Portrayed by: Eloise Webb
Show: Sanditon Season 2
Although Sanditon already has more than its share of strong female characters wrestling with the various manifestations of Regency misogyny, the introduction of Augusta Markham in Season 2 provides a fresh look at the pressures on young ladies of the period.
We first discover Augusta bounding through a field behind a child. As she screams, “this had better be worth it,” we understand she is not chasing the child but instead following along to catch a glimpse of something. That something turns out to be the arrival of the army in Sanditon. Despite Augusta’s seeming exasperation with the eager child, her own interest in the arrival of the army is barely concealed. This tendency to mask her real feelings characterizes Augusta throughout much of the season.
In looking behind this mask, we come to understand Augusta as a young lady faced with the uncertainty and fear of coming of age with neither a nurturing home environment to sustain her nor a social outlet to supply marriage prospects as a means of escape.
The Prisoner’s Dilemma
Augusta Markham is an orphan. We learn snippets of her story from her and other characters over the course of the season. In Sanditon 2×01, Augusta reports that she has been “held against her will for 16 months and 11 days” at Heyrick Park. We discover that she lives with an uncle who is not a blood relation. Instead, Alexander Colbourne is the widower of her Aunt Lucy, the twin sister of Augusta’s mother. As Augusta laments, her parents and her home have been replaced, and we quickly understand that the replacement expresses a substantial downgrade in her eyes.
In Sanditon 2×02, we learn from Mrs. Wheatley that Augusta is 18 years old. Despite her age, Augusta is not yet out in society. Colbourne describes her as “insolent” and lacking “manners, civility or any of the qualities that would make her remotely marriageable.” He makes it clear that Charlotte Heywood’s primary task as a governess is to teach Augusta to behave like a young lady.
Augusta does often seem younger than her eighteen years, displaying the petulant attitude of a child. Some of this behavior may stem from her lack of socialization with adults. Augusta suggests that she rarely interacts with her uncle, who considers her an “intolerable burden.” Her only regular companion at Heyrick Park is her cousin Leo, who is ten years her junior.
A deeper cause of Augusta’s apparent insolence is her profound grief at the loss of her parents. Augusta recalls her childhood home as warm and the Markhams as a happy family. She played tunes for her parents, danced with her father, and looked on admiringly as her mother prepared to go out. Augusta is not simply unhappy to live at Heyrick Park. The stark contrast between a vibrant family life with loving parents in London and confinement in the outskirts of Sanditon with a recluse uncle who appears to disdain her compounds Augusta’s sorrow.
Augusta conceals this heartache for much of the season, cloaking it in hostility. Some of her sharpest “attacks” on Charlotte come when the governess tries to pry into her or Leo’s feelings. Augusta is defending her fragile emotional composure. When Charlotte first expresses dismay that both girls’ mothers are dead, Augusta retorts, “What of it” as if to ward off any pity. At one point, Charlotte presses Leo to talk about her mother despite Leo’s indication that Lucy Colbourne is a taboo topic. Augusta’s anger is piqued by this intrusion, and she lashes out, mocking Charlotte’s status as a spinster.
The rules at Heyrick Park seem clear — “we don’t dwell on it.” Augusta has created a mask to survive in a home that provides no space for mourning.
Trust No One
Some of Augusta Markham’s emotional isolation may also be a tactic to exert what little autonomy she has left. While she cannot leave Heyrick Park, she can control who is admitted into her intimacy. We understand that she and Leo have chased away a string of governesses.
It is when Charlotte tries to connect with Augusta through shared grief that Augusta is most dangerous. We see Augusta convincingly recount a happy memory of life with her parents, only to flash a sinister look when Charlotte glances away. Augusta manipulates Charlotte into violating the sanctity of a locked spinet triggering Colbourne’s anger. As Charlotte sets off for Sanditon, Augusta explains that she lied because she wanted Charlotte gone. She was not ready to empathize with a woman who, she believes, represents everything she fears — spinsterhood and failure.
It may also be that, caught between the secrecy norms of Heyrick Park and Charlotte’s persistent inquisitiveness, Augusta feels it would be too difficult to maintain her uncaring façade.
