Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope is the first in The Austen Project series of books in which contemporary writers rework Austen’s classics to bring them into the modern day.
In a world without the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Emma Approved and Clueless, Trollope’s updating of Sense and Sensibility might appear fresh and fun. In comparison to these other modernisations, however, it comes across as unimaginative and safe. Too often it appears Trollope has simply transposed the characters and situations from Regency England to the modern day without using more up to date equivalents. A few references to Facebook and Twitter don’t make a modern adaption. In all fairness, perhaps Trollope was given a tight brief by HarperCollins to keep it close to the original.
What I liked
Faithful to Austen’s characters. Trollope stayed true to Austen’s characters. Elinor is still the level head of the family, Marianne is still a hopeless romantic, Willoughby is still a cad. The relationships between them remained true to the original – the interactions between the characters still follow the same themes. The characters follow the same development arcs. It’s clear Trollope understands the motivations of her characters and the main themes of the original.
Timeless story and themes. The conflict of head vs.heart is universal and is beautifully described by Austen. Trollope brought this across to the modernisation very well.
The narration. Kate Reading was the narrator for this, which is one reason I bought it also from Audible. Kate is one of my favourite narrators, and she didn’t disappoint here. With Kate you get a sense of the character just from the voices she uses. Here’s a sample
What I didn’t like
Characters transposed not reimagined. While it’s true that the characters are true to their Austen versions, they should have been updated more to reflect the world in which they were living. In our 21st century, women of Elinor’s and Marianne’s ages cannot and should not expect to have a man support them – a major focus at their age should be how they are going to support themselves and pay their bills in future. I didn’t feel that was adequately reflected in this modernisation. I mean, what the heck does Marianne DO all day other than moon around over Willoughby?
Out of date settings. Trollope retained the grand estates – Norland Park, Delaford, Allenham – and even some servants. I felt this made the book somewhat harder for a modern readership to relate to. Other modern Austen adaptations have successfully updated the grand estates to large corporations with no ill effects to the themes of the books.
Modern references for references’ sake. There are several references to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, mobile phones etc scattered throughout the book, yet none of them are used to progress the story in any way. That feels rather unrealistic in our always-online modern world. For example, it would have been far fresher – and would not have harmed the theme in any way – for Elinor to have learned about Lucy Steele’s marriage from her Facebook profile or a tweet.
All in all, Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility was an OK read, but lacking in creativity and imagination. I gave it three stars out of five.