Six contemporary authors have been selected by the Austen Project to ‘update’ or ‘reimagine’ Jane Austen’s timeless stories in the modern world. The Austen Project launched the first of Austen’s six famous novels, Sense and Sensibility, reimagined by the contemporary romantic writer Joanna Trollope, in October 2013. Everybody is talking about it – and everybody is asking questions. Should we reimagine Jane Austen for a 21st Century reader? Why are we rewriting Jane Austen? And indeed the most controversial question: who are we to rewrite Jane Austen?
Literary critic Ellen Moers declares that, ‘all of Jane Austen’s opening paragraphs, and the best of her first sentences, have money in them.’ Austen opens Sense and Sensibility by establishing the Dashwood family estate and relationships in a financial and social context. It is interesting that Trollope attempts to steer clear from the explicit concerns of inheritance and money, immediately immersing the reader in the ‘remarkable view’ from ‘their high generous Georgian windows’. It is all about what we can see. Money is implicitly introduced in the depiction of the wealthy and ‘spectacular’ Sussex Parkland where ‘deer decoratively grazed’. Therefore Trollope’s opening to Sense and Sensibility is more invested in setting the scene, with inheritance and wealth only being subtly alluded to.
Trollope modernises Sense and Sensibility by ‘updating’ the social and economic contexts of Austen’s world. She does this with the inclusion of laptops, iPods, cars and various other technological advances. The characters are ‘tweeting’ about their lives in the same way we might use Twitter in our everyday lives.
Regardless, Austen’s novels are undoubtedly timeless. Austen’s work is preoccupied with notions of the importance of women’s education, the position of women, love, money and marriage. All of these issues are still very relevant today. Certainly, Austen has continued to influence contemporary writers and film directors with her work. The latest contemporary reworking of Austen’s novel is the new British mini-series Death Comes to Pemberley aired first on Boxing Day 2013, based on P.D James’ best seller and thriller sequel to Pride and Prejudice.
There is no doubt the Austen Project will be a success. For instance, Helen Fielding’s successful and popular novel Bridget Jones’ Diary (1996) and its sequel are ‘updated’ or ‘reimagined’ versions of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Heartthrob Mark Darcy, Bridget’s lover and future husband, is the modern characterisation of Austen’s hero Mr Darcy.
The Austen Project has been criticised for attempting to replace Austen’s novels. However, this is not what the Austen Project set out to do. The six contemporary novels are to be in place as a tribute to Austen. A significant part of the Austen Project will also involve the re-release of Austen’s novels in print with a new front cover resembling that of the modern retelling. It is a promising way to encourage young people who wouldn’t necessarily read classic literature to read Jane Austen. For fans of Jane Austen (like myself), the new novels are a different yet fun way to engage and interact with the original stories.
I’m looking forward to the much-anticipated Val McDermid reworking of Northanger Abbey, set to be released on the 27th March 2014. Best-selling crime writer McDermid promises a thrilling read as she relocates Northanger Abbey in the 21st Century at an Edinburgh festival.