Sidney Parker is a creation of Jane Austen. The quotes below this post are what she wrote about him in her unfinished manuscript.1 In short, Jane describes him as a man who speaks his mind, appears to joke a lot and make people laugh, is accused by Tom of being idle, laughs at Arthur, and finds entertainment in most anything. Not quite the man that Andrew Davies created, except he does speak his mind.
Let’s take a look at Sidney, who some fans are calling, “The Last Austen Hero.” There are many aspects that make up his character. The most obvious to me is that he is a man of the world. We see him in Sanditon drinking, smoking, gambling, bare fist fighting, and we discover he’s frequented those so-called “boarding houses,” which as we all know are brothels. He has a short fuse and yells at women in public. In addition, he certainly didn’t attempt to hide anything when he realized Charlotte saw him naked. He stood there in all of his glory with a slight smirk on his face. Yes, Sidney Parker as written by Andrew Davies is not your typical Jane Austen hero – he’s a bit rough around the edges. Nevertheless, he’s swoon-worthy in looks and has that “bad boy” aura about him that some women love and want to redeem.
As Tom told Charlotte, “In his younger days, he was a very different man,” until Eliza broke his heart. “He set out on a rather self-destructive path. We were all greatly concerned. In the end, I paid his debts, and he sailed to Antigua in a bid to forget her.”
If we are to believe this happened ten years earlier, then Sidney would have been in his youth. Perhaps Eliza was his first love, and young love can wreak havoc. If anyone has experienced a broken heart (raises hand here), you know the angst of rejection. It can certainly drive any man or lady a bit crazy, dealing with the emotional pain. (Apparently, he did experience a period of “madness,” rather than putting it from his mind.) The Sidney we meet on screen is the result of his formation from his past experiences, who as Mary said, “He’s inclined not to think very highly of our sex. He’s had some bruising experiences in the past.” He is cynical towards women, and that clearly comes across in his dealing with Charlotte from the beginning. He becomes an outlier in order to protect himself and seems convinced he’s not suited to marriage.
Nevertheless, as any good author knows, and certainly Andrew Davies does, is that characters need the opportunity to grow to make a good story. As a bitter man because of his broken fairytale with Eliza (had to throw that broken fairytale reference in there, ha-ha), Sidney’s behavior is no doubt a result of his unresolved feelings. While he’s been in Antiqua, he’s amassed a great amount of money, has been entrusted the guardianship of Miss Lambe, and returned to support Tom, albeit somewhat reluctantly. He brings with him friends — an aristocratic Lord Babington and a carousing Mr. Crowe – quite the opposites, which makes you wonder about his choices in acquaintances. (Does Sidney secretly aspire to be a Babington but realize he is just a Crowe?) Who knows what goes on in his complicated mind that makes Charlotte declare, he’s a conundrum.
Of course, as Andrew Davies’ version unfolds, we see that Charlotte comes into his life as a positive influence. Their early stormy relationship that ebbs and flows eventually brings Sidney to the realization he’s a better man when around her rather than with Eliza. That realization causes him to fall in love, breaking down his barriers that no other woman would hold such power over him. “If I have changed at all… it is in no small part down to you. I have never wanted to put myself in someone else’s power before. I’ve never wanted to care for anyone but myself.” I’ve asked myself, what does he mean by “power”? Certainly not that a woman would have power over him, but perhaps it is the power that love wields over the heart.
Yes, Charlotte has much improved Sidney. He realizes that Eliza is the past; Charlotte is the future. He’s a better man with her, and the love he pined about for so many years was an illusion. Alas, thanks to Tom Parker ruining the freaking story, Sidney ends up falling on his sword2, so to speak, to save Tom. (Ugh! After Sidney earlier declared he would own his mistakes, but not Tom’s.) He agrees to marry Eliza for her money, and tells Charlotte, “If there was any other way…” Of course, a lot of fans could think of “other ways,” but the story is what it is. It ended cruelly and got canceled.
Sidney Parker is no more. (Inserts wailing and gnashing of teeth.)
Of course, the Sidney Parker we know in Andrew Davies’ version of Sanditon, may not have been the Sidney Parker that Jane Austen had in mind. We have two different paths here – the unknown and the subsequently created. Who is to say that Jane didn’t in her mind decided to throw in some twist and turns in Sanditon had she finished it? Perhaps Sidney would not have been the true last Jane Austen hero. Maybe there was another love interest waiting in the wings to vie for Charlotte’s affections. We can only speculate.
