectable Georgian seaside resort. (Such improvements in cities, towns, and villages all over England were common between the 1790s and 1830s. Roads were widened and straightened to accommodate carriages; and in many cases markets were moved from urban centers to outlying areas, so that new citizens living in the “smart” part of town were not subjected to the incessant sound of clopping hooves and bellowing animals, or the smell of their droppings as drovers marched them to their final destination.)

The camera lovingly pans to visitors parading past buildings and chatting in groups… but, I ask myself, why is no one entering those seaside shops or emerging from them? Are they mere facades to make us think such a town exists? The answer, had I known it existed before wasting my time speculating, lies in the video at the bottom of this review.

Episode One:

The first scene opens with a coffin lowered into the ground in a tropical location; the camera then pans to Charlotte having the time of her life dancing in a barn. She’s wearing a white muslin gown and laughs gaily. Her hair remains wild and unbound as a handsome young man looks on. ‘Oooooh’, I think, now there’s a feast for a maid’s eye and perhaps a new suitor. Drat. That was his first and last appearance. He’s mentioned briefly later by Charlotte’s sister, but not in a way that would get our hopes up, for he is a mere yeoman farmer admired by Char’s parents.

Mary Parker, dressed in black, appears suddenly to talk to Charlotte. Drums roll ominously in my mind as our poor Char learns that Sydney is dead and buried in Antigua.

We next observe an excited Alison Heywood, Charlotte’s younger sister, sitting beside her in a carriage. Both wear their hair loose and wild under their bonnets. Tsk. Tsk. Even Mills and Boon authors know better than to make such a fashion faux pas. As was stated in Season 1, Sanditon screen writers merely wanted to show the Heywood girls as natural, unaffected beauties. But, hey, why not try for some historical accuracy?

Sanditon S2

MASTERPIECE “Sanditon” Season 2 – Premieres Sunday, March 20, 2022 at 9/8c on MASTERPIECE on PBS – promo Shown: Charlotte Heywood (ROSE WILLIAMS) For editorial use only. Photographer: James Pardon (C) Red Planet (Sanditon 2) Ltd

The contrast between the sisters is obvious in their personalities, as well as their hair color. At the prospect of visiting Sanditon, Alison’s eyes sparkle as eager as a puppy’s and she practically twitches with excitement. Charlotte’s demeanor is world-weary. The oldest child in the family, she’s had to grow up fast and, while she’s still a practical woman, her optimism has been severely tried. The sisters are visiting Tom and Mary Parker for the summer. Trafalgar House, the Parker’s abode, now stands amidst spruced up buildings sporting facades of soft white stone a la Bath and Brighton.

This visit is meant to lift Charlotte’s spirits, but, let’s face it, the reminders of falling in love with Sydney and then enduring the humiliation of his leaving will haunt her while she lives in that resort town. (I find Sidney’s voice overs a bit creepy when Charlotte recalls him. This is the actor’s only appearance and explains his inclusion in this episode’s credits.)

Meanwhile, Georgiana Lambe has turned into a feisty young thing. Her internal radar can spot a fortune hunter from 100 paces away, and her treatment of hopeful swains is uncommonly rude. Mary Parker, who escorts her (whenever Miss Beatrice Hankins, the rector’s sister, cannot), is worried that unless Georgiana tones down her rebuffs, she will burn too many manly bridges behind her. Miss Lambe feels that she has the upper hand, for she has a massive fortune and her swains do not. They’re the beggars; she’s the chooser. Besides, she’s aware that the power she now holds over them will disappear once she marries. My alarm antenna begins to buzz slightly. What do the writers have in store for her? But I’m distracted by the thought that her hair is covered by a bonnet. That’s at least one young lady who still follows proper sartorial conventions.

Georgiana’s story line includes Charles Lockhart, an artist who pursues her to paint her authentic portrait. He demonstrates his bohemian side early, strutting from the beach to the promenade with an open robe that leaves his puny chest bare in the presence of ladies. Not a good look or introduction, but a typical Davies hallmark.

The scene switches to a forest where a company of 100 men in red and white uniforms arrive on horseback or in wagons carting equipment. Colonel Lennox, a manly man with a stern visage, heads the unit astride his beautiful steed. Alongside the colonel we glimpse Edward Denham, the slime ball cast out by Lady Denham and disinherited from her fortune. Drums beat an ominous rhythm in my brain, and I wonder, “What the Dr Fuchs is he doing there!?”

