Jane Austen Retold: Reaching Young Readers, Part Two

Image of banner of covers of Austen Retold, by Gill Tavner, Real Reads, (2008) 

“They have both,” said she, “been deceived, I dare say, in some way or other, of which we can form no idea. Interested people have perhaps misrepresented each to the other. It is, in short, impossible for us to conjecture the causes or circumstances which may have alienated them, without actual blame on either side.” Jane Bennet Pride & Prejudice, Chapter 17



Welcome to the continuation of the on-line interview of Gill Tavner, author of Real Reads six new editions of Jane Austen’s novels retold for a young readers. You can read my introduction and the first part of the interview here.

Image of author Gill TavnerWhat were your challenges as a writer to interpret Jane Austen’s story lines, characters and intentions?

“An obvious problem with them all was length. Jane Austen allows her characters to reveal themselves gradually by the things they say and do. I had only 5,000 words within which I had to do so much. I hope that I echoed Jane Austen’s technique in this, but I occasionally had to offer a little more explicit guidance to the reader.”

Jane Austen touches upon many aspects of human foibles and faults. How did you deal with the adult themes and social humour?

“In order to convey the all-important social humour, I had to be very selective about which moments to highlight and the degree of understanding that would be necessary for the reader to understand the point. It was important, for example, that Emma’s hurtful comment to Miss Bates should be understood as the moment is crucial in the heroine’s development. This meant that certain facts about the relative status of the two had to be understood, which meant a degree of explanation was necessary. The humour of this moment is in the painful discomfort it causes. All very tricky, and all a very enjoyable intellectual process.”

Tell me about the research and writing process for you. How long did it take you complete each book?

“For each book, I followed a very similar, if not identical process. I first of all read through it fairly quickly in order to propose to John how I might approach retelling it. I then reread it making very careful notes as I did so. This took about a week. I made many of my decisions during this part of the process.

I then spent a couple of days reading Jane Austen research, commentaries etc. This was primarily to ensure that I hadn’t overlooked an important theme or aspect of somebodies character.

With constant reference to my notes, I wrote my version. This took another week. The editing, illustrating etc created in total about another week’s work for me.”

Image of the cover of Sense and Sensibility Retold, by Gill Tavner, Real Reads, (2008)What was the process of working with the illustrator Ann Kronheimer? Did you suggest certain passages or sections to feature?

“Working with Ann has been a delight! Once the editing process was underway, I sent Ann a list of illustrations. I tried to choose scenes that would highlight an important incident, aid understanding of the text or even provide some information that I had had to omit in the interest of economy of words. An example of the last of these is a picture of Pemberley. I felt it was important that readers should understand the grandeur of Mr Darcy’s home.

Ann’s pictures astonished me. From my tiny piece of information she created the picture that was in my mind – but better than I had imagined it. I love her drawings and think her use of colour is wonderful and original.”

What is the most positive and negative outcome for you as a writer in this project?

“The most positive outcome is that I loved every minute of it and I think we have achieved our aim. Several friends’ children on whom I have tried out the books then went on to read an original Jane Austen.

As for negative outcomes, encountering strong opinions against this process has occasionally been hard, and has led me to question it myself. The only argument I have read that really troubled me was that I might actually put somebody off the original. The person who made this comment had not seen my books. I would hope that the eventual balance will be more in favour of the number of people I lead to the originals.”

Image of author Gill Tavner

Who is your favourite Jane Austen character and why?


“What a difficult question. Who would I most like to be? Who would I most like to marry? Who amuses me the most? The creation of which character do I most admire in Jane Austen? Shall I answer them all?

I’m sure that the majority of Jane Austen’s female admirers like to think of ourselves as the spirited Elizabeth Bennet. I enjoy the scene in which she walks to Netherfield. I would love to think I might one day develop the qualities of Ann Elliot and Elinor Dashwood. As for the men, I would have to give a proposal from Mr Darcy or Mr Knightley serious consideration. I am attracted by Edward Ferrars’ desire for a quiet, humble life but I like the quiet brooding of Colonel Brandon. As a couple, I like the way that Admiral and Mrs Croft operate.”

Can you add any humorous or insightful antecedents that you encountered with the project?

“My five year old daughter now thinks that I created these characters. She similarly thinks I am responsible for Scrooge and Fagin. Don’t worry – I have disillusioned her.

Some people I meet regularly now seem to see me as a listening post for their ‘all I know about Jane Austen’ monologues. I have had to defend poor Jane against all sorts of ridiculous assertions and prejudices.”

End of interview.

Thank you Gill for sharing your intellectual process with us. I appreciated your thorough research and understanding of Jane Austen’s works.

Image of the cover of Emma Retold, by Gill Tavner, Real Reads, (2008)In conclusion, my first impressions of this project were influenced by my personal concerns of interpretation and integrity. Like Lizzy Bennet, my journey to self discovery was both revealing and enlightening. The editions are visually appealing. The text was well thought out, humorous and engaging for the two ten year old girls, (their prime audience), that I tested them out on. The young ladies thoroughly enjoyed the stories and loved the illustrations. For an adult perspective, if I was learning English as a second language they could be useful. They are not a substitute for the real texts. Students seeking quick answers for their English essay can read the Spark Notes treatment, however, there is just NO excuse for young adults not reading the real thing.

Like other recent Austenesque novels such as Mr. Darcy’s Diary or Letters from Pemberley, these retellings are inspired by Jane Austen’s prose and are not a replacement of them. Should this project have been attempted? Yes. Should they be marketed to adults? Not intentionally. Will they open up possibilities for young readers to advance to the full novels? Definitely.

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