Tag Archives: Jane Austen

Northanger Abbey (The Austen Project #2)

Northanger Abbeyby Val McDermid

Northanger Abbey is the second in the series of books reimagining some of the works of Jane Austen. Of Austen’s books, Northanger Abbey is probably the least well known, but it has always held a certain fascination for me. Although it follows the traditional girl meets boy, they fall in love, are separate by circumstances before finally coming together for the obligatory happy ending, Northanger Abbey has a darker and more intriguing theme. And it is that element of the story that seems to have attracted McDermid to the Austen Project.

At first it might seem rather strange to have a respected crime writer tackling a piece of romantic fiction. But Northanger Abbey’s sinister undercurrent provides the perfect vehicle for McDermid’s style.

Bringing these books into the 21st century does require some imaginative thinking, but to me what is most intriguing is just how little needs to change. In this interpretation, only the location has changed, moving the bulk of the action from the original Bath to modern day Edinburgh, where the Fringe provides the necessary gatherings and public events. Consequently, Northanger Abbey is now in the Scottish Lowlands which seems rather more fitting than the original.

The story remains virtually unchanged, as do the characters, with just the occasional tweak to bring their stories up to date. Catheryn Morland is the same innocent young woman, sometimes struggling to tell the difference between reality and the plots of the books she reads and begins to invent her own theories about the family and events that inhabit Northanger Abbey.

As you would expect from a writer with McDermid’s reputation, Northanger Abbey is well written and full of pace and drama and not a little wit and tension. As a fan of Miss Austen’s work, I have approached each of these reimaginings with just a little trepidation. These books have become part of our literary heritage, but their language and settings are not to everyone’s taste.

What this series does is make Austen’s original stories more accessible to a wider audience. For me, the originals can never be improved on. The language, settings and manners of the time are as much a part of the book as the story itself. However, I very much enjoyed this retelling of one of my favourite Austen stories and would happy recommend it to fans and novices alike.

Reading this book has also reminded me of the works of one of our most respected modern authors. I will definitely make an effort to pick up a book or two in the near future. 

Emma (The Austen Project #3)

Emmaby Alexander McCall Smith

Whilst there have already been several sequel’s to Jane Austen’s books, the very idea of this short series of modern retellings just sounds wrong. But, as a fan of Austen’s work, and with an ever open mind, I decided to give this one a try.

I wouldn’t say I was disappointed. The story itself is well told, as you would expect from a writer of McCall Smith’s calibre, but somehow, brining Emma Woodhouse kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century just didn’t quite work. Finding modern equivalents to the various dilemmas and manners of the early 19th century is an almost impossible task. And part of the charm of Austen’s works is the gentle and at sometimes innocent world in which they are set. The modern world is no place for the likes of Mr Woodhouse, Miss Bates or even Emma herself. It is a story of manners, and this is lost in the retelling.

Rather interestingly, what we do get is much more of a back story for the main characters. Whilst Austen concentrates on mobbing her story forward. McCall Smith takes much more time to flesh out his characters. This is interesting and adds some originality to the story. But for me, the whole thing seems to lack the integrity of the original. There is no modern equivalent for many of the events or social interactions and expectations, so the whole thing has an air of unbelievability to it that I found disappointing.

All that said, there is a kind of timelessness about the character of Emma Woodhouse that does manage to come across. Her attempts to manipulate the love lives of those around her does have an element of truth to it.

All in all, an enjoyable bit of light reading. I very much doubt I will return to it later, something I do fairly regularly with the original, but I don’t feel I wasted the time it took to read it. A good summer read, but hardly challenging.

 

Persuasian

by Jane Austen

PersuasianHaving recently visited the Jane Austen House Museum, I had to reacquaint myself with one of her books. On this occasion I chose Persuasion. It is quite a while since I last read the exploits of Anne Elliot and her rather dysfunctional family, and I enjoyed it much than I did last time around.

Jane Austen is well known for her wit and satirical insight into the manners and intrigues of early 19th century polite society, and it is rarely more obvious than in this, her last novel.

The Elliot’s of Kellynch Hall are a family to be pitied. Widowed Sir Walter Elliot, the confused father of three daughters, has absolutely no idea of how to manage his estate or his money. He finds himself financially “embarrassed” and, reluctantly, and against all his objections, finds himself forced to lease his family home and take up residence in Bath. He takes with him his eldest daughter, who is equally as dippy, and her friend Mrs Clay, a widow with designs on the title and the estate.

Sir Walter is probably the vainest gentleman you will ever come across, both in terms of physical appearance and social status, something he shares with Elizabeth.
His youngest daughter, Mary, has married “beneath her station”. Her husband is wealth, but not from one of the better families!

Only his youngest daughter Anne has any sense, and it down to her to keep the family within its financial means. Seven years prior to the start of the book, Anne had let herself be talked out out of a marriage that was seen by both her family and her closes friend, Lady Russell, as being ill-advised. But time has not healed the wound and when her former “lover” is back on the scene, Anne must now decide for herself where her happiness lies.

I feel that Persuasion is often overlook, but the wonderful characters, witty dialogue and compelling narrative make it an excellent read. I had forgotten just how good it was. A great way to spend a few hours as the summer begins to draw to an end.

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudiceby Jane Austen

Re-reading Pride and Prejudice again was like spending the bank holiday weekend with an old friend. I am not sure how many times I have read this particular book but I am amazed at what seems knew each time I do.

Whilst I freely admit to being a bit of an old romantic at times and I do enjoy some romance novels, there is more to Jane Austen’s stories than that. I love the language and the innocence of Jane Austen’s work, and these are best portrayed in Pride and Prejudice. 

Many thousand words have been written about Jane Austen’s work and I will not presume to add any more. All I will say is that I am pleased my initial curiosity in revisiting this book after having despised it so much at school, has been well rewarded.