Cassandra’s handwritten copy of Sanditon

Here we have Cassandra Austen’s handwritten copy of Sanditon, Jane Austen’s last, unfinished novel, which she began working on in January 1817 here in Chawton. A watermark on the paper suggests that Cassandra wrote it out sometime between 1831 and her own death in 1845. This was over a decade after Jane’s death in 1817 and shows the enduring respect Cassandra had for her sister’s work. It has been written out in three shop-bought booklets with green patterned covers.

This copy provides us with a rare glimpse of an unedited piece of Jane’s writing. Previously she had revisited old drafts and improved them, making numerous edits and changes. With Sanditon, however, she did not have the chance to do so.



A gentleman and a lady travelling from Tunbridge towards that part of the Sussex coast which lies between Hastings and Eastbourne…’

Beginning with a dramatic overturned coach, Jane’s last novel was set to be a departure from the rural village settings of her previous novels, taking place in an up-and-coming seaside resort along the Sussex coast. Sanditon’s proprietor, Tom Parker, had dedicated his life and fortune to developing the town and boasted of its health benefits.

He held it indeed as certain that no person could be really well, no person (…) could be really in a state of secure and permanent health without spending at least six weeks by the sea every year.

Sanditon also features Charlotte Heywood, a young heroine enjoying the delights of the seaside, the scheming Denham siblings, and the mysterious Clara Brereton. There are some familiar hallmarks of Jane Austen’s other novels, including the main investor, Lady Denham, who has echoes of Lady Catherine de Bourgh from Pride and Prejudice and Lady Dalrymple from Persuasion.

Every neighbourhood should have a great lady. The great lady of Sanditon was Lady Denham

Unfortunately, the novel is unfinished. Jane Austen only completed 11 ½ chapters before March 1817, when ill health prevented her from writing any further. There are few hints as to what the plot was going to be, so we can only speculate, like the entrepreneur Tom Parker himself. It is interesting that this novel, which focuses on health and looking for cures, comes at a time when Jane’s own health was in decline.