12 chapters of Sanditon (know by Cassandra as The Brothers and the rest of the family as The Last Work) were written from January to March 1817 (Austen died 18th July 1817).
It was published by Chapman in 1925 – titled Fragment of a Novel. At this time the family titled it Sanditon.
James-Edward Austen-Leigh referred to it as ‘The Last Work’ in the second edition of his 1871 memoir. He described the plot and characters and had some excerpts.
This is what he had to say about it
Such were some of the dramatis personæ, ready dressed and prepared for their parts. They are at least original and unlike any that the author had produced before. The success of the piece must have depended on the skill with which these parts might be played; but few will be inclined to distrust the skill of one who had so often succeeded. If the author had lived to complete her work, it is probable that these personages might have grown into as mature an individuality of character, and have taken as permanent a place amongst our familiar acquaintance, as Mr. Bennet, or John Thorp, Mary Musgrove, or Aunt Norris herself.
Jane Austen House Museum has the manuscript; it consists of around 24 000 words and is in three small handmade booklets. Notes on the manuscript record that Austen started writing on the 27th of January 1817 and stopped on the 18th of March. The manuscript passed to her niece Anna Lefroy and on through her family line to Mary Isabella Lefroy (Austen’s great-great niece) who presented it to King’s College Cambridge in 1930.
In her biography, Claire Tomalin (page 262) writes
What other fatally ill writer has embarked on savage attack on hypochondria? There is no sign of failing energy; on the contrary, it sets off in an entirely new direction. The theme is unlike anything she has ever tackled before: a place, the seaside village that is being transformed into a resort, where the newly built Trafalgar House will be followed by the still new Waterloo Crescent, because ‘Waterloo is more the thing now’; and where a young man on the make is speculatively ‘running up a little cottage Ornèe, on a strip of waste ground.
It is acerbic and witty. As Charlotte Palmer is a mature and sensible heroine, I wonder what adventure Austen was planning for her. What would be her “Until this moment, I never knew myself” moment?
The following are quotes I found interesting:
[…] as there was not more good will on one side than gratitude on the other, nor any deficiency of generally pleasant manners in either, they grew to like each other in the course of that fortnight exceedingly well.
Upon the whole, Mr Parker was evidently an amiable family man, […] liberal, gentleman like, easy to please; of a sanguine turn of mind, with more imagination than judgement. And Mrs Parker was as evidently a gentle, amiable, sweet-tempered woman […] and so entirely waiting to be guided on every occasion that whether he was risking his fortune or spraining his ankle, she remained equally useless.
Every neighbourhood should have a grand lady.
Those who tell their own story, you know, must be listened to with caution.
Susan’s nerves would be equal to the effort. She had been suffering much from the headache, and six leeches a day for ten days together relieved her so little we thought it right to change our measures, and being convinced on examination that much of the evil lay in her gum, I persuaded her to attack the disorder there. She has accordingly had three teeth drawn, and is decidedly better, but her nerves are a good deal deranged.
The library, of course, afforded everything: all the useless things in the world that could not be done without; and among so many pretty temptations, and with so much good will for Mr Parker to encourage expenditure, Charlotte began to feel that she must check herself – or rather she reflected that at two and twenty there could be no excuse for her doing otherwise – and it would not do for her to be spending all her money the very first evening
And I do believe those are best off that have fewest servants.
[Lady Denham] – shades of Fanny Dashwood?
Perhaps there was a good deal in his air and address; and his title did him no harm.
It was impossible for Charlotte not to suspect a good deal of fancy in such an extraordinary state of health.
[..] but the spirit of restless activity and the glory of doing more than anybody else had their share in every exertion of benevolence; and there was vanity in all the did, as well as in all they endured.
[…] they were very accomplished and very ignorant.
Miss Lambe was “under the constant care of an experienced physician,” and his prescriptions must be their rule. And except in favour of some tonic pills, which a cousin of her own had property in, Mrs Griffiths never deviated from the strict medicinal page.
I must hurry home, for Susan is to have leeches at one o’clock – which will be a three hours’ business.
Sidney Parker was about seven or eight and twenty, very good-looking, with a decided air of ease and fashion and a lively countenance.