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REBECCA RICHARDSON “Sent Here For Her Health”: Accounting for Sanditon $ Economies Z ADY DENHAM, ONE OF THE PRINCIPAL INVESTORS IN THE SEASIDE TOWN ./ofJane Austen’s Sanditon, fantasizes about marrying off her nephew, Sir Edward, to an heiress: “Now, if we could get a young heiress to be sent here for her health—(and if she was ordered to drink asses’ milk I could supply her)—and as soon as she got well, have her fall in love with Sir Edward!”1 Lady Denham comically reveals her acquisitiveness, measuring Sanditon’s visitors by their incomes and conflating her desire for a rich niece-in-law with her interest in selling her asses’ milk. But it is also unset­ tling that Lady Denham’s fantasy of a marriage plot requires a young woman that is both rich and sick: while it may seem like good will to wish someone riches or a seaside vacation, wishing illnesses upon her is a differ­ ent matter. Whereas Austen’s marriage plots are always attentive to the socio-economic context of—and its confluence with—romantic desire, Sanditon is newly aggressive in applying the logic ofthe marketplace. In this essay, I argue that Sanditon draws on the rhetoric of political economy to explore how such economic logic breaks down when it is applied to the social interactions ofthe characters—and particularly when these characters are sick or injured. Most critical work on how economic thinking pervades the novel’s so­ cial world has concentrated on the marriage plot and the discourse ofsexu­ ality. As Ruth Perry has argued, “economic and sexual motives” were inti­ mately linked across eighteenth-century discourses, as writers attempted “to grapple with this confusion and to parse the relation between property and sexual exchange, to establish what could and could not be commodi­ fied.”2 In Austen’s work, this concern with the economics of marriage is i. Jane Austen, Lady Susan, The Watsons, and Sanditon (New York: Penguin, 2003), 189. Hereafter cited parenthetically by page number. 2. Perry, Novel Relations: The Transformation of Kinship in English Literature and Culture 1748-1818 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 242. SiR, 56 (Summer 2017) 203 204 REBECCA RICHARDSON dealt with in the plot as well as through the style. Mark Schorer has ob­ served how Austen’s prose is “remarkable in the persistency with which the buried, or dead metaphors . . . imply one consistent set of values,” those “of commerce and property, of the counting house and the inherited es­ tate.” In Schorer’s argument, this style is especially important to the marriage plot, as “the basic situation in all the novels arises from the eco­ nomics of marriage.”3 What is exaggerated in Sanditon is the pervasiveness of economic concerns, which not only inform the plot’s romantic maneuverings—such as Sir Edward’s realization that he can only afford to seduce Clara into “the quietest sort of ruin and disgrace” (192)—but also the most mundane ofconversations—such as where to buy vegetables. As a result, words like “business” and “speculation” recur with a jarring fre­ quency in Sanditon.4 Austen’s use of this discourse taps into the Romantic era’s fascination with political economy in order to satirize it. As much recent criticism elucidates—including Perry’s above-mentioned Novel Relations, Mary Poovey’s Genres of the Credit Economy, Philip Connell’s Romanticism, Eco­ nomics and the Question of “Culture, ” Deidre Lynch’s The Economy of Charac­ ter, and Catherine Gallagher’s The Body Economic—the discourses of politi­ cal economy and literature emerged and developed in tandem across the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As Poovey argues, what “economic writing and Literary writing share, both historically and theoretically, is an engagement with the problematic of representation.”5 Austen’s last work, the uncompleted novel Sanditon, is, by all critical accounts, particularly in­ terested in representation—in the fantastical tales concocted by hypochon­ driacs about their health, the testimonial narration ofadvertising, the stories rented out from the circulating library that seep into daily life, and the gossip that travels within and beyond the small town of Sanditon.6 In this 3. Schorer, “The Humiliation of Emma Woodhouse, an Essay,” The Literary...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2330-118X
Print ISSN
0039-3762
Pages
pp. 203-222
Launched on MUSE
2020-03-06
Open Access
No
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