A modernized tribute to Jane Austen

Sense & Sensibility. Joanna Trollope. Harper. 362 pages. $25.99.
Sense & Sensibility. Joanna Trollope. Harper. 362 pages. $25.99.

Welcome to the Austen Project, a British scheme to update Jane Austen’s sacred lifework — again. This time, well-known authors have been employed to hustle her characters into the 21st century. The Janeites, as her followers are known, may well chain themselves to the publishing house door, but perhaps Jane is smiling from her corner of heaven’s drawing room.

Joanna Trollope, the author of many wonderfully readable novels focusing on the ups and downs of British middle-class lives, drew the Sense and Sensibility card and has produced the debut volume in this new series. (Curtis Sittenfeld will bring Pride and Prejudice into the present next fall, and Alexander McCall Smith is at work on Emma.)

Trollope sticks closely to the Sense and Sensibility plot: Austen’s horse-drawn coaches become Aston Martins; uncle Sir John Middleton runs an outdoor clothing company that sounds a lot like L.L. Bean, and Marianne sends passionate notes to her heartless lover via email. Like Austen’s Elinor (sense), this modern Elinor is still a responsible older sister, who carefully hides her love for the do-good Edward Ferrars. Meanwhile, Marianne (sensibility) falls for a caddish John Willoughby — just like the originals.

But there comes a moment, hard to pin down, when Trollope’s characters leave their predecessors behind and become players in their own lives. Even though you may know Austen’s novels well enough to predict exactly what will happen next, you'll care about finding your way to the happy ending of Trollope’s version.

If we allow the basic question—- should this happen at all? — the next question is simple: Is the new version worth reading? The answer is unequivocally yes. Trollope, a descendant of the prolific Victorian writer Anthony Trollope, has immersed herself in Austen’s novels, finding at the core of each three drivers: romantic love, money and class. She manages to make her characters contemporary without letting them drift from these fundamental concerns. Elinor really does worry about money and is glad to have a job; Marianne certainly becomes enmeshed in romantic love no matter how unworthy her choice; and belonging to a particular class is as fueled by birth and finance in 2013 as it was in 1811.

The Austen Project is a breathtaking tribute to Jane Austen. Profit-driven 21st century publishers have faith in her iconic name and immaculate plots. I can’t wait to read the other five updates while being reminded to reread, joyfully, the originals.

Brigitte Weeks reviewed this book for the Washington Post.

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