That sense of impending…something or other



The rewritten, modern-set Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope is due out later this month, and other distinguished authors have been lined up to rewrite Jane Austen’s novels for modern consumption: Val McDermid for Northanger Abbey, Curtis Sittenfeld for Pride and Prejudice, and Alexander McCall Smith for Emma, with two more authors to be announced later this year for Mansfield Park and Persuasion. Harper is calling this six-book series the Austen Project.

Our own feelings about this project are decidedly mixed. We are pleased by the accomplished authors who have been asked to participate, but frankly there are some red flags here in our opinion, the first of which is the fact that they apparently aren’t even changing the names of the novels. That seems to us potentially confusing to readers at best and disrespectful of Jane Austen at worst.

And really, do they think this is something new? They can’t possibly be pretending not to know about the dozens and dozens of modern-set Austen rewrites, both by authors attempting to be literary and those simply seeking to entertain. It’s like those attention seekers who proclaim that I AM WRITING PRIDE AND PREJUDICE WITH TEH SEXYTIMES IN IT like no one’s ever done it before; and then they wonder why we swing the Cluebat. We truly hope we won’t have to with this project, but we’ve noticed that what Janeites want and expect and what the Commercial Publishing Complex delivers tend to be very different things. Compare and contrast, for instance, the reception of Death Comes to Pemberley by the Greater Public and the mainstream media (good) and the reception in the Janeite community (reviled).

That being said, we will give Ms. Trollope’s S&S retelling a try, and report back to our Gentle Readers. It doesn’t really matter whether or not these books are any good, either; we (meaning Janeiteville, and the reading public in general) will be inundated with hype over the books. Brace yourselves.

5 thoughts on “That sense of impending…something or other

  1. What? Huh? What? I don’t even get this project. Or modern rewrites either (I say that as someone who’s read Bridget Jones, and laments those lost hours of my life…) I mean, the whole point of Jane Austen is the prose! If I want to see Girl get Boy, any cheap Mills and Boon will do that.

    That said, there’s a kind of twisted genius in getting a hack like Val McDermid to do Northanger. I read one of her books which involved a historical conspiracy involving Wordsworth and Fletcher Christian. It was terrible, but fun. Catherine Morland would have loved it.


    • I read one of her books which involved a historical conspiracy involving Wordsworth and Fletcher Christian.

      *simple dog head-tilt*

      I have nothing against modern rewrites–some of them are fun (I *did* like the first two Bridget Jones novels…the movies, not so much) and some are meh, like any Austen paralit; but I’m not sure what they are trying to accomplish here, either. I think once I read one or two of them I might have a better grasp on it. Or maybe not. šŸ˜‰


      • I wouldn’t mind a modern update, if they’d *do* something interesting with the text. Like Clueless, I love Clueless. It’s commenting on Emma as much as remaking it. The Jane Austen Book Club did this really well too.

        I think the McDermid book is called The Grave Tattoo. Wordsworth and Christian are distant cousins, IIRC, and Christian somehow makes it back to the Lake District after the mutiny, and Wordsworth writes a secret lost poem about it all (except it’s not lost, the descendants of family servants still have it of course, hidden somewhere), and of course there’s murder too. A good holiday read; so after all my whining I might check out her version of Northanger after all…!


  2. I was surprised when I received the ARC of the Trollope book that it had the same title. It’s not like they couldn’t have thought up something different and catchy that let’s you know it’s an Austen re-telling!

    I’m 40 pages into it right now, and I’m not “wowed” by it. So far it’s mostly dialogue and run-on sentences. I think she’s going for the humor (I think), but I just hope it gets better!


  3. Fine if you want to do an “Austen Project” but you should not be allowed to use the titles chosen by Jane Austen. As someone else said, there are many of those out there and they are fun. But using the same titles feels like plagarism to me. I’ll boycott on that principle alone. None of my $$ are going to support the project unless they title them differently.


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