The Parker brothers (not of the Monopoly game) are once again in the center of town at the center of the plot. Mary, Tom’s wife, plays a more prominent role this season as a chaperone and sounding board. Arthur is featured more positively – not so much as a bumbler, but as a supporter of Tom and Georgiana. His presence adds sweet comedic touches and always brightens a scene, but his optimism is both a curse and a blessing, as we shall see in future episodes. In one important discussion with his bro, Arthur promotes a Theatre Royal as the next major building to develop, but Tom, worried about finances, cannot afford to gamble (hah!) and hopes to convince the militia to build a permanent barracks near town. (Colonel Lennox fought at Waterloo in 1815. Austen wrote her novel fragment in 1817, when the militia still defended British shores, but in considerably diminished numbers.)

We soon see Lady Denham again and she has not changed a smidgen. She’s still a Lady-Catherine-de-Bourgh-lite character, looking down at one and all, and knowing more than anyone about everything. Her clothes are so similar to those she’s worn before that I wonder if the wardrobe department is ‘gasp’ recycling costumes. She’s Tom Parker’s primary investor in Sanditon, or so she believes. One can imagine her delight over the town’s booming business, but for how long?

A short scene shows her heaping 5-6-7, well, 3 teaspoons of sugar into a tiny cup of tea. Sugar addict, anyone? Why show this scene? Curious minds want to know.

Lady Esther Babington, who I shall henceforth name Lady Bab, seems as strangely sad as Charlotte. Why? She’s rich, she’s a bonafide lady (uhm…let’s just say that her way to that exalted position was a bit circuitous), but she lives in fine houses and wants for nothing. Plus she’s Lady D’s heiress. What worries could beset her to put her in such doldrums, other than that Lord Bab is nowhere to be found?

We find her sitting in church, as sad-faced as a hound dog, when Miss Hankins and her brother, the ever forgettable Reverend Hankins, encounter her. After a cryptic conversation, Lady Bab leaves. Miss Beatrice follows her and tells her she “recognizes her need,” and suggests that she visit Mrs Potter, a midwife who helps women who have ‘struggled.’ Uh, oh, methinks, here’s another plot development.

We discover Lady Bab’s problem soon enough when Dr Fuchs attends to her, after huffing and puffing up three sets of stairs. Lady Bab, had followed Beatrice’s advice and is wan from swallowing the midwife’s crazy concoctions. She can barely lift her head from her pillow and has summoned Dr Fuchs, despite Lady D’s protestations that the man is USELESS!

We learn that Lady Bab’s first pregnancy ended badly 5 1/2 months into gestation, and that her baby girl did not survive. She was also warned that a second pregnancy could possibly be fatal. Dr Fuchs (rhymes with nooks, not mucks) promises to do his best. Lady Bab, grasping at anything that might help her produce a child, begs Dr F to prepare a tincture for her condition. Uh oh. Does she really mean for Dr Fuchs to work as a chemist? My plot development antennas are on full alert.

Next, a cocky disinherited Edward saunters into Lady D’s mansion to apologize for past misbehaviors and to avow he’s seen the error of his ways. Lady D, no fool she, tells him to keep his mitts off Lady Bab and to leave them alone. As he withdraws from the house, he sees Lady Bab on the stairway and with his usual unctuous B.S. tries to sweet talk her. She doesn’t believe a lying word he says and orders him to leave her the H alone.

Meanwhile, a grieving Charlotte decides that the only recourse open to her after Sidney’s death – for with him went all her hopes, dreams, and aspirations – is to become a governess. Now, those of us who have read Austen and Heyer novels, and Mills & Boon pulp romances, know that this is one of the worst situations for a lady. A governess is neither here nor there – not a servant nor part of the family – she’s simply a nebbish, a nobody, a “baby in the corner” (Reference to Dirty Dancing) as Augusta Markham reminds her in Episode 2, but I get ahead of myself.

Char’s decision upsets her sister Alison, who looks forward to parties, balls, and long promenades with handsome young men, and introductions to a potential husband, (for what is a woman without a man beside becoming a useless spinster, especially if that woman is poor with few prospects)? Alison wants her pretty sister as a companion, not some wannabe governess, which would be a “bad” look, but Charlotte remains firm in her conviction to earn her own way as an independent woman.

For show, the Colonel’s company arranges a dramatic military parade through town to announce their stay for the summer. Loving a spectacle, citizens and visitors line the promenade. The colonel and his men look suitably splendid. Lady D and Lady Bab pay court to friends and acquaintances in the pavilion/band stand. Georgiana and supporters hand out anti-sugar leaflets to the crowd, for our young heiress resents that her fortune was made on the backs of hard-working slaves.

(Please hover your cursor over the images for a description.)

