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.