Sense and Sensibility - Maybe I'm not as against modern retellings as I thought...

Sense & Sensibility (Austen Project) - Joanna Trollope

Warning: I'm assuming you've read Austen's version of Sense and Sensibility as I write this review. I won't spoil how this book ends but I'll talk about actions and events that happened in the original.


Austen's Sense and Sensibility (S&S) was the first of her books I ever read...seventeen years ago. I remember liking it well enough but not as much as I hoped after watching the movie. It would not be until P&P (Pride and Prejudice) that I fell under Jane Austen's spell. My less then stellar reading of the book always haunted me and I am looking forward to my reread of it with the Austen group read staring April 10th. However, when I heard about this modern re-imagining, I simply had to give it a try. I'll admit to worry, however. Could the author translate the characters, situations, and the world they inhabit into the modern day?


Yes. Actually, she did it brilliantly.


The characters inhabiting Austen's book, while as always very real, were a bit hit or miss with me. I loved Margaret, understood Marianne at times and others wanted to slap her, loved Colonel Brandon (and not only because I'd seen Alan Rickman play him!), couldn't stand Lucy Steele (I cheer every time in the movie when Fanny attacks her), wanted to slap Fanny and loathed Willoughby from the beginning (is anybody shocked by his actions out of curiosity? I never was.) Elinor, I simply wanted to hug as she faced so much with little from those around her. Trollope gave me a different look at these people and in turn, has made me long to read the original again in depth. I'm counting down the days.


One of the biggest changes was allowing us in the heads of more people then Elinor and M, what they call Marianne. Belle, their mother, particularly came out of the woodwork as we see her personally deal with her lover's death, find where M. gets her personality, and really see how much she takes advantage of E. She went from an okay background character to someone I'm very unhappy with.


Margaret or 'Mags' is another character I reacted differently to. I found her spunk and curiosity lovely in the Austen's but here she's a moody teenager who grows into a help but really becomes yet another problem. Marianne with bad asthma makes her even more insensitive, though she grows up faster and Elinor is used so much that I'd skip the hug and go straight to a shot something strong. At times she reminded more of Anne Elliot then her own character. Seriously, I'd have left them to fend for themselves (no I wouldn't have, I'd been Elinor and that makes me madder).


Fanny is even worse; no rules of civility no. Man, she pissed me off! And I don't say that often. But Lucy took the cake! I'd always seen her as a manipulative, conniving, fortune-hunting viper and boy, did Trollope bring that out in spades. Seriously, she needs to go; it's called justice! Sir John Middleton was slightly worse, Mrs. Jennings slightly better, (Mr.) Tommy Palmer is my new hero and Brandon - I love him even more here!


Where the author truly shown, however, was morphing Regency England into our own time period. It is so easy to forget that S&S and the others were meant to be read as current fiction. The situations and the people were suppose to seem a part of the reader's world. Reading it as a 'classic' was not the original intent. I thought she brought the book into the 21st century without losing what made it so great in the first place. I'd go so far as to compare it favorably with Sherlock, which is high praise coming from me. I thought what both do was impossible, much less that it could be done so well until I saw a texting Sherlock with nicotine patches and a modern laboratory.


And you can't just change a hansom to a London cab or a pianoforte to a guitar - never mind post YouTube videos over embarrassing moments; you have to draw parallels and find equivalents that make sense. For example, in Austen, Edward wants to go into the church. While the Church of England certainly still exists, it's far less likely now that Edward would look into joining today.

Also, Colonel Brandon wouldn't have the same ability in this version as he has in the original to offer him a situation.

(show spoiler)

Trollope's solution fit with the character and made sense within today's context. There were many of these and overall I found each of her decisions understandable and fit both the criteria from the original and the differences from then to now.


But it wasn't just situations that were aged; manners and reactions got their makeovers. Fanny's actions towards the sisters and their mother are more blatant and so mean spirited. Too, Lucy Steele is more open about what's she's doing. Marianne also is more blatant and the 'gentlemen' are not really ones of leisure. They all have some job and this changes how they react.


The plot itself is very familiar to one whose read Austen's original...and yet there are differences. Not major ones but rather ones of timing, understanding, etc.


All together, this was much stronger then I'd even dared to hope. I strongly recommend reading the original, if you haven't already, before picking up this book but it is very enjoyable and really gives you a chance to look at the characters in a way that is difficult for most modern readers. Trollope gives us a chance to see beyond the empire waist dresses and waistcoats, just as Sherlock gives us a chance to see beyond the gaslights and hansoms.