Esther Denham is a character to pity and love. She shows enormous growth through Season 1, and is part of a HEA scenario with Lord Babington. Without Esther, there wouldn’t be much rejoicing at the end of Sanditon, which provides a bit of balm to our hearts while dealing with the Sidney and Charlotte fiasco.
In Jane Austen’s Sanditon, Esther is the sister of Sir Edward Denham and is portrayed in the series as the poorer relative living in the damp and run-down Denham place. In the original novel, Mr. Parker hopes that Lady Denham will leave her poor relations something in her will so they will stay in Sanditon and become the wealthy half of the population. Here are some snippets from Jane’s novel:
“And Miss Esther must marry somebody of fortune too. She must get a rich husband. Ah, young ladies that have no money are very much to be pitied! But,” after a short pause, “if Miss Esther thinks to talk me into inviting them to come and stay at Sanditon House, she will find herself mistaken. Matters are altered with me since last summer, you know. I have Miss Clara with me now which makes a great difference.”
And so, my dear, the next time Miss Esther begins talking about the dampness of Denham park and the good bathing always does her, I shall advise them to come and take one of these lodgings for a fortnight.– A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook
The relationship of step-brother and step-sister between Edward and Esther isn’t mentioned in Jane’s text that I can find, so I conclude it’s an invention of the writers to make Sanditon a bit more scandalous than originally penned by Austen.
Instantly, you realize that Esther is an unhappy and cynical woman who surprises Charlotte during their walk together. She quickly tells Charlotte exactly how she feels about Lady Denham, the Parkers, while Charlotte looks at her in astonishment. To add to the surprise, she threatens to poison Clara if she inherits Lady Denham’s money. Then stands and looks at the horizon and says, “Look at that view. The sea. The sky. Isn’t it all unutterably dreary?” Poor Esther. At this point she has only one goal in mind – for her and Edward to inherit Lady Denham’s fortune and to live happily ever after. A strange goal for a young woman who is not dealing with reality and willing to live with someone she could never marry.
The effect that Edward Denham has on Esther is enormous. Edward is without conscience and uses Esther to his advantage. He leads her on with the promise of love, riches, and a future together, when all along he has no intention of giving her any of it. Esther, gullible and hungry for his love, schemes with him to that end in the hopes of gaining Lady Denham’s favor while dealing with the scheming Clara, who is out for the same things. It’s astonishing to see how much she hates and despises Clara.
While we have come to see Esther as a not-so-pleasing character, her knight in shining armor arrives in the form of Lord Babington. I will deal in later posts with Edward Denham and Lord Babington separately. At the very least, we can say that Lord Babington saves Esther from her ill-guided goals and misconceptions, showing her the truth of unconditional love and acceptance. Lord Babington possesses everything she hoped for in Edward — love and riches.
The growing relationship between Esther and Babington is a joy to watch. I love how he pursues her and how she disregards him at every turn. Her witty dialogue is a joy with such comments as, “I shall try to bear your absence with equanimity,” “Why, Lord Babington, you amaze me. I’m starting to find you slightly better company.” Babington sums up her personality exactly, “I have never met anyone who can give a compliment in such a way as it might also be an insult.”
When the depth of Edward’s depravity is finally exposed, Esther is broken. It’s Babington who declares that he will not allow her brother to have control over her any longer, and she eventually relents to his bid for marriage. Although I doubt that Esther loved Babington at the time that she wed, at least she came to the realization that an honest man existed who was willing to give her the happiness she deserved. I would also like to think that eventually, Esther’s feelings for Babington during marriage grow into love, and am hoping she returns to Season 2 all will be well with the two of them.
We can only speculate why Esther fell in love with her step-brother. In the eyes of society, it would have been an incestuous and scandalous relationship, regardless of the fact that they shared no common blood. Edward’s father married her mother when they were young, so they grew up together in the same household. How that relationship of brother/sister evolved into the one portrayed in Sanditon can only be speculated upon. Edward, no doubt, had been manipulating her for his own devious pleasures long before they lived together in Denham Place.
Esther is a character that travels from a dark, slave-like relationship to one of light and freedom. As she moves through the process, she is changed into a much more welcoming individual who discovers the meaning of love. Babington is the best thing that ever happened to her and the consolation prize for viewers in Season 1 of Sanditon.