Tag Archives: Jane Austen

Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbeyby Jane Austen

Jane Austen’s books are like dear old friends. Not the kind you spend every weekend with, but the one whose company is no less welcome and warming fr its infrequency.

Northanger Abbey is a particular favourite of mine, mainly because of the style. It differs from her other works in that she uses direct author intrusion to speak directly with the reader. It is clear that she is telling you a story and often takes control of the narrative. Despite this change in style, it loses none of the wit and observational skills that are very much the hallmark of Austen’s work