In general I’m not a fan of the plethora of Jane Austen rewrites, although I will occasionally read one by an author whose work I trust. Such is the case with Joanna Trollope, who writes realistic contemporary fiction about family situations. So, I thought I’d give her reworking of Sense and Sensibility a try.
The story is a familiar one. The Dashwood women are ousted from their family home when the girls’ half brother John inherits. His selfish wife Fanny quickly talks him out of the generosity he promised his father he would show to his father’s second family.
Elinor Dashwood is in love with Fanny’s brother Edward Ferrars, but Edward’s future is uncertain. He has not spoken, so Elinor keeps her feelings to herself. Her sister Marianne, however, throws herself wholeheartedly and recklessly into an affair with handsome John Willoughby, who is visiting his aunt, a neighbor of their new home.
The reworkings I’ve read generally have some twist or contemporary slant to put on the story. In Bridget Jones’ Diary, for example, it was the surprise of finding you are reading an update of Pride and Prejudice and the charming narrative style of Bridget. Unfortunately, aside from updating the story to the current time, I don’t feel that this novel has much to add to or say differently than the original.
More importantly, I’m not sure that this novel translates very well to the 21st century, or at least not this version of it. The amount of money the Dashwoods are left would sound like a lot to most people, unlike the paltry amount left to them in the original novel, and the girls can always get a job in the current time period. Marianne’s behavior, while shocking to a 19th century audience, where ladies did not reveal their feelings for young men until they received a proposal, is mostly just excessive in the current day, except for the lovers’ behavior when visiting Willoughby’s aunt’s house. And while Edward in the original novel was behaving scrupulously in a time when a gentleman did not end an engagement, in the current times Ed just comes off as weak and indecisive. Frankly, I found myself sometimes wishing that Trollope would change the end of the novel to have Elinor end up with Bill.
I enjoyed the novel to an extent, but this modern version doesn’t involve me as the original does. The scene where Ed finally proposes to Elinor left me dry-eyed. Sense and Sensibility is one of my favorite Austen novels, and I think I’ll stick to Austen.