Anne-Sophie at UEA

Three years of my life as an EU student of English Literature at the University of East Anglia,England.

Fashion and imaginary diseases in Austen’s Sanditon


Phew! Igot my Nervous Narratives essay back, the first of this year, and got 66%! It was worth spending three days at my desk, far from fresh air and occasional rays of sunshine. I am quite happy about this and feel relieved and more confident for the second essay due at the beginning of the Christmas break.

Like all the essays, this one was so stressful and I wasn’t sure I’d manage to finish this on time. Having an essay in the middle of the semester is a pain… Nothing went as planned and I kept having to re-plan and re-think everything. At the beginning, I struggled to find ideas and then I had way too many things for a 2000 word essay. I wasn’t sure about the final thing but after a good night’s sleep, I read it again the morning before submission and felt quite pleased with it. I got good constructive feedback on it which will hopefully help me write even better essays next time but honestly, as long as I get above 60% I’m happy. Oh and my seminar leader (also my academic adviser) said my writing was good!! I can’t say how much that made me smile. 

As the title of this post indicates, I focused on the idea of fashion and the representation of ‘nervous disorders’ (hypochondria) in Sanditon, Austen’s last and unfinished novel. I cannot share my work with you for obvious reasons (and also because I doubt many people would read pages of me talking about a novel that’s not so famous). However, I have decided to share my introduction and conclusion with you to give you an idea of the questions that can be raised in this work and an idea of what is expected from an English Literature essay at university. 

PS: Plagiarism is strongly condemned by universities! Just a reminder… 



Jane Austen’s last and unfinished novel Sanditon distinguishes itself from the rest of her oeuvre through its lighter satirical tone. The novel focuses on Parker, his family of imaginary invalids, and his attempts to promote the new of Sanditon as a fashionable seaside resort. The novel starts with an accident: the Parkers’ carriage overturns itself in Willingden, where they meet Heywood. This physical crash mirrors the collision of the different worlds each man embodies, a modern and a traditional one. Their divergence is best represented in their first conversation. While Parker preaches the benefits of Sanditon, Heywood criticises these resorts: ‘Yes – I have heard of Sanditon […] Every five years, one hears of some new place or other starting up by the sea, and growing the fashion.’ Despite her concern for change and the issues raised by a culture of fashions, Austen draws a comical portrait of hypochondria. This essay will therefore discuss fashion and its relation to nervous disorders in Sanditon. I will argue that Austen’s representation of hypochondria and of the fashionable cultural phenomenon of seaside resorts reflects and reacts to the changing socio-economic landscape of Austen’s time. The first part of this essay will study Sanditon, as a seaside resort, and the cultural moment in which it ascribes itself, before examining the novel’s representation of nervous disorders. Finally, I will investigate the social and economic implications of Sanditon and their relation to the theme of artificiality.



To conclude, Sanditon reflects the tensions caused by the collision of a fashion-crazy world and of a traditional one and allows its readers to decide which side to be on. However, it is impossible to know how Austen would have finished her novel and whether Sanditon would have been a success or not. Seaside resorts like Sanditon were extremely popular during Austen’s life, growing in response to the medical advances of the century and the new vision of the sea as therapeutic. Parker built his project on the promise that bathing places were fashionable places of leisure that could cure any disorder. The novel raises the question of nervous disorders and the issues caused by the lack of definition and understanding of ‘nervousness’. Austen uses the Parkers, a family of hypochondriacs, as a medium to represent and challenge the medical and commercial professions which often exploited the nervous body. Indeed, she demonstrates that imaginary illnesses demand imaginary cures and vice versa. One might therefore wonder whether doctors and places like Sanditon were responding to the fashion, or creating it. Sanditon does not help research by portraying mental illnesses as imaginary and one may wonder whether it is due to conservatism or satire. Parker’s project thus reflects the fact that health and nature can be turned into commodities. This problem is best exemplified in the novel through the themes of lexical and semantic emptiness or artificiality. The shaky foundations Sanditon is built upon reveals an unstable society that could soon overturn itself, like Parker’s carriage at the beginning of Sanditon.


How I felt at the end


2 comments on “Fashion and imaginary diseases in Austen’s Sanditon

  1. Pingback: Travel Literature Project | Anne-Sophie at UEA

  2. Pingback: Semester Over | Anne-Sophie at UEA

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