Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Austen Project

The Austen Project is a major new series of six novels teaming up authors of global literary significance with Jane Austen's six complete works.*

Sense & Sensibility by Joanna Trollope (HarperCollins hardcover, 29 October 2013).

Retellings and spinoffs of Jane Austen's small oeuvre abound.  From "chick-lit" such as Bridget Jones's Diary to mysteries where Jane is an amateur sleuth, but The Austen Project has a different aim.  On the website, Joanna Trollope describes the undertaking as "not an emulation, but a tribute".

Her Sense & Sensibility (note the ampersand) is a fine example.

Trollope has moved the Dashwood sisters to the 21st Century.  Poverty-stricken Henry Dashwood, his partner Isabella (Belle) and their three daughters are invited to live at Norland, the family estate, by his bachelor Uncle Henry.  They remain there happily for several years after the elder Henry's death, until his nephew is taken to hospital suffering from a severe asthma attack, which soon takes his life.

Norland is inherited by John Dashwood, the younger Henry's son from his first marriage.  Artistic, passionate Belle is emotionally distraught, as is middle daughter Marianne.  Practical Elinor, the eldest daughter, is forced to take charge and find the family a new place to live, since Margaret, the youngest, is only thirteen.  John and his wife Fanny are self-centred and begin to redecorate the house before the residents have even found a new place to live.

So far, it seems pretty close to the original, yes?

But Elinor has to give up working on a degree in architecture and find a job, Marianne plays guitar, and Belle and Henry were never officially married.

Although the basic plot is the same as  in Sense and Sensibility, but of course Trollope's tribute includes things like laptop computers, iPods (or their equivalent), and Marianne's love for the music of Taylor Swift.

And although everyone who's ever read Miss Austen's book knows the plot, the reader of S&S is still eager to learn just how it is that 21st Century Willoughby will humiliate Marianne, or how 21st Century Lucy will maneuver Edward into believing he has an obligation to her.

Jane-ites will likely either love the book or be disdainful of it.  (This reviewer falls into the first category.)

Two other books are scheduled in The Jane Austen Project thus far: Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid in March 2014, and Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld in the fall.

FTC Full Disclosure:  I borrowed this book from my local library.

*From the The Austen Project website.

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