Nevertheless, fans worldwide have fallen for Theo James, playing the part of Sidney Parker. Yes, he is a complicated character that we think we have “solved.” Whenever we hear the term anchovy paste from this day forward, we think of him. We’ve acquired a taste for Sidney, in spite of his rough edges. Let’s face it Jane Austen enthusiasts – he is definitely no Mr. Knightly, Captain Wentworth, or Colonel Brandon. He’s his own complicated wreck of a man who finds redemption in Charlotte.
The question comes to my mind, with Sidney marrying Eliza, will he return to his old ways, or will he heed Charlotte’s admonishment to keep his end of the bargain and make her happy? Of course, we will never know the outcome unless we turn to the multiple fanfiction scenarios on the Internet. Theo James will not reprise his role as Sidney Parker. The sooner we accept that reality, the sooner we can move forward in anticipation with the new love interests for Charlotte.
However, in closing, we must admit, that Sidney is an interesting character. He captured our hearts in spite of his foibles and became an acceptable love interest for Charlotte Heywood. We lost it when he rose naked from the cold waters of the seaside resort and swooned when he kissed Charlotte on the windswept cliffs of England. I ask you, as Miss Lambe asked Charlotte, “You’re not in love with him, are you?” (wink; wink)
So what does Theo James think of Sidney? Here are his thoughts.
“Oh, my dear Mary, merely a joke of his. He pretends to advise me to make a hospital of it. He pretends to laugh at my improvements. Sidney says anything, you know. He has always said what he chose, of and to us all. Most families have such a member among them, I believe, Miss Heywood. There is someone in most families privileged by superior abilities or spirits to say anything. In ours, it is Sidney, who is a very clever young man and with great powers of pleasing. He lives too much in the world to be settled; that is his only fault. He is here and there and everywhere. I wish we may get him to Sanditon. I should like to have you acquainted with him. And it would be a fine thing for the place! Such a young man as Sidney, with his neat equipage and fashionable air. You and I, Mary, know what effect it might have. Many a respectable family, many a careful mother, many a pretty daughter might it secure us to the prejudice of Eastbourne and Hastings.”
“Not a line from Sidney!” said he. “He is an idle fellow. I sent him an account of my accident from Willingden and thought he would have vouchsafed me an answer. But perhaps it implies that he is coming himself.
(Speaking of his younger brother) Sidney laughs at him. But it really is no joke, though Sidney often makes me laugh at them all in spite of myself. Now, if he were here, I know he would be offering odds that either Susan, Diana or Arthur would appear by this letter to have been at the point of death within the last month.
“Though I dare say Sidney might find something extremely entertaining in this letter and make us laugh for half an hour together…”
Mr. Sidney Parker, driving his servant in a very neat carriage, was soon opposite to them, and they all stopped for a few minutes. The manners of the Parkers were always pleasant among themselves; and it was a very friendly meeting between Sidney and his sister-in-law, who was most kindly taking it for granted that he was on his way to Trafalgar House. This he declined, however. He was “just come from Eastbourne proposing to spend two or three days, as it might happen, at Sanditon” but the hotel must be his quarters. He was expecting to be joined there by a friend or two.
The rest was common enquiries and remarks, with kind notice of little Mary, and a very well-bred bow and proper address to Miss Heywood on her being named to him. And they parted to meet again within a few hours. Sidney Parker was about seven or eight and twenty, very good-looking, with a decided air of ease and fashion and a lively countenance. This adventure afforded agreeable discussion for some time. Mrs. Parker entered into all her husband’s joy on the occasion and exulted in the credit which Sidney’s arrival would give to the place.
1Title: Sanditon Author: Jane Austen * A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook * eBook No.: fr008641.html Language: English Date first posted: March 2008 Date most recently July 2013
2To fall on one’s sword means to take responsibility for something that has gone wrong, in particular, to resign from one’s position as a way to acknowledge responsibility for something that has gone wrong. (It should have been Tom falling on the sword – not Sidney.) https://grammarist.com/idiom/fall-on-ones-sword/