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Sense & Sensibility

While I was having my annual bout of Retail Therapy / Recreational Shopping in Stratford the other weekend, I spent an age browsing in the bookshop, coming away with Sense & Sensibility. Note the ampersand – this isn’t the Jane Austen classic, which I’ve known and loved for years. Instead, it’s by Joanna Trollope, Queen of the Aga Sagas, and is the first book in The Austen Project, where modern best-selling authors bring the classic novels up to date.

It’s set in 2013, but has all the same characters and pretty much the same plot as the original. Trollope clearly had to update some aspects, as the “gentry” that she wrote about don’t really exist in the same way these days, and have to have a believable means of support on the fringes of the Tatler-reading world. The Dashwood family are evicted from their home Norland on the death of the father because the parents weren’t married, so the estate goes to the legitimate son and his exceedingly bitchy wife. The mother and three daughters, Ellie, M and Mags (the characters previously known as Elinor, Marianne and Margaret) move to live in a new-build cottage on the estate of their cousin who is a Johnny Boden-esque country clothing mogul. Ellie, the sensible one, is an architecture student; M suffers from severe asthma, is toying with the idea of becoming a professional musician, but is too much of a dreamer to get down to serious application; and Mags is a rather bratty school-girl, addicted to her iPod and much given to saying “Whatevs”.

Love interest Willoughby is as much of a cad in 2013 as he was in 1811, but with a very contemporary drug habit to boot. Solid Colonel Brandon was much affected by his service in Bosnia during the Balkan wars, and has set up a Help for Heroes style treatment centre for PTSD suffers. And drippy Edward wants to be a social worker (rather than a vicar, as in the original) but is bullied massively by his mother who holds the purse strings.

All in all, I think it worked surprisingly well. The characters’ motivations translated well from 200 years ago – I suppose that people themselves don’t change that much. Certainly, I found it gripping. It’s a long time since I’ve read a novel from cover to cover in one sitting. I found it fascinating seeing a plot and characters that I know so well relocate lock, stock and barrel to a contemporary setting. I shall look out with interest for other books in The Austen Project to see if they are make as successful a transition.

{ 2 } Comments

  1. Catharine | 24 February 2015 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    I’ll cheerfully admit to not having read The Austen Project books (they’re on my list!), but I suspect if you like them, you might enjoy a couple of filmed modernizations of some Austen novels put out by Pemberly Digital (you see what they did there). The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is a modern take on Pride and Prejudice which works quite well overall, and Emma Approved is, well, Emma. (Emma is SCARY. But it’s very well done!) I understand they’re doing a treatment of Little Women next. All the stories are done as a series of video blogs, and they’re all on YouTube. 🙂

  2. Gillian | 24 February 2015 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Catharine. I hadn’t come across those – I’ll check them out 🙂