From the desk of Katie Patchell:
Two years ago The Austen Project launched their first reimagined Jane Austen novel in the series, Sense and Sensibility (by Joanna Trollope), that has so far included Northanger Abbey (by Val McDermid), and the most recent, published in April of this year—Emma: A Modern Retelling by Alexander McCall Smith. Heralded as ‘Jane Austen—Reimagined,’ each successive book has gathered mixed reviews, yet also a wide readership, as many fans of Jane Austen’s beloved classics look forward to finding out (with anticipation or trepidation) how each of Austen’s six novels have been modernized.
While I’ve enjoyed reading each of The Austen Project books so far, there’s a common issue faced in each of them, one that should be addressed in reviews and even everyday conversation. This issue is: How much can be modernized in any classic update without detracting from the original book? It’s always difficult to decide, as a reader and I’m sure as an author, what can be updated and altered for the 21st century, and what has to stay the same in order for the story to honor the original (and author’s intent). For instance, there are some things—such as views on love, sex, and marriage—that have been updated in this version of Emma to fit the author’s modern beliefs, which do not fit with the original Emma’s written views on these issues or Jane Austen’s beliefs. Some things hold true throughout the centuries, and sometimes removing these in a modern interpretation of a classic significantly takes away from the integrity and meaning of the story. Some of the differences found in this modernization include: Miss Taylor initially moves in with Mr. Weston before their marriage, Emma casually calls her dad ‘Pops’ all the time, Isabella Woodhouse and John Knightley are expecting twins before saying ‘I do,’ and Emma wonders if she’s attracted to females while painting Harriet in the nude. Continue reading
In the second installment of The Austen Project, bestselling Scottish crime writer Val McDermid takes a stab at a contemporary reimagining of Jane Austen’s most under-appreciated novel, Northanger Abbey. Written in the late 1790s when Austen was a fledgling writer, this Gothic parody about young heroine Catherine Morland’s first experiences in Bath society and her romance with the dishy hero Henry Tilney is one of my favorite Austen novels. Fresh and funny, the writing style is not as accomplished as her later works but no one can dismiss the quality of Austen’s witty dialogue nor her gentle joke at the melodramatic Gothic fiction so popular in her day. I was encouraged by the choice of McDermid as an author and intrigued to see how she would transport the story into the 21st century.
Our modern heroine, sixteen-year-old Cat Morland, is a vicar’s daughter living a rather disappointing life in the Piddle Valley of Dorset. Her mother and father seldom argued and never fought, and her siblings were so average she despaired of ever discovering any dark family secrets to add excitement to her life. Homeschooled, she can’t comprehend history or French or algebra, but delights in reading to fuel her vivid imagination, favoring ghost stories, zombie and vampire tales. After years of exploring the narrow confines of her home turf, she craves adventure abroad. Rich neighbors Susie and Andrew Allen come to her rescue by inviting her to travel with them and attend the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland where Cat “is in her element, seeing the potential for terror and adventure around every twist and turn of the narrow streets.”
Introduced to theater, art, and books, and thanks to fashionista Mrs. Allen, Cat soon acquires a new wardrobe and dancing lessons where she partners with a charming and witty young attorney, Henry Tilney. After researching Henry on Facebook and Google she discovers that his father is the much-decorated general who made his name in the Falkland’s war before she was born. Even more interesting to Cat’s Gothic infused imagination, he owns Northanger Abbey, a medieval Borders abbey in Scotland. Cat also meets Mrs. Allen’s long-lost school friend Martha Thorpe and her three daughters, one of which is just Cat’s age. Bella, who recognizes the Morland last name, knows Cat’s elder brother Jamie who is attending Oxford with her brother Johnny. Before long they were “gossiping about the things that entertain young women of a certain age and type,” and becoming BFF’s. Continue reading
From the desk of Katie Patchell”
Many books have been written to continue the stories of the characters that Jane Austen created, including sequels, prequels, continuations, and diaries. Most of these books have been written about the most popular of her novels, Pride and Prejudice while ignoring some of her other different, but equally well-written and beautiful novels–Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Emma, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion. Now for the first time, all six of Jane Austen’s books have been re-imagined and set in the 21st century. The Austen Project has started their new series with an update of Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope—a version filled with unique problems and surprises from today’s world, while still holding true to some of the qualities in Jane Austen’s original novel that makes Sense and Sensibility a timeless tale of sisterhood and second chances.
Invariably, as with all modern retellings, things were left out or changed that were in Jane Austen’s original. While the basic plot stays the same, Joanna Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility has some minor differences in characters and culture—an understandable change because of the different time setting. The updated characters include: Colonel (Bill) Brandon–who converted Delaford into a rehab for drug and alcohol addicts, Edward Ferrars–the philanthropic black sheep of his family, Elinor–the practical student of architecture who has to financially (and emotionally) support her two sisters and mother, Belle Dashwood–Elinor and Marianne’s free-spirited and sentimental mother, Margaret–the moody teenager who is addicted to Facebook, Twitter, and her iPod, Marianne–the guitar-playing romantic who suffers from severe asthma attacks, and John (Wills) Willoughby–the very hot and seemingly rich playboy.
I enjoyed seeing all the characters from Sense and Sensibility from a modern perspective. Joanna Trollope had to answer some uniquely modern questions in her novel. How to keep Regency titles and hierarchy in the setting of present-day England? The Dashwood women had to work to support themselves (unlike upper-class Regency women)—which one of them would be the one to keep everyone afloat, pay bills, and get a job? How to account for the lack of contact (and dramatic suspense) between love interests in an age of texting, cell phones, cars, and email? All the characters had to “transition” from the Regency world to the modern world, and for the most part, Joanna Trollope did a great job. Continue reading
Those folks at HarperCollins really know how to make Janeites scream with joy—well—at least this Janeite, who is over the moon from their announcement last Friday that Alexander McCall Smith is slated to re-write Emma for The Austen Project.
One of my favorite contemporary authors, McCall Smith is renowned for his delightful No 1 Ladies Detective Agency, filled with the intimate characterizations and laugh-out-loud social humor. Better yet, he is a huge Jane Austen fan! His writing talents are an ideal match to Jane Austen’s Emma, a masterpiece of “minute detail” layered with unique characters and intricate plot. I am on my knees in gratitude to publisher Kate Elton (we promise not to call her Mrs. E.) for her choice. In my humble opinion McCall Smith is the perfect choice for a contemporary re-write and I am all anticipation of its release in 2015, the bicentenary year of Emma’s original publication.
The Austen Project will include contemporary reimagining’s of all of Jane Austen’s six major novels by popular authors. First up in the series will be, Sense and Sensibility, by Joanna Trollope which hits book shelves (and digital readers) this month on October 29th followed by Val McDermid’s interpretation of Northanger Abbey on March 27th 2014 and Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld in 2015. That leaves Mansfield Park and Persuasion still up for grabs. Continue reading