Author of The Rector’s Wife plans modern-day ‘conversation’ with Sense and Sensibility
From Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy to Emma Woodhouse and Mr Knightley, Jane Austen created some of the most enduring romances in literary history. Now, publisher HarperCollins is hoping it has dreamed up another marriage made in heaven, commissioning Joanna Trollopeto write a contemporary reworking of Austen’s novel, Sense and Sensibility.
The pairing is the first in a what the publisher has dubbed a “major” new series, in which it will team modern authors with Austen’s six novels, asking them to reimagine the books in a contemporary setting. The project is the latest addition to the current vogue for Austen remixes, which have ranged over recent years from the unexpected success of Seth Grahame-Smith’s zombie mash-up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to erotic fiction author Mitzi Szereto’s X-rated Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts.
Trollope, whose novels of everyday relationships and emotions have garnered her comparisons to Austen in the past, will publish her take on Sense and Sensibility in autumn 2013. She said the novel would be “not an emulation, but a tribute”.
“This is a great honour and an even bigger challenge,” said the author ofThe Choir, A Village Affair and The Rector’s Wife. “It’s a hugely exciting proposal to attempt the reworking of one of the best novels written by one of our greatest novelists. This is a project which will require consummate respect above all else.”
HarperFiction publishing director Louisa Joyner said the two novelists “share an extraordinary ability to combine heart-rending plots with a social acuity which has powerful resonances for contemporary audiences”. She came up with the idea for the series after reading a comparison between Trollope and Austen – Trollope herself has said that “comparisons with Jane Austen make me twitch. She is a Great: I am a Good – on a good day”.
“TV adaptations of Austen all focus on one reading of her: they are all about the romance. But actually she was such an acute social commenter – and economics were such an important part of it,” said Joyner. “I couldn’t help thinking about all the contemporary resonances, [and I realised that] taking the bare bones of the story, and seeing where a contemporary novelist would get to would be fascinating – like refracting the novels through a prism.”
Joyner describes the new series as a “conversation” between Austen and today’s novelists. “I am imagining all sorts of reactions, everything from amazed to unhappy and everything in between,” she said. “What is very exciting is that people have that strength of feeling about a novelist. This is no attempt to better her. It’s a respectful conversation, and if it ends up with people talking more about Austen and Trollope, then that’s a good thing. It’s not a competition. It is a literary celebration, and all debate is good.”
Meanwhile, John Mullan, Professor of English at University College London, said the project was part of “a time-honoured literary genre”. “in the 18th century they used to call it imitation,” he said. “It’s an old tradition – Pope did Horace, Dr Johnson did Juvenal, now Trollope is doing Austen … I think it’s fine. It always works best if the people who enjoy it most know the original – that’s the test.”
HarperCollins is currently in talks with other “authors of global literary significance” about the remaining five Austen novels. Joyner would not comment on suggestions that Stephen King might produce an interesting take on Northanger Abbey, or that an Ian Rankin crime twist to Emma could prove fun.