Even if the presence of Dr. Fuchs in Sanditon doesn’t attract wealthy vacationers and convalescents to the seaside resort, he has plenty to keep him busy in the hypochondriac Arthur and Diana Parker. After daily visits, he has determined that Diana suffers from hysteria and Arthur from a sedentary lifestyle. So he prescribes “regular and vigorous motion”: a horse ride on the beach. Diana is nervous, but Arthur is so invigorated that he decides to go for a hike—and promptly collapses from “sunstroke.” After such a frightening brush with calamity, Diana convinces him to embrace the “recumbent” lifestyle and “only move when essential.”
Unlike the Parkers, Clara Brereton can stoically withstand discomfort, but her ploy to parlay a burn into sympathy from her aunt and caretaker, Lady Denham, has outlived its usefulness: Denham is once again thinking about the (hopefully moneyed) futures of her relations, including Clara, Esther, and Edward, and has begun looking for wealthy suitors for each of them. To that end, she sends Clara to summon Esther and Edward with a note.
When Clara arrives at her cousins’ lodgings, she spies them in an intimate situation, with Edward sensuously lacing up Esther’s dress. Happy to have more blackmail on the step-siblings, Clara leaves the note and slips away.
Charlotte also finds herself witness to romantic intimacy, although she’s much more uncomfortable with the situation. Having been summoned by Georgiana, she is enlisted in helping the young heiress escape from under the eye of the puritanical Mrs. Griffiths in order to enjoy the freedom of a beautiful day. Charlotte asks for permission to take Georgiana on a picnic, but Mrs. Griffiths finds such an idea unbefitting two young ladies—until Georgiana jumps in and says it will be with Tom and Mary Parker—an effective lie.
Georgiana then takes Charlotte to a secluded picnic spot—and, suddenly, a man appears. He is Otis Molyneux, Georgiana’s lover from London, whom Sidney has forbidden Georgiana from seeing. He thanks Charlotte for escorting Georgiana to him, and the couple dismiss Charlotte to enjoy their alone time. But Charlotte is distressed: she promised Sidney she would keep Georgiana out of trouble.
So an awkward situation prevails: Charlotte sits with Otis and Georgiana, trying to prevent any intimacy, while the two lovers mostly pretend she’s not there. Charlotte does manage to engage them in conversation, learning that Otis is a merchant, who met Georgiana at a ball, having mistaken her for a servant. In their ensuing relationship, he made the uprooted and homesick Georgiana feel the happiest she has been in England.
Otis decides to “borrow” a boat and row a laughing Georgiana and a nervous Charlotte on a lake. He asks Georgiana to marry him, but, as she has before, she says no: Sidney will not allow it. She disdains Charlotte’s newfound admiration of her guardian.
Marriage is also the topic of conversation at Lady Denham’s home. She has drawn up a list of eligible suitors for Edward and Esther, ranked in order of wealth. Edward brings up Lord Babington’s courting of Esther—he continues to send her “billets-doux,” despite her lack of response—and Lady Denham is perplexed that Esther has rebuffed him: after all, he has money and a title. Clara says that perhaps no one can live up to Edward in Esther’s mind; the step-siblings would probably marry each other if they could, she says lightheartedly.
Esther seethes, while Lady Denham dismisses Clara’s prattling and tells her to play piano for the party. Clara requests Esther’s aid in turning pages, and allusively brings up the intimacy between Esther and Edward, causing Esther to storm off.
Clara follows, and finds Esther in the estate’s park. Surprisingly, she has some sympathy for Esther, mentioning how easy it is to be coerced into intimacy by a male in the same household: in Clara’s case, it was an uncle. But she soon realizes Esther is in love with Edward, and offers her pity and a warning: Edward is a cad, and Esther’s hoped-for future with him is impossible, given that they are step-siblings. Take Lady Denham’s advice and find a wealthy husband as soon as she can.
Esther decides to test Clara’s warning and proposes running away to Edward, clasping his hand while on her knees and professing her love. But he is clearly more concerned with money and Lady Denham’s inheritance than he is with any love. Esther is devastated.
It seems as though Georgiana and Otis’s romance is also not to be. Charlotte, who has warmed to Otis, asks about Sidney’s objections to the match. Georgiana replies, “Look at him”—for Otis, like Georgiana, is black. Born in Africa, Otis was sold as a slave but eventually freed and educated by a gentleman. Now he works to end enslavement.
Charlotte is surprised to learn that slavery still exists, and Otis points out that its legacy remains visible in the fortunes of many Englishmen who profited from it—including Sidney. As Charlotte walks Otis and Georgiana back into Sanditon to bring Otis to his coach back to London, she mocks Sidney—until the man himself appears behind her.
Sidney has returned from London and discovered Georgiana’s lie about picnicking with the Parkers. He’s upset to see Otis, and forbids him from ever seeing Georgiana again. As Mrs. Griffiths escorts Georgiana to her lodgings, Charlotte tries to defend Otis, and Sidney shares his disappointment in Charlotte for not keeping her promise regarding Georgiana. He says Charlotte rushes to judgment of people, including in her benevolent view of Otis; she responds by charging him with racism—and he bellows, “Enough!” He doesn’t need to justify himself, he says, and calls over the passing Stringer to escort Charlotte home.
Sidney then proceeds to disappoint his brother Tom: he could not convince any bank to offer another loan. Tom must stop living outside his means; Sidney can’t help him anymore.
That’s a hard lesson for Tom to learn: he tells his wife Mary that Sidney has worked wonders. In fact, everything is going so well that he has bought her an expensive necklace, as a “promise of things to come.”
He’s not so great with promises: Stringer still has not received the additional men he has requested. Tom has also dismissed Stringer’s plans for a pagoda for Sanditon, on which the ambitious young man spent all night working. Stringer is beginning to doubt Tom’s word and accept his father’s belief that you shouldn’t aspire to more than what you’re dealt in life. He burns the pagoda plans.
Seemingly the only person to believe in Stringer is Charlotte; she has complimented Stringer’s pagoda plans and applauded his ambition. As she walks with him away from her confrontation with Sidney, they share their frustrations. He tells her he admires her willingness to speak her mind; she replies that she wishes all men could be like him.
For she no longer has any illusions about Sidney. She sneaks off to meet Georgiana and promises to help her be with Otis, despite Sidney’s prohibition.