Deborah Yaffe

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Dissed by the Austen Project

By Deborah Yaffe, Oct 28 2013 01:00PM

Joanna Trollope’s modern-dress adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, the first in a planned series of six Austen updates by popular contemporary authors, will be published here on Tuesday. I’ve already preordered for my Kindle, but now comes word that Trollope, whose earlier, non-Austen novels I’ve greatly enjoyed, doesn’t want me to read her latest book.


We American Austen fans – apparently we’re noted for our militancy – will be offended that she’s updated the story by, for example, having Willoughby give Marianne a sports car instead of a horse.


“There’s a Jane Austen Society in America which takes it even more seriously than the Jane Austen Society in this country,” Trollope told the audience at a British literary festival this month. “I’ve been to one of their conventions, which was held in Winchester, and most of the delegates from America — none of whom was exactly anorexic — were all in Jane Austen clothes.”


Translation: we’re fat, silly purists with no sense of humor.


Sigh. These aren’t the smart, funny Janeites I know – many of whom, incidentally, rather enjoy a well-written Austen spinoff, whether a sequel set in the Regency or a modern-dress update, a la Bridget Jones’ Diary.


Indeed, it’s pretty clear that this whole “Austen Project” was inspired by the success of P.D. James’ Death Comes to Pemberley, which reportedly sold 300,000 copies in hardback alone. Many Janeites I know read that book – although, admittedly, we tended to be far less enthusiastic about it than were mainstream critics.


Trollope’s rather mean-spirited remarks smack of a pre-emptive strike against Janeite criticism. If we don’t like her book, apparently it won’t be because it’s not a good book; it’ll be because we’re nuts.


I understand that enthusiastic fandom can look kind of silly to outsiders, especially, I'm afraid, when the enthusiasts are middle-aged women. But judging from her earlier books, Trollope is keenly aware of the many ways in which our culture slights, ignores and patronizes middle-aged women. She should know better than to indulge in this cheap ridicule of Austen nuts -- especially since it’s the Austen nuts who’ve made the entire Austen Project possible.


A little more politeness – even of the fake, social-smile kind – might be in order. Where’s Elinor Dashwood when you need her?


5 comments
Oct 28 2013 04:51PM by J Wheeler

Thank you. We may be middle-aged and chunky, but we still have some pride!

Oct 28 2013 04:59PM by Mags

Trollope’s rather mean-spirited remarks smack of a pre-emptive strike against Janeite criticism. If we don’t like her book, apparently, it won’t be because it’s not a good book; it’ll be because we’re nuts.

That's exactly it. They are attempting to deflect criticism before it even comes. P.D. James had something similar (though not as nasty) in her prologue to Bored to Death at Pemberley. ;-)

Translation: we’re fat, silly purists with no sense of humor

Yeah, I caught that, too. Because fat Americans in Regency gowns are not allowed to have opinions about books, you see.

It's a shame that a female author would put down female readers.

Oct 28 2013 05:10PM by dyaffe

It's possible this was more a case of American-bashing by a Brit, but I do think the misogynist elements are hard to overlook -- and, as you say, most unfortunate.

I'm not a dress-up person myself, but I do find it strange how strongly people react to Janeite costuming, which is, essentially, a harmless form of play by adults. Perhaps it threatens the critics' sense of their own Very Adult Seriousness to see others takiing themselves a lot less seriously.

Oct 28 2013 10:16PM by A. Marie

Thanks for posting this, Deborah. I had not been intending to add Trollope's book to my already towering "to read" stack anyway, but I certainly won't now. (In fact, I think this whole forthcoming series of rewrites is a bad idea.)

Oct 28 2013 10:26PM by dyaffe

I know I'll end up reading them anyway, just because I can't resist JA modernizations, but my hopes are not that high. . .

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