Clara Brereton, played brilliantly by Lily Sacofsky, is for me the most complicated of individuals in Sanditon. Clara, as we see her in the screen production, is the product of her past and circumstances of poverty, who has one goal in mind – survival. Jane Austen set the stage, introducing Clara in the original novel. Below are a few snippets.
Mr. Parker spoke warmly of Clara Brereton, and the interest of his story increased very much with the introduction of such a character… he described her to be lovely, amiable, gentle, unassuming, conducting herself uniformly with great good sense, and evidently gaining by her innate worth on, the affections of her patroness. Beauty, sweetness, poverty and dependence do not want the imagination of a man to operate upon.
Clara had returned with her—and by her good sense and merit had now, to all appearance, secured a very strong hold in Lady Denham’s regard. The six months had long been over—and not a syllable was breathed of any change or exchange. She was a general favourite. The influence of her steady conduct and mild, gentle temper was felt by everybody. She was as thoroughly amiable as she was lovely.
Elegantly tall, regularly handsome, with great delicacy of complexion and soft blue eyes, a sweetly modest and yet naturally graceful address, Charlotte could see in her only the most perfect representation of whatever heroine might be most beautiful and bewitching…
Clara saw through him (speaking of Edward) and had not the least intention of being seduced; but she bore with him patiently enough to confirm the sort of attachment which her personal charms had raised.– A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook
Jane Austen sets the background that Lady Denham had traveled to London and visited her cousins the Breretons. After noting they were worthy people of low income, she decided to invite one of the girls to pass the winter with her. That girl was Clara, who Lady Denham deemed “more helpless and more pitiable of course than any – a dependent on poverty.”
From the description and praise noted above in the snippets from Jane’s Sanditon, we see a young woman who is both beautiful and admired, even by Charlotte. Described as “lovely, amiable, gentle, unassuming, conducting herself uniformly with great good sense,” is perhaps the outward impression we get of Clara during the series too. However, as we all know, as that curtain is removed, we find a devious woman who will do anything to survive.
When you think about it, Clara is quite ingeniously evil in how she goes about getting her way. She implies when speaking to Esther that what she “endured” before she came to live with Lady Denham is the reason she is ruthless in her intent. “Oh, Esther. You have no idea what I endured before I came here. And you have no idea what I am prepared to do to ensure I stay.”
She is very agreeable and obliging to Lady Denham at every turn to keep her status. When we witness her burn her wrist to keep Lady Denham under her power, you must admit that move is bold. Very few of us would have the guts to harm ourselves on purpose to gain sympathy because we feel our position is slipping away, thanks to the sneaky suggestion made by Esther. The fact that she barely flinches at the burn or shows discomfort when Esther digs her nails into her wounds tells us that Clara is hardened to the core to such an extent that pain is nothing but a mere slight inconvenience. It does make you wonder what she endured beforehand.
If I had to compare Clara to Edward, I would say that Clara is the more outstanding manipulator of the two. She knows how to push everyone’s buttons, and Esther and Edward are no match for her as she’s one step ahead of them both. The way Clara blackmails Edward into giving her a share of his inheritance and then raises the stakes after they do it on the floor is brilliantly played. She threatens to tell Esther about their tryst and then goes behind his back and does it anyway! It’s her way of destroying Esther and gaining what she wants from Edward. She blackmails him. “It would break her heart into little tiny pieces if she were to learn of this, would it not? A quarter share will suffice.” Well played, Clara.
Since we have no idea what direction Jane Austen would have taken Clara, I must say that the writers of the Sanditon production took a character and created a nemesis to remember. She’s sweet enough on the outside to keep Lady Denham’s favor and plays the pianoforte tolerably well. Clara is amiable to others she meets, such as Charlotte. Her relationship with Esther, however, is cruelly focused because she knows exactly what to say to hit those tender spots that will hurt Esther when it comes to Edward. Clara uses sexual favors and innuendoes with Edward and eventually the snaky escapade to keep him under her power. The only reason she lay with him was to have another card to play in her deck of tricks.
Clara will return with Edward for Season 2, and I’m intrigued to know what’s in store. Whatever she’s up to, one motive will continue to drive her actions – survival.