Portrayed by: Turlough Convery
Show: PBS’ Sanditon Season 1
Listless men sometimes appear in the works of Jane Austen. We might remember the idle Mr. Hurst, the seemingly despondent Captain Benwick, or the weak-willed John Dashwood. These lethargic secondary characters provide windows into human failings such as incessant pleasure-seeking or excessive self-pity, or moral passivity.
In Sanditon, at first glance, Arthur Parker comes across as the listless man with numerous failings. He is a gluttonous hypochondriac who succumbs easily to the influence of his older sister, Diana Parker. He even confesses to having no desire to toil and spin, preferring instead to “blossom.”
On more thorough inspection, however, we discover that despite his many foibles, Arthur Parker is more than a stock loafer. While his intermittent bouts of activity are obvious, his flashes of insight and acts of bravery are easier to miss. Turlough Convery brings the richness of expression needed to portray a man who is a thoughtful brother and friend in the trappings of a buffoon. Examining Arthur Parker as more than the comic baby brother provides a richer understanding of the wholesomeness at his core.
The Baby Parker Brother
Arthur Parker is the youngest of the four adult Parker siblings in Sanditon. He is unmarried and lives with his sister in London. Arthur is much younger than Diana and their brothers, Tom and Sidney. We know, for example, that Arthur knew very little about Sidney while growing up because Sidney set sail for Antigua when Arthur was quite young.
Arthur’s status as the baby Parker brother affects the way his siblings treat him in different ways.
Diana assumes a caretaker role. We first meet Arthur Parker early in Season 1, Episode 1, when he and Diana, freshly arrived in Sanditon, decide to “be brave” and meet their eldest brother, Tom Parker, on the clifftops. We quickly learn that both Arthur and Diana believe Arthur has a delicate constitution, but he disagrees with Diana’s “bilious” diagnosis. From his comic description of his breakfast habits, we begin to suspect that Arthur’s main problem is his insatiable appetite for port wine and buttered toast.
Sidney Parker displays a mocking, somewhat scornful attitude toward Arthur. For example, Sidney and his friends speed their carriages past Arthur as he stands begging for a ride to Lady Denham‘s luncheon. Upon arriving at Sanditon House, as Arthur breathlessly exclaims that he’ll “pull through” the ordeal of the walk, Sidney sneers before pulling Arthur away with a dismissive “right.”
Tom is alternately severe and indulgent toward Arthur. During the sea bathing outing, Tom heatedly expresses disappointment at Arthur’s reluctance to plunge into the ocean. Tom later plays upon Arthur’s willingness to spend money to cure his imaginary ailments when persuading Lady Denham that the town needs a doctor. He essentially seems to tolerate Arthur as long as he’s useful.
It is in Arthur’s navigating or renegotiating these family dynamics that we discover his full character.
Le Malade Imaginaire
According to Diana Parker, she and Arthur suffer from various illnesses that render both unfit for vigorous activity.
For a time, Arthur accepts this truth. He recasts hangovers as morning grogginess and indigestion from polishing off “an eight-bird roast” as a more worrisome stomach ailment. He allows Dr. Fuchs to smear unknown preparations on his face and is delighted to visit the doctor for “daily repairs.”
Arthur’s view of his own physical health begins to shift after Sanditon’s resident doctor, Dr. Fuchs, identifies a “sedentary lifestyle” as the sole cause of Arthur’s condition. Arthur embraces – too enthusiastically – the activities the doctor prescribes, leading Diana to forbid him from ever exercising again.
Although Arthur initially agrees with Diana’s injunction to “move only when it is essential,” we see him gradually challenge the truth of his imaginary invalidity. Arthur joins the other gentlemen to play cricket, surprising himself at-bat. He insists to Diana that, despite his supposed seasickness, he must join The Parker Brothers Rowing Team at Sanditon’s first annual regatta. He even literally kicks up his heels on the dance floor … before Diana once again steps in to stop him.
We see Arthur and Diana in their final scene bundled up headed for home and some “glandular stimulation.” Having been saved from the financial fiasco threatening the Parker family, it seems Arthur, either to draw close to his sister again or to comfort himself, relapses to the delicate flower image of himself.
As Diana Parker is apparently not returning to Sanditon, it will be interesting to see whether Arthur’s maladies continue without her suggestive reminders of his frailty.
The Sensible Brother
In the few scenes in Sanditon Season 1 where Arthur interacts directly with his older brother Sidney Parker, Sidney seems alternately annoyed or embarrassed by Arthur.
Arthur is not entirely oblivious to Sidney’s attitude, noticing for example Sidney’s “not very brotherly” behavior in leaving him and Diana behind on the clifftops. We do not, however, see any signs that Arthur seeks Sidney’s approval or otherwise wants to change his mind.
