Tag Archive: the Austen Project


Thoughts on the Austen Project

As regular readers of this blog may know, I am a Jane Austen fanatic.

I have read all of the six, several times. Years ago my mother gave me a collected edition but I also love my little Barnes and Noble copy of Sense and Sensibility as well.

I have read various fan fictions and have not been impresses. The language is too stilted or the action is unbelievable in an unbelievable manner. My favorites are the Jane Bites Back series by Michael Thomas Ford and Austenland by Shannon Hale. In regards to the former, the book is ten times better than the movie.

Harper Collins is in the middle of the Austen Project in which they hire currently famous writers to re-write those classic novels in modern settings. The order of publication is Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollpe, Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid, Emma by Alexander McCall Smith, and Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld. But let me tell you what I loved and hated about each one in order of least to best.

Austen Project Emma

The one I liked the least was the novel Jane loved the best. However, there was something missing from this retelling. McCall Smith, who writes with much charm in the #1 Ladies Detective Agency, failed to understand Emma and her circle. This despite writing long and complicated back stories for the majority of the characters we never understood before.

From Mr. Woodhouse to Mr. Knightly to John Knightly to Mrs. Goddard and Harriet, we received more back story than necessary. That leads to a hurry-up-and-tell the story affair that made me wonder why Mr. Knightly would even consider Emma. I questioned why she wanted to hang with Harriet who was clearly her lesser. Frank and Jane were an even bigger bore.

But stranger than that to me was how the extra hired help questioned why Emma was not in the kitchen helping to make the meal for her big dinner party. The setting was still England so despite the modern ramp up and various changes in society, I could not see that being probable. Nope, Emma would not be in the kitchen making the sauce or cleaning the silver.

Austen Project Sense and Sensability

When I read Joanna Trollope’s foray into this project, I have to admit I really enjoyed it. The update has Eleanor in college for architecture, Marianne as a talented home musician, and Margaret was in that frightful stage of middle school. We learn that their parents never married as their mother was ‘the other woman’ and the two hippies settled in without the paperwork.

So when Mr. Dashwood dies, John inherits all. His wife happily gives the other Dashwood girls that unwelcomed feeling till Mrs. Dashwood and the girls find a new home. Sir John Middleton is happy to be their hero by giving the girls jobs as models in his outerwear catalog and finding Eleanor a great job in her field of study. Eleanor is the grown-up dealing with heartache of grief and total loss of their old life style while the rest of her family flip out in their own special way.

The modern touches of how facebook and phones are fundamental parts of our lives was wonderful. The problems I had were that characters, especially the Dashwood sisters, were more crass. Hippie or not, I expected Mrs. Dashwood to not allow that kind of behavior in her girls. While Coronal Brandon is still fabulous, I am not sure if he was too wonderful. And there was one portion at the engagement party where Mrs. Ferrars’ reaction was correct. It is hard to laugh at her silly desire to be right at all times despite being wrong when she is actually in the right.

Austen Project EligibleThis next selection just left my hot little hands, so I may be in the mulling stage yet. However, Eligible really is close to being a good update to Pride and Prejudice. To make it work, Curtis Sittenfeld has aged the characters and moved them to Cincinnati.

Jane is 40, a yoga instructor, and looking at a sperm donor for thee child she wanted and never had. Liz, at 38, is a successful magazine writer with a crush on colleague Jasper Wicks. He is married and promises to leave his wife someday. The older two girls live in NYC while the younger three live at home still. Mary is 30 and working on her third online Master’s degree. Kitty, 24, and Lydia, 22, are gym rats and Paleo diet fans.

What no one knows, until Liz ferrets out the information from her dad, is that the family home, a Tudor style house in the Hyde Park neighborhood on three acres of land is mortgaged to the hilt. She finds this out after she and Jane come home to help Dad recover from a heart attack and broken arm. Liz also finds out her parents have no health insurance.

Enter in Bingly, a gorgeous ER doctor who was also a contestant on Eligible, a Bachelor-like show, and Darcy, a neurosurgeon working at a local stroke clinic. Soon events are going in the direction we expect with a few twists here and there.

Again, this is a lovely update, the satire was stronger than in the other outings. There are some adaptations that are well suited for this update and questions are raised  about interpretations that are interesting. I love the modern take, the simplifying of some relationships while others take on a more physical nature which may or may not be appropriate for our times. I also wonder if Sittenfeld was watching The Holiday  as she wrote this, too many similarities.

Austen Project Northanger AbbeyBut my favorite of all of the adaptations is Northanger Abbey  by Val McDermid. To begin with, the setting is switched from Bath to Edinburgh for their annual arts festival. Filled with accidental meetings and the excitement of seeing an old friend, we experience Cathy’s happiness at being in the middle of a happening art scene.

She and Isabelle are soon as thick as thieves. But happenstance allows her to meet Henry and Eleanor, growing a relationship. Once she receives the invitation to come to the Abbey, it is not long before Cathy imagines vampires everywhere.