A child dressed in uniform shadows the company; a teenage girl follows her unobserved. It turns out the child is a tomboy named Leonora and the girl is her cousin, Augusta. In her excitement, Leonora steps in front of the horses and Char jumps in to save her. This heroic action attracts the eye of Colonel Lennox, who admires her bravery. Char, no wuss, avows that anyone with some gumption would have done the same thing, which intrigues him.

And so we see Char in the Parker’s carriage taking two surly children home. Neither is particularly grateful, but Charlotte knows a thing or two about unruly young-uns. She knocks on the door and is greeted by the housekeeper, Mrs Wheatley, a dignified woman from the West Indies. After a short conversation, the housekeeper mentions that the master is looking for yet another governess. “They seem to drop like flies. Go figure.” A sudden idea strikes Charlotte – “Mon dieu! I could apply for this position and teach these ungovernable children as badly as any governess!” She returns to Sanditon excited.

Before you can say “hire”, Char, carrying her portfolio, returns to Mr Colbourne’s mansion on foot for an interview. The gardens and path towards the house are beautiful and suitably grand. Mrs Wheatley ushers Charlotte to her master’s study. Mr Colbourne, a handsome enough man, but not off-puttingly so, seldom looks up from his desk as he tests Charlotte in her knowledge of maths, geography, French, ladies deportments, and the like. (I would have been turned away after maths.)

He questions her background and abilities, thereby raising her hackles. AS IF he’s had any success keeping a governess for a mere fortnight! While Char might not have the boarding school qualifications for this position, she oversaw the studies of 11 younger siblings, thank you very much. When Colbourne sniffs at that bit of news and questions her further, Miss Char, who’s arrived with no references, decides she’s had enough of this obnoxious interview and of his opinions, especially when he demands that his girls receive a tepid education in embroidery, dance, and deportment, for those are the only qualities a wife needs. Char tells him what for and that every young lady deserves a REAL education. She grabs her portfolio and walks off in a huff.

We next see her walking along a beautiful shoreline when, in a minute, 5 minutes or 15 minutes or so, Mr Colbourne catches up with her on horseback and asks, “You left too early. When can you start?”

“Uh, like when do you want me?”

“ASAP.”

When he turns to leave, Charlotte slaps a high five in the air and imagines her parents shouting, “You go girl!”

Meanwhile, another rebellious young woman, Miss Lambe “borrows” a carriage from a wanna be suitor she’s already rejected and enlists young Alison Heywood to join her in watching the soldiers on the beach. The girl, delighted with the invitation, hops on board.

As they approach the soldiers at breakneck speed, Georgiana loses control of the horse. An axle gives way, tossing poor young Alison on her keister. Q’uelle horreure! A buff soldier approaches. Young. Blonde. Handsome. He proffers his hand and raises her up with such tenderness and manners, that cupid’s arrow instantly strikes Alison’s heart.

My JA copycat sensor is on alert, for this scene is remarkably similar to Willoughby’s manly rescue of Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility. That young girl, too, was instantly smitten with her hero. To be honest, Willoughby’s carrying a well-fed Marianne over a great stretch of land required more muscular effort than Captain Carter’s gallantry of proffering his hand and pulling Ms Alison up from her keister, but who am I to judge? How can one pit a robust JA Willoughby against a Davies Willoughby-light and come up with a just verdict?

Then I asked myself: Did Georgiana also fall on her bum? And who rescued HER? And who tended to that poor dear horse? Informed minds were left wondering, for the camera panned to a new scene.

At the last, we learn from Tom that, after reading a letter he recently received from Antigua, Sidney’s interests were on Georgiana’s behalf. As Episode One ends, we are left in anticipation and on the edge of our chairs, seats, or sofas for the next installment. I drain a last glass of wine. Drat! As I look over my schedule, my reviews shall have to continue in early June.

More on Episode One

On set with Arthur Parker:

Had I known of this video, I would not have spent so much time figuring out when I was viewing CGI enhanced sets or real locations, or a combination of both. I had figured out that the shops lining the High Street along the promenade were fronts. I could see no one entering or leaving through the door. Actors walked along the promenade, lounged against walls, or chatted in groups. Some even stood outside on balconies. Not a one walked in or out, except for the Parker family, who entered Trafalgar House and exited from it. This video will show you what’s inside that hallway! And how the beach and ocean are CGI’d in.

Another review

Funny review from GBH Boston PBS – Worth the read!

Regarding Comments

Gentle readers, feel free to agree or disagree with me or others in your comments, but please remain respectful of each others’ opinions. Thank you for your support and thoughtfulness. This blog has provided a safe haven for comments by Janeites across the world. Respectfully yours, Vic

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