Sensing that Georgiana Lambe needs support in her luncheon confrontation with Lady Denham, Arthur cheers Georgiana on even after Sidney tells her, “That’s enough!” Arthur goes so far as to interrupt an increasingly tense conversation by sawing furiously at the offending pineapple. When no one else comes to Georgiana’s aid, Arthur does not worry about the spectacle or “effrontery” of his actions.
Additionally, Arthur vocally challenges the prevailing views about Sidney’s reunion with Eliza Campion. At the Sanditon regatta, Arthur reminds his brothers that Eliza is the reason Sidney “was driven to the West Indies with a broken heart.” He withstands Sidney’s exasperated question: “And what’s your point, Arthur?” and persists in offering his view that he would not trust Eliza after how she’s behaved.
Arthur also attempts to refocus Tom and Sidney as they stand in Sanditon’s rubble, saying: “There’s no point in being downhearted. We must be practical.“
Despite Charlotte Heywood’s assessment that Sidney Parker “must be the sensible brother,” Arthur is often the observant and insightful brother. Even at the risk of incurring Sidney’s disdain, when Arthur sees something he believes is worrisome, he intercedes with good sense.
The Team Player
Given Tom’s megalomania about the development of Sanditon, it’s not surprising that Arthur’s relationship with Tom is shaped by how useful or harmful Arthur is for the promotion of the project.
Tom’s initial disappointment at Arthur’s refusal to swim gives way to admiration – “my brother is a surprising man” – when Arthur enthusiastically joins in one of the delights Sanditon offers. In contrast, after the pineapple fiasco, Tom quickly distances himself from Arthur, declaring to Lady Denham that “my brother is his own man.”
It does not seem that Arthur is aware of or affected by these statements. He also seems unaware that Tom considers him and Diana to be cash cows for the purposes of growing Sanditon’s spa business.
Regardless of Tom’s self-serving sentiments, Arthur views himself as a Parker brother and stands with Tom when needed. The march to Sanditon House, the cricket, the rowing, and even the looming debtors’ prison. Arthur generously offers his full inheritance to Tom to help with the rebuild.
After the Parker family is saved from ruin, Arthur tells Diana that he feels “a certain wrench in parting with Tom and Mary.” Arthur may have liked to stay if he could be helpful and if “the seaside [was not] such a treacherous place.”
Just Palling Around?
While the dynamics in Arthur’s relationships with his siblings are complicated but clear, the arc of his relationship with Georgiana Lambe is more confounding.
An Awkward Suitor?
Arthur first hears that Georgiana is in possession of a fortune while warming himself by the fire. His ears seem to perk up as Diana declares, “That speaks of riches, does it not?” When he overhears Mrs. Griffiths disclose the exact amount of the Lambe fortune, Arthur swigs down his wine and promptly asks Georgiana to dance. These scenes suggest fortune-hunting as a possible motive for Arthur’s initial contact with Georgiana.
We then see Arthur in a protector-encourager role during the luncheon, where only he and Charlotte are willing to defend Georgiana’s opinions in the face of Lady Denham’s bigoted onslaught. He speaks directly and confidently to her. Yet, at the Sanditon cricket match, Arthur bobs and grins awkwardly as he greets Miss Lambe. He looks like a schoolboy with a crush.
A Loving Friend?
When next Arthur and Georgiana meet, Arthur is freeing Georgiana from her room and the supervision of Reverend Hankins. Despite his goofy demeanor, Arthur confidently assures Georgiana that her brush with ruination is not the end of the world. He astutely challenges her to consider whether people are staring at her differently than they always have. At this point, Georgiana declares Arthur to be “the most infuriating man she’s ever met,” often an Austenian sign of a future thaw in affections.
At Sanditon’s mid-summer ball, Arthur’s heartfelt invitation to Georgiana to “trip the light fantastic” is endearing. Convery displays such anticipation and vulnerability that viewers have the impression Arthur’s heart will break if she says no. Georgiana genuinely seems to enjoy dancing with him, and the pair are so visibly fond of each that Diana worries Arthur will leave her.
Arthur explains that the two are just pals, and he is a lifelong bachelor, seemingly putting an end to any Arthur-Georgiana (Arthiana) romance. It is unclear whether viewers are meant to see Arthur’s intentions toward Georgiana evolve over the course of Sanditon Season 1 or whether we’re meant to forget the early hints of fortune-hunting.
The Best Parker
At the end of Sanditon Season 1, what is clear is that Arthur cares deeply about his family and friends. Despite his flaws, like Mary Parker, Arthur is one of the few genuinely good characters.
Even though Arthur does not seem to crave his brothers’ or the world’s approval, shedding the buffoon label would be a nice victory for a character who is woefully underestimated.
If Arthur can overcome his hypochondria, show more of his good insights, and act on them, he may yet prove to the people of Sanditon that, at heart, the youngest Parker brother is the best Parker.