This is a fast pace read, filled with teen references, Facebook and messaging technology, and the drama that fills that age group. It embodies Austen’s love for the Gothic novel that she satirizes. Cathy morphs into a modern teen into a bit of a fairy tale existence with her protectors and yet she feels as fresh and naive as she did 200 years earlier. I would read it again or perhaps give it to my daughter to read so she can see that Austin is not just for the costume drama fans.

What are you reading?

My Austen Obsession

Just when I think I am off my Jane Austen kick, it comes roaring back.

I know that I should read other pieces of fiction that have nothing to do with Austen. And I do. Recently I read China Dolls by Lisa See, Without You there is No Us, and Escape from Camp 14 in a fit of need for knowledge about Asia. I have one more book to read about an American soldier who defected to North Korea during a period of homesickness and depression.

JA Death Comes to PemberleyBut ever since my book group read Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James, I have found my self lost in a round of Austen that is not even written by Jane. I have even delved in to the Austen Project by Harper Collins.

In this book, we are back at Pemberley but it is six years later. Darcy and Elizabeth are deliriously happy with two little boys. Georgina still lives with them but has shown interest in a busy but successful lawyer. Jane and Bingley live nearby with their children.

Life couldn’t be happier as they prepare for the annual Autumn ball that is held in the memory of the last Mrs. Darcy.

But on the night before the ball Lydia comes to the front door, screaming that Wickham has been killed and They must do something about it. Well, he is not dead but his friend, Denny, has a nasty blow to the head.

Here is my problem with this book. It is stiff. The language, the action, the formalities between people who should like each other and feel at ease. The story is told from Darcy’s viewpoint most of the time and perhaps that is one reason for the constant formal atmosphere. Except that Elizabeth has taken on some of that as well.

This was not a favorite and nor shall I be reading it again anytime soon. I liked the story but some of the relationships seemed a bit preposterous. It was a mystery and not a comedy of manners in the way of Pride and Prejudice. in this book the problems of the past could not be laughed away. Instead there was too much analysis.

JA Sense and Sensibility_trollope_Well, having failed that my other faux Austen adventure was sinking into the new versions of Northanger Abbey, and Sense and Sensibility. Harper Collins has put together a group of modern-day writers who take on of the six and write it in the modern era. That means there are constant references to iPhones and texting.

Joanna Trollope took on Sense and Sensibility. For me, this should have been a slam dunk for Joanna. If you have read her novels, you know that she has a knack for describing the human heart and it’s layers of feelings. I have enjoyed her writing over the years.

In this book, mom and dad never got married so Norland goes to John. Fanny comes in with plans to make the old manor home into a B&B. Elinor is yanked out of her architectural program, Marianne is an asmathic, and Margaret is a sulky pre-teen.

Thank God for cousin Sir John Middleton who offers them a home on his estate near Exeter. He owns a clothing company and uses members of the family as models for his catalog. He also finds Elinor a job in her field and introduces the Dashwoods to Col. Brandon.

I enjoyed the pace of this book, I enjoyed how Trollope worked around various parts of the story that made sense in 1802 but not 2014. I did not enjoy how rude the girls became to one another. I never felt that until Elinor gives up her secret, Marianne was nothing more than a selfish little twit. Margaret wasn’t much better but she is 12. Worse was Mrs. Dashwood who never understood Elinor’s worries and was the example that Marianne seemed to live by.

If it wasn’t for the fact that Alexander McCall Smith is working on Emma, I might have to give up on this series.

JA Murder Most PersuasiveIn truth, I find the best adaptation stay away from the source books with only a tiny bit of a story working its way in to whatever the main plot turns out to be. At Christmas, my mother sent me a newer mystery series by Tracy Kiely. Here our detective is a Jane Austen devotee. She quotes Jane Austen whenever possible. It is a sickness shared by her favorite aunt who has a B&B in Martha’s Vineyard named after Longbourn.

While some portion of the story has characters lifted from the canon but given different names, the murder mystery often has nothing to do with that bit. I have read all but one book in the series. Sadly it ends at number four, which is too bad because I think Kiely was hitting her stride at no. 3, Murder Most Persuasive.

In this book, Elizabeth is helping out her cousin after the death of a beloved uncle. That is when the body of a former friend of the family is discovered. Worse yet, he is the former fiancee of the cousin’s older sister. Soon one of the plot lines resembles Persuasion and Elizabeth’s sister is almost word-for-word like Mary.

What I love about this series is that it is light and breezy, a great read for summer time or anytime you want something quick. They have been great when I need my mind to focus on something other than my father’s death. And my daughter has picked them up. I was able to get the rest of the four book series through my library. We are in Austen heaven for the time being.

JA Jane Austen and the Maddening Lord ByronNext on my list to read is Jane Austen and the Madness of Lord Byron by Stephanie Barron. When I read Barron’s work in the past I found the language too formal and the relationships too casual.

However, I have a huge crush on Lord Byron. I would never want to  be married to the man as he has way too much baggage. But to be in his circle for even a short time would be something.

I will get to this book as soon as I am done with the latest book club book. Then I can get back to my Austen Obsession.

What books have you been obsessing over?