Austen, Andrew Davies, and Happy Endings

Austen, Andrew Davies, and Happy Endings

SPOILER ALERT: Andrew Davies’ adaptation of Jane Austen’s unfinished novel “Sandition” has aired in the United Kingdom, but will not air in the United States until January.  In this article, I will be discussing details of that production.  


We know Jane Austen is famous for her happy endings.   It’s one of the things we love most about her. 

Why do we love happy endings so much? To me, that’s a no-brainer.  Life rarely gives us those happy endings.  At the risk of soundings like a Debby Downer, we rarely get everything so perfectly sewn up.  Hence why we love them so much. We can be having a bad day, or experience a disappointment, and then pick up Austen, and everything wraps up perfectly in the end.  It satisfies our need for things to be perfect in an imperfect world. 

But can we apply the happy ending rule to Austen adaptations in the medium of film and television? There has been much discussion online lately about Andrew Davies’ new TV production of “Sandition,” Jane Austen’s final work which she left unfinished at her death.  Davies’ interpretation was not well received by viewers in the UK, mostly because the ending did not fall under the happy ending index.  To paraphrase the words of Charlotte Bronte, Reader: he didn’t marry her, and lots of people were not happy.  

According to some views, the lack of happily ever after did not follow the Austen tradition, and this was not acceptable.  What of Colonel Brandon and Marianne? Fanny and Edmund?  And of course, Darcy and Elizabeth.  They all had rocky roads to the altar.  And if Austen had finished “Sandition,” wouldn’t she had given Sidney and Charlotte the same gift of the happily ever after?” 

What made Davies think he could deprive the world of another Jane Austen ending in a Jane Austen story? Oxford academic and Austen expert Kathryn Sutherland, who edited an edition of “Sandition,” surmises that Davies’ possible motive was that he was trying to emulate the fragmented style of Austen’s unfinished novel.   I find this explanation weak, because according to Davies, it was his goal to complete Austen’s incomplete story.  He has been quoted as saying he wished to finish the unfinished, which he did, just not to the satisfaction of many UK viewers. 

Davie also said that he would love to write a second series. “I hope we’ve ended at a point where the audience is going to say “Well, you can’t end with that.”  So, could it be Sidney and Charlotte eventually get their happy ending? It certainly seems possible.  According to Alison Flood of The Guardian, the program makers were tweeting with an eye on possible future episodes of “Sanditon:” “Sidney had to sacrifice his happiness with Charlotte,” Flood writes.  “Divided for now, whatever the future holds for them, their love will endure.” 

So, it appears viewers might get their happy ending sometime in the future after all.  This should please everyone’s sense of Austen protocol.  Those of us in America have a few months to wait and see if we concur with our friends across the pond.  We will see whether the lack of a happy ending spoils the story or not.   

Which leads us to the question: What would Austen think of Davies’ production? “I imagine she would have switched the channel after episode one,” said Sutherland. 

I’m not so sure.  Stay tuned.  January will be here soon!!

8 Responses to Austen, Andrew Davies, and Happy Endings

  1. I was definitely disillusioned! I couldn’t decide whether I was enjoying it or not but thought I would keep watching to see the happy ending????? Talk about disappointed and angry!
    If there is a second series it had better be clear if that’s it and he isn’t going to drag it on and on then I MIGHT watch it! I also hope we don’t have to wait 12 months or more to see.
    Otherwise I’m going to help Jeanne with the tar and feathers!

    • Wow!! People do have a lot of strong feelings about this! I think of all the JA productions, this one has gotten the most negative reviews. Since I live in the US, I haven’t seen it yet. Very curious to see it!

  2. What would Austen think… how about tar and feathers? No? Well… he has one more chance to find a HEA in a sequel or else we do it the southern way and it’s tar, feathers and we ride him out on a rail. We don’t mess around here and that will not fly. Goodness, I think I need some soothing tea. I launched into a bit of violence there. I’ll not watch this until he makes it right. What is the point? It will just make me mad. Thanks for sharing.

    • I think Austen would be very impressed that her fans feel so strongly about her characters 200 years later. What an amazing legacy!!

  3. I look forward to watching this. I’ve been watching fanvideos of it so I already have some idea of the story and knew about the ending as many of the posters were upset about it and many were saying that they were hoping for a second season. It seems like Davies purposely ended it the way he did believing that a second season was coming; otherwise, I don’t think he would have ended it with them separated.

    • It’s strange; You would think if Davies was going to do a second season, they would have told people as much. It would have prevented a lot of angst!!

  4. Great post! Can’t wait to watch it! I’ll have to re-read my copy I forgot they didn’t get their happily ever after!

Comments are precious!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.