I was lucky to receive this copy from @writingatrosys via Twitter and am grateful to them and Harper Collins for allowing me an advanced copy. This review first appeared on Mrsbbooks2011/blogspot.co.uk
I’ll start by saying I love Jane Austen. Hers are the books I turn to when I don’t know what to read next. They never fail to re-ignite my love of books and remind me of the joy of reading. I am always wary of Austen inspired work because as good as some of them are they don’t tend to live up to the original. However I was intrigued to hear about The Austen Project launched by Harper Collins. Each of the six completed published works of Austen is being re-written by six literary greats, bringing them squarely into the 21st Century. The first offering is Sense & Sensibility by Joanna Trollope.
The story remains the same. The Dashwood girls, Elinor, Marianne and Margaret lose their father and due to antiquated inheritance terms Norland, their home for 20 years passes to their half – brother John and his scheming wife Fanny. She wastes no time in moving into Norland and persuading John that the help to his sisters and stepmother he promised to his dying father amounts to nothing more than allowing them to live at Norland rent free until they find somewhere else.
The Dashwoods are soon offered a cottage by Sir John Middleton, a distant relative and they soon move to Devon. Each are leaving behind something that they love, for Margaret it is her private school, Marianne, Norland and for Elinor it is Edward Ferrars, the younger brother of Fanny, who disapproves of the friendship between the two.
Once ensconced in Barton Cottage the girls soon become involved in the comings and goings of the Middletons and Mrs Jennings, the mother-in-law of Sir John. Here they are introduced to Colonel Brandon who soon falls for Mariannne. She however believes him too old for her but soon falls for John ‘Wills’ Willoughby who rescues her when she suffers an asthma attack. A romance between the two quickly develops but just as quickly ends with Wills sudden departure, leaving Marianne heart broken.
Meanwhile Elinor is befriended by Lucy Steele, a friend of Mrs Jennings, who confides that she is secretly engaged to Edward Ferrars, the man Elinor can scarcely admit to herself she loves and with whom she now barely sees. For those of you who have read the original you know how the rest of the story goes, for those of you who haven’t I don’t want to spoil it by saying any more.
The difficulty with re-writing such a book and making it fit with 21st Century lifestyles is that many of the social conventions are no longer an issue. Ms Trollope deals with them deftly, showing that for some the most important thing is still money and status and not love. The use of modern conveniences felt natural, cars replaced carriages, the modern cottage replaced the old idea of Barton cottage to show how keenly the Dashwoods felt the loss of their old home and Facebook and Twitter replaced the newspapers and gossip grapevines utilised by Jane Austen. Nothing jars when reading the modern version as I thought it may.