Gird your loins: New Austen adaptation a lot more moist than Mr Darcy
Wet shirts will be surplus to requirements as Andrew Davies adapts and completes Jane Austen's 'Sanditon'
A spirited heroine and a dashing suitor are standard Jane Austen fare. But nude bathing? That will be a first.
Andrew Davies, the screenwriter responsible for Colin Darcy’s memorable lake scene in Pride and Prejudice, is tackling Austen once more and this time wet shirts will be surplus to requirements.He is adapting and completing Sanditon, the novel that Austen left unfinished on her death in 1817. “Jane Austen managed to write only a fragment of her last novel before she died – but what a fragment!” Davies said.
“Sanditon tells the story of the transformation of a sleepy fishing village into a fashionable seaside resort, with a spirited young heroine, a couple of entrepreneurial brothers, some dodgy financial dealings, a West Indian heiress, and quite a bit of nude bathing.”Davies has previously revealed that he wanted Firth’s Mr Darcy to emerge naked from the lake in the 1995 Pride and Prejudice adaptation. “The wet shirt scene was supposed to be a total male frontal nudity scene, because that’s how men went bathing in those days,” he has said.That is historically accurate, according to Dr Chloe Wigston Smith, of the University of York’s Department of English and Related Literature. She said: “Research has suggested that fashionable bathers were drawn to the sea in ‘bathing machines’ – a small hut on wheels – where they would change out of their clothes.
“Men at the time had the privilege of bathing naked in seas, rivers and ponds, but nearly all women would have worn some form of bathing outfit.”
The UK’s ITV will broadcast Sanditon as an eight-part series next year. Austen produced only 12 chapters before succumbing to illness at the age of 41.The heroine, Charlotte Heywood, befriends a couple, the Parkers, who have a carriage accident near her home. Mr Parker is a developer intent on turning Sanditon into a chic destination, and Charlotte goes to stay with the family on the Sussex coast.
Characters include Miss Lambe, described as “a young West Indian of large fortune, in delicate health”, who is discussed but not glimpsed in the existing chapters.Austen introduces Mr Parker’s brother, Sidney, late in the novel – he is “very good-looking, with a decided air of ease and fashion, and a lively countenance” – and no romance has developed by the time she put down her pen, but Davies has created one in order to give the story a middle and an end.Critics are divided on whether the chapters were an early or final draft. Professor John Mullan, head of English Literature at University College London and author of What Matters in Jane Austen?, said: “Sanditon as a story is promising, but it does not have the dazzling, mischievous prose of her completed novels, in which there is hardly a dud sentence.“Some people think that is because she was ill and her powers were ebbing.
“But to me it seems to be absolutely not finished. Maybe this is what a Jane Austen novel looks like when she starts it. It seems impossible that she wasn’t going to put it through the mill of her genius.”
– © The Daily Telegraph