Book Review: Sense & Sensibility by Joanna Trollope

Sense & Sensibility by Joanna Trollope

  • Method of Obtaining: I received a copy from the publisher.
  • Published by:  Harper
  • Release Date:  10.29.2013

From one of the most insightful chroniclers of family life working in fiction today comes a contemporary retelling of Jane Austen’s classic novel of love, money, and two very different sisters

John Dashwood promised his dying father that he would take care of his half sisters. But his wife, Fanny, has no desire to share their newly inherited estate with Belle Dashwood’s daughters. When she descends upon Norland Park with her Romanian nanny and her mood boards, the three Dashwood girls-Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret-are suddenly faced with the cruelties of life without their father, their home, or their money.

As they come to terms with life without the status of their country house, the protection of the family name, or the comfort of an inheritance, Elinor and Marianne are confronted by the cold hard reality of a world where people’s attitudes can change as drastically as their circumstances.

With her sparkling wit, Joanna Trollope casts a clever, satirical eye on the tales of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. Reimagining Sense and Sensibility in a fresh, modern new light, she spins the novel’s romance, bonnets, and betrothals into a wonderfully witty coming-of-age story about the stuff that really makes the world go around. For when it comes to money, some things never change. . . .

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My Review:

When I first heard about The Austen Project (modernization of Jane Austen’s works being put out by Harper) I was a bit dubious.  I mean, I love Austen’s books – count me amount the hordes of fans who think they are just perfect.  Now, mind you there are a few books out there, like Longbourn by Jo Baker, that play with some of the characters a bit, but I enjoyed them due to their authenticity and the respect that was evident for Austen’s writing.  But still, I was wary about Sense & Sensibility by Joanna Trollope.

Let me tell you why.  First, I knew nothing of Trollope’s writing.  She has an impressive resume of books, but I’d never experienced them; in fact, I’d never heard of Trollope before picking up Sense & Sensibility.  Second, while Pride & Prejudice will always rank up there in my esteem of Austen’s work, slowly Sense & Sensibility has been moving toward the top of that list.  I think that is due to my own aging self and the appreciation I have for supremely awkward situations (Lucy, Edward, and Elinor anyone?) and also due to my absolute love of Emma Thompson as Elinor Dashwood in the movie.  If you haven’t seen it, you must as soon as possible.

I was also worried that in addition to gussying up the language into a more modern sense, liberties would be taken with the story that would take some of the things I love away, like the awkwardness.  Granted, I wasn’t thinking along the lines of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters – but still, there’s an awful lot you can do when re-writing a classic, and I worried that the story would become juvenile.

So with those reservations said, let me talk about what I loved about Trollope’s re-imagining of Sense & Sensibility.  First, the relationships.  While it might seem a stretch to work inheritance and incomes from Austen’s day into our present day lives, it worked well.  The death of the Dashwood patriarch throws Belle Dashwood and her daughters into a horrible quandary.  Add into the mix, the subtle twist that Trollope gives the story in order for it to make sense that they don’t inherit and you’ve got a good, solid base.

Trollope also incorporates little bits of technology into the story without changing the integrity of what Austen had to say.  Marianne, passionate, full-of-romance, Marianne spends her time texting and emailing rather than waiting forlornly for a letter by post.  Willoughby’s influence on the young woman that Col. Brandon was watching out for made complete sense in today’s day and age, and Elinor’s desire to see her family independent and well-off also translated well.

Unfortunately, what did not translate well, was Edward.  Poor Edward – in Austen’s day he came off as noble; a young man willing to give up a fortune in order to do the right thing.  But today, Edward simply came off as the guy who will probably end up working a minimum wage job for the rest of his life unless he can get a handout from someone with some business sense.  Edward was the only disappointment I had, and I don’t believe that was Trollope’s fault.  For the first time, I saw Edward as Jane might have seen him and I understood a bit more clearly why the scenes in the original were as awkward as they came off being.  Young men, noble while they might be, were still so dependent on their mothers or aunts or grandmothers and subject to their rule, no matter how much we, in this day and age, might have thought those women powerless, they still had some iota of power.  This was demonstrated well through Edward’s mother, through Fanny, and through Willoughby’s aunt.

I would love to do a side-by-side comparison of the original and this modernization and to examine the impact those three women had in both cases.  I think it would be an interesting study and I love that Harper has chosen to do this project – I think it will not only bring some fresh new faces to the Austen scene, but will awaken new ideas in us old-timers who still love to study and admire Austen and her creations.

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