Let’s start with the obvious. “She is an appalling old woman. But she holds the fate of Sanditon in her hands.” Tom Parker’s statement pretty much sums it up. The question remains, how did she end up this way?
Jane Austen’s version of Lady Denham in the original Sanditon is a bit different. Austen says, “Every neighborhood should have a great lady. The great lady of Sanditon was Lady Denham.” Below are further snippets from the original Sanditon.
Lady Denham was of middle height, stout, upright and alert in her motions, with a shrewd eye and self-satisfied air but not an unagreeable countenance; and though her manner was rather downright and abrupt, as of a person who valued herself on being free-spoken, there was a good humour and cordiality about her—a civility and readiness to be acquainted with Charlotte herself, and a heartiness of welcome towards her old friends, which was inspiring the good will, she seemed to feel.
That she was a very rich old lady, who had buried two husbands, who knew the value of money, and was very much looked up to and had a poor cousin living with her.
Lady Denham had been a rich Miss Brereton, born to wealth but not to education. Her first husband had been a Mr. Hollis, a man of considerable property in the country, of which a large share of the parish of Sanditon, with manor and mansion house, made a part. He had been an elderly man when she married him, her own age about thirty. Her motives for such a match could be little understood at the distance of forty years, but she had so well nursed and pleased Mr. Hollis that at his death he left her everything—all his estates, and all at her disposal. After a widowhood of some years, she had been induced to marry again. The late Sir Harry Denham, of Denham Park in the neighbourhood of Sanditon, had succeeded in removing her and her large income to his own domains, but he could not succeed in the views of permanently enriching his family which were attributed to him.
“There is at times,” said he (Tom Parker), “a little self-importance but it is not offensive and there are moments, there are points, when her love of money is carried greatly too far. But she is a good-natured woman, a very good-natured woman—a very obliging, friendly neighbour; a cheerful, independent, valuable character and her faults may be entirely imputed to her want of education. She has good natural sense, but quite uncultivated. She has a fine active mind as well as a fine healthy frame for a woman of seventy, and enters into the improvement of Sanditon with a spirit truly admirable.– All quotes from A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook
It’s suggested in Jane’s text, too, that she married her second husband for the title. There are more relations in Jane Austen’s version than Edward, Esther, and Clara vying for her money, such as the legal heirs of her first husband, Mr. Hollis.
There is no mention of Sir Rowleigh Pryce in Austen’s novel, who married a girl from Gloucestershire with 50,000 pounds. Apparently, this is a character created by the writers, soon to make an appearance in Season 2. Lady Denham’s rejection in her youth no doubt hardened her romantic notions about marrying for love. I hope that Rowleigh has the power to chip away at her hardened facade and bring out a more agreeable woman who experiences love after all.
The description by Austen of Lady D carries over into Sanditon Season 1, “Her manner was rather downright and abrupt, as of a person who valued herself on being free-spoken.” She also said, “there was a good humour and cordiality about her.” I suppose we can attribute some of her zinger comments to that personality trait.
Lady D of Sanditon on screen is quite the character. She is abrupt and rude, and admits that she enjoys teasing and provoking others. She holds her power over Tom Parker at every turn, threatening to withdraw her funding. The poor man trembles at the thought she has the ability to ruin him at the drop of a hat, and she uses that fact to her advantage.
As we delve into her character on screen, it’s obvious that her views of matrimony are consistent with her personal experience. Marriage is a business proposition. Love has nothing to do with it. It’s better to be loved than to love. The aristocracy put great importance on the antiquity and nobility of families. Not only was the future bride or groom’s bloodline of importance but also their wealth. Though love in marriage might be ideal, it was not a practical reality, and people were told not to expect too much from marriage. Lady Denham only knows one thing from her generation – a woman or man must marry well.
I think it’s fair to say that Lady Denham hadn’t experienced love, except for her interest in Rowleigh as a young woman. She views the marriage mart for Esther and Edward as one of position. She pushes Edward to gain the affections of Miss Lambe, and encourages Esther to accept the affections of Lord Babington. She accuses Charlotte of coming to Sanditon for the only reason she can think of: finding herself a husband and marrying well.
Lady Denham has proven she’s too stubborn to die. I love that she deals harshly with Edward and Clara. She is no fool and shrewd enough to know they just want her money.
“I, Lady Denham, being of full age and sound mind, shall impart and bequeath the entirety of my fortune to be left for the development of Sanditon town. And the foundation of a donkey stud in my name.”
This show has taken me to Google, searching about donkey studs and the benefits of drinking donkey milk. Apparently, it is good for you. I question drinking a tumbler of seawater every morning would be physician-approved.
Regardless, Lady Denham is an interesting character for sure. I wonder what is in store as the dysfunctional Denham bunch reappears for Season 2. Will she forgive Clara and Edward or send them packing again? In any case, I’m sure she’s written a new will and hid it much better this time.