Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Review: Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope

An updated version of Sense and Sensibility? Jane Austen's works are so iconic and so firmly entrenched in their times that it might be difficult to imagine a successful update that stays true to the original but that is in fact the charge that The Austen Project has given writers: to use the Austen originals as a base but then come up with their own take on the beloved novels. Joanna Trollope is the first of the well-known authors tapped for the project and she takes on a modern tribute to Sense and Sensibility.

For those who have read the original inspiration, Trollope's novel follows the plot of Austen's story almost exactly. Sisters Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, with their free-spirited artistic mother and somewhat sullen school-aged younger sister have to leave their home, Norland Park, the estate of their late father's uncle, after their father dies and their half brother John and his grasping wife Fanny move in. They find a suitable cottage on the property of well-meaning, if slightly controlling, relatives and settle in to adjust to their new lives. And as in the original, Elinor is the eminently sensible sister while Marianne is the one who lives in the moment with little thought to a future grounded in reality. Elinor has had to give up her place at school where she's only a year away from qualifying as an architect and she is downcast at the silence she encounters after their move from Fanny's brother, Edward, with whom she is in love. The breathtakingly gorgeous Marianne, meanwhile, tumbles head over heels in love with the equally gorgeous Willoughby, thinking that the good Colonel Brandon is too old for her. And as in the original, her heart is destined to be broken and she is plunged into despair. As Marianne is blindly wallowing in her own unhappiness, Elinor is having to deal with the well-meaning relatives, the staggering selfishness and self-centeredness of her sister-in-law and brother, and face the idea that her beloved Edward is secretly engaged to the odious Lucy Steele, dealing her a blow to the heart she must keep to herself in order to support her sister and mother in their continued neediness and reluctance to live in the real world.

The bones of the story are very much what Austen wrote originally so those who are familiar with Austen's tale will encounter no surprises here. Trollope has added the use of modern technology and changed a few circumstances in the novel but not enough to materially change the storyline. And perhaps she should have changed things a bit more since society and what it will tolerate in people has changed so significantly from Austen's time. The type of characters Austen wrote still work in our modern day but some of the circumstances that drive the plot do not. Elinor still represses her own emotions in order to be the rock of reason for her less practically inclined mother. Marianne, still driven primarily by emotion, comes off as significantly more selfish than in the original because society no longer demands that women marry (or live on the sufferance and goodwill of family) so her decline after her humiliating rejection by Willoughby is rather over the top. And that very expanded array of social options for women makes it difficult to hew so closely to Austen's original and still come across as authentically modern. Trollope does a good job translating the emotional realism of Austen's novel to a modern setting; after all, we as emotional beings haven't changed much if at all since Austen's time and Trollope makes that clear in her portrayal of the very different Dashwood sisters, avaricious, social-climbing Fanny, the slyly obnoxious Lucy Steele, and the steel-cored, well-intentioned interference of Sir John Middleton in so many aspects of the Dashwoods' lives. An interesting combination, sometimes jarring, of social attitudes from the 18th century and technology from the 21st, Austen fans will want to read this and see how Elinor and Marianne have changed and stayed the same in their leap to the present.

For more information about Joanna Trollope and the book, check out her website or find her on Facebook. Follow the rest of the blog tour or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.


  1. I'm glad you enjoyed this fun new version of a classic tale! Thanks for being on the tour.

  2. "And perhaps she should have changed things a bit more since society and what it will tolerate in people has changed so significantly from Austen's time. The type of characters Austen wrote still work in our modern day but some of the circumstances that drive the plot do not."
    I felt exactly the same way! I'm going to make myself read the original over the holidays to see if I can tolerate the Dashwoods better in their own time period. Enjoyed your review :)

  3. You capture it so well ...! Thanks for coming by my blog today :)


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