Augusta plays cat-and-mouse with Charlotte for much of Sanditon Season 2. She seems to want to connect but not be forced to connect. In Sanditon 2×03, Augusta waits patiently in the school room, seemingly ready to learn. Yet, when Charlotte turns up, Augusta keeps her at arm’s length, speaking French and indicating she doesn’t really want to study that day. Later, following more subtle questioning, Augusta speaks about her mother, describing her as kind and filling in the word “sad” when Charlotte’s silence leaves space for Augusta to decide what more to reveal. Moments later, she snitches to her uncle that Charlotte has taught her nothing and has instead been asking questions about Lucy.
Augusta Markham seems as yet unwilling to trust anyone, or perhaps the truth is she does not trust herself enough to let anyone have unfettered access to her true feelings.
Despite her bluster about how different she is from Charlotte, Augusta lacks a solid self-image. Viewers may see her belligerence as a classic case of insecurity. The roots of Augusta’s wavering self-esteem are, however, deeper than teenage anxiety and relate instead to her utter dependence on her uncle. She allows herself moments of joy, hope, or vulnerability only when she feels confident that Colbourne might consider her happiness in his decision-making.
Ready or Not
Augusta feels significant pressure to be pleasing to men. Colbourne repeatedly expresses the view that her sole objective is to marry. Perhaps, because she witnessed the different outcomes of her mother’s and her aunt’s marriages, Augusta is also determined that she should have some choice in whom she marries. To have the luxury of choice, Augusta needs to attract suitors.
Yet, Augusta doubts her appeal. The words her uncle so casually speaks to Charlotte about her at the start of Sanditon 2×02 seem to affect Augusta deeply. She later confesses that she can be “ill-mannered and disagreeable” and worries about giving a poor account of herself at her first social outing to Lady Denham’s garden party.
At the garden party, she seems determined to prove to her uncle that she is fit for polite society. She offers an awkward curtsy and smiles politely as Lady Denham implies that Colbourne’s father was a drunk. Augusta fidgets and obediently follows her ill-mannered and disagreeable uncle around before finding her own footing playing croquet with the ladies. Unfortunately, in wanting gentlemen to find her pretty so that she might hope to escape the asphyxiating atmosphere of Heyrick Park, Augusta has had her corset strung so tightly that she literally cannot breathe.
Augusta is thrown right into the deep end for her social debut, and it’s little wonder she tries too hard to make herself ready. Or that she falls short.
It is Colbourne’s reclusiveness that creates this desperate situation for Augusta. The window between being a “pretty little thing” at eighteen and a spinster is brief (notice the change from how Mrs. Campion describes Charlotte in Sanditon 1×07 to how Charlotte is perceived in Sanditon Season 2). If Augusta Markham is to avoid the social stigma of spinsterhood, she must be out in society. To be out, she relies entirely on her mercurial uncle’s willingness to endure the company of others, which he rarely seems inclined to do. Augusta describes herself as “trapped,” asserting that her uncle is “determined to avoid the company of those around him.”
Rather than having inexplicable mood swings, Augusta’s own spirits rise and fall as Colbourne opens or closes himself off. When he first unlocks the spinet, Augusta’s fingers dance freely across the keys. The hopefulness of the tune and her mood reflect her newfound belief that change may be possible. Yet, in Sanditon 2×05, we discover Augusta at the same spinet pecking out a mournful tune with only two fingers, reflecting that her hope for a brighter future is once again bound by her uncle’s angry withdrawal from society.
When Colbourne relents and takes Augusta to the ball, the joy as she enters and catches the eye of a soldier illuminates her face. Yet, a few moments later, her face is darkened with concern as she discovers a look of distress on her uncle’s face. Augusta is prematurely whisked away from her first ball because her uncle’s emotional needs take precedence.
Augusta’s hope and prospects remain fully dependent on the vagaries of Colbourne’s moods.
Wherever You Go…
As Sanditon 2×06 closes, we see Augusta packing into a carriage with her uncle and cousin for a seemingly long journey. Colbourne announces, “We need a change.” Augusta’s look is somewhat inscrutable, and we might wonder whether she recalls her earlier declaration that her uncle is incapable of change. The poem Ithaka is a good reminder that we can carry our baggage inside us from one physical place to another without addressing it.
While the change of scenery may be welcome, Augusta Markham’s future hinges on a change in her relationship with her uncle. She showed flashes of agency in begging him to bring Charlotte back for the sake of her own happiness, if nothing else. Maybe Augusta will gain enough confidence to push for a better future for herself. Maybe her uncle will finally defeat his demons.
Hopefully, Sanditon Season 3 will bring Augusta beauty for ashes.