Author! Author!

A Q&A with Joanna Trollope

Author Joanna Trollope’s new novel is an updated version of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”
Author Joanna Trollope’s new novel is an updated version of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”

Sense and Sensibility is not Joanna Trollope’s favorite Jane Austen novel. That would be Persuasion . “The older you get, the more you feel the emotional reality of suffering and waiting and being a little bit older,” says the British author of more than 25 novels including The Soldier’s Wife, The Other Family and A Village Affair . “I suppose we all come to it eventually.”

But the more Trollope thought about her publisher’s request to rewrite and modernize Sense and Sensibility as part of The Austen Project, in which six writers will reimagine Austen’s works, the more she liked the idea of taking on the romantic (and economic) journeys of the Dashwood sisters — Elinor (practical, capable) and Marianne (dreamy, passionate). Next year, Curtis Sittenfeld will tackle Pride and Prejudice, and then Alexander McCall Smith will work his magic on Emma.

Sense and Sensibility is such a timeless novel,” says Trollope, who’s distantly related to Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope. “It translated completely from the 19th century to now with hardly a beat. It’s amazing. Because she is interested in romantic love but really only in the chase. She’s interested in the journey. But she’s passionately interested in money.”

Q. Was it daunting, adapting Jane Austen?

She’s a sacred icon! But I thought about it at length and came to the conclusion that my version would be a tribute, not an imitation. It’s written in my voice, not her voice. ... I remember a composer telling me once about the essence of a good melody. He cited Summertimefrom Porgy and Bess. You can do anything to it: syncopate it, transpose it, and you still know it’s Summertime. It’s the same with Jane Austen — and Shakespeare. Not Dickens; his is so much a caricature world. But those who write about us in all our complexity, you can do anything you like to them, and the essence remains.

Q. What parts of the book lent themselves to modern interpretation?

Marianne herself: She’s a product of the 19th century fashion for ‘sensibility,’ this adoration of all things natural and complete surrender to emotion. That’s not a million miles away from modern girls’ sense of entitlement. ‘I want Mr. Wonderful, but he has to make 50 thousand a year.’ Their wishlists are very like Marianne’s. And someone like Willoughby [the cad with whom Marianne falls in love] would be called a trust fund baby. He’s living on the expectation of tremendous inheritance. There are plenty of rich kids here now living that way. They never take public transport. They never have to sweat the summer out in some terrible tenement.

Q. When did you first start reading Austen’s works?

I suppose I was 13 or 14. I started with Pride and Prejudice. ... As you get older you like the more complex heroines like Emma and Anne Eliot. And you begin to realize Fanny [from Mansfield Park] is a right little cow. Pride and Prejudice has gotten so cliched since Colin Firth and his wet shirt. Poor Colin. What really emerged from that was how sexy money is.

Q. Do you see a bit of a dark side to Austen’s work?

Almost everybody in Jane Austen’s books were supported from money from the slave trade. That’s what gave Bingley money. Where does Darcy’s money come from? The coal mines of Derbyshire built Pemberley. In Pride and Prejudice, there’s a moment when Kitty is talking to Lydia about the barracks in Meryton and the exciting redcoats and how there was a flogging. A man would have been stripped to the waist and flogged until he passed out. There are all these hideous things hidden in the background.

Q. And yet there are still people who read these books and don’t notice the darker elements.

What’s fascinating about the devotion to Jane Austen is the work is seen as an idyll. But the idyll is illusory. Her books are not quite as sugared almond as the kind of vulgar common perception of them is.

Connie Ogle is the Miami Herald’s book editor.

Read more Books stories from the Miami Herald

 <span class="cutline_leadin">STONE MATTRESS: </span>Nine Tales. Margaret Atwood. Nan A. Talese. Doubleday. 288 pages. $25.95.


    Past looms large in new stories from Margaret Atwood

    In Margaret Atwood’s new collection, the past looms large for aging protagonists, but sympathy and regret abound, too.

  • What are you reading now?

    “I just finished Claire DeWitt and The City of the Dead by Sara Gran, which I love, love, loved. It’s a mystery set in New Orleans shortly after the storm and solved by girl detective, Claire DeWitt, who applies her special method of detection which is pretty much based on yoga and Buddhism combined with the altered mind states of drugs, drink, dreams and growing up in Brooklyn.”

 <span class="cutline_leadin">WHAT STAYS IN VEGAS:</span> The World of Personal Data — Lifeblood of Big Business C — and the End of Privacy as We Know It. Adam Tanner. PublicAffairs. 316 pages. $27.99.


    ‘What Stays in Vegas’ examines data packaging and the end of privacy

    Journalist explains how data packaging makes American companies the biggest threat to privacy.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category