‘Sanditon’ revisited: Why we love Lord Babington

We all have our favorite Austen hero.

Many gravitate towards the outwardly cold but inwardly complex Mr. Darcy of Pride & Prejudice, while others favor the charming witticisms of Mr. Tilney of Northanger Abbey or the wisdom and good sense of Emma’s Mr. Knightley.

However deserving of our admiration and praise these Austen men may be, there is one new and oft-forgotten character who is at risk of swiftly slipping between the cracks: Sanditon’s Lord Babington.

Guest writer Maddison Rhoa aims to make a case for Babington as your new favorite Austen man – even if he’s not explicitly a creation of the authoress herself.

While Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, Sanditon, is the foundation of the ITV’s 2019 television series of the same name, the characters in the show have been fleshed out by the talented writers and actors who have worked to bring these personalities to life on the screen.

Lord Babington, interestingly, does not appear in Jane Austen’s incomplete novel, and is strictly a character of modern creation – and this shows.

Still, he fits the bill of a believable Austen character and, we argue, firmly exists within the somewhat nebulous world of Sanditon, even if our beloved authoress did not bring him to life. We like to think that Austen would have heartily approved of the fair-minded Babington.

Lord Babington, the monstrously wealthy but ultimately well-intended friend of leading man Sidney Parker is played by Mark Stanley, who brings a unique warmth to the side character. A stark contrast to Austen’s token brooding British bachelors, Babington is nearly all tipping top hats, bright eyes, and slow smiles, often reserved for the stony Esther Denham.

Much in the same vein of more central Austen characters, Babington is a man who clearly knows his own mind, and uses his innate sense of self-awareness to pursue Esther – a stubborn, cold, distrusting woman whose life is controlled by her scheming half-brother, Edward, and the unattainable fortune of her elderly aunt, Lady Denham.

Plagued by doubt and the effects of manipulation, Esther is by no means an easily-won woman.

Nevertheless, Babington determinedly persists in his pursuit of her, and his approach is far from disrespectful.

Even after Esther continuously rebuffs his attempts to break through her unyielding façade, Babington waits, and slowly tries again, and gives Esther space when he senses she needs it. He is wonderfully patient, and even when he feels her rebuff, he never shows anger… only disappointment (which is arguably more powerful).

There is a genuine sense that Babington is interested in Esther for who he perceives she truly is – a caged soul who deserves happiness, understanding, and honest companionship. He views her as his equal.

While some may claim that this sort of patience and understanding is unrealistic for a man of fortune who might just as easily give up his pursuit and aim for an easier target, Babington’s behavior is a welcome contrast to Sidney Parker’s mercurial outbursts which are most commonly directed at women.

For all of the self-control Sidney lacks (attributed, ambiguously, to his past “lady troubles”), his friend Babington is cool, calm, and collected even in the face of repeated rejection. He does not possess the sort of “won’t-take-no-for-an-answer” aggression that is often resorted to when writing/portraying a powerful male character – he simply offers what he can of himself to Esther, and trusts that, no matter the outcome, he did what he could.

His behavior is wonderfully refreshing and grounded, and likewise does justice to the portrayal of men – and the function of relationship boundaries between men and women – in period drama.

Aside from his commendable treatment of Esther, we see Babington as a constant and reliable friend to both Sidney and Mr. Crowe; a sympathetic ear and willing dance partner to leading lady Charlotte Heywood; and a non-judgmental foil to the conniving and dishonest Edward Denham.

All in all, he is a side character who demands commendation both for his admirable nature and complex story line.

Sanditon is available on DVD on Amazon.