Sense and Sensibility

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Sense and Sensibility
Joanna Trollope
Harper Collins

In theory, I abhor the idea of modernizing Austen: being a writer, I know I would hate people messing around with my books, throwing them in a different time period or (heaven forbid!) adding vampires or zombies or sea monsters to them or something. And why do you need to update stories I still find relevant today, anyway? However, in practice, I’ve read and watched my share of modernized Austen classics- I remember picking up Debra White Smith’s retellings a few years ago, and while I never did get into The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, I have been (mostly) keeping up with Emma Approved. So when I first heard about Harper Collins “Austen Project” I was disdainful…but when I saw a copy of Sense and Sensibility at the library, I picked it up. Typical.

The Austen Project is an upcoming series of books setting Jane Austen’s books in modern day, the first of which, Sense and Sensibility, came out this year. I admit I was curious, but when I began to read I was instantly disappointed. Not from the fact that it was set in modern day, but the fact that according to today’s world, “modernized” might as well be synonymous with “inappropriate.” Aside from Marianne and Willoughby's (called “Wills” in this update) highly unacceptable relationship, there was language- and I mean language. Not so much so that it was on every page or something, but the actual words were very offensive (and I’m not talking about a D**n used a few times, either).

I also felt like something in the book was missing- I couldn’t put my finger on it until later. Though Austen never explicitly mentions God in her works, her characters operate in a very clear Christian worldview. Joanna Trollope takes away that entirely (even Edward, who wishes to become a pastor in the original, wishes to do something “public service-y” rather than religious in this modern story) And that really takes away from the book. It gives the allusion of this update being too much like the original and too little: the things don’t mesh together because of it. Their morals are different, so the idea of Willoughby getting a young girl pregnant is just not as appalling as in Austen’s classic. Instead, he gets her hooked on drugs because that’s so much worse, apparently. The Dashwood girls, frankly,  aren’t as likable because their moral standards aren’t as high. The reason we love Jane Austen’s heroines and heroes are because they have flaws but at  heart they’re good. Joanna Trollope lowers the level of their morals- which means she has to make the villains even worse to gain the reader’s appropriate reaction. For example, when Wills takes Marianne to see his home and they- ahem- become rather intimate (which was NOT in the original, my friends!), Elinor is upset not because of what they did, but because they did it secretly without his aunt’s knowledge. Because apparently it’s okay to have an inappropriate relationship if you keep it out in the open, but not if you use deception. It’s as if the author had to make excuses about why certain characters’ actions were wrong, because while they might have been scandalous back in Jane Austen’s day, today they’d garner nothing more than an eye blink.

And it was too much like Austen's classic in the fact that the author tried too hard to make certain plot points work that just didn't in modern society. Even the way the Dashwoods lost their house sort of had me scratching my head a little bit.

As far as this book was being advertised- as Jane Austen’s classic story with the addition of social media and technology- it wasn’t as overt as I was expecting. Marianne naturally texts Willoughby obsessively, while her hysterics at finding him in London end up on youtube (poor girl). Margaret fiddles with her earbuds and is a bit more on the bratty side than usual (although I was half afraid they would get rid of her character altogether). Practical Elinor is the one to get a job to support her family- unheard of in Austen’s classic but of course a very necessary and a believable addition here.

The thing is, because each of the novels in the “Austen Project” are being written by different authors, I would be willing to read more of the upcoming ones (albeit a bit nervously. If they end up changing Fanny Price’s character-!). However, I highly doubt I’ll ever pick up another book by Joanna Trollope.


Rating: 3

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