It was winter when Jane Austen realized she was dying. In January 1817, she started her final novel, a comedic tale set in a fledgling seaside resort whose owners have ambitions to attract moneyed clientele from London and beyond. In March, she stopped writing, carefully noting the date: March 18, 1817.
In July — four months to the day after she wrote those last words — she died. Scholars still don’t know the cause, with speculation ranging from Addison’s disease to Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Austen was 41.
It’s easy to psychoanalyze that unfinished novel, “Sanditon.” Austen was ill, she wanted to escape to the shore — so she did in her writing. Her heroine, Charlotte Heywood, dreams of a more cosmopolitan place than her genteel-but-shabby country home packed with siblings, and an act of quick-thinking bravery earns her an invite to the seaside Sanditon to stay with the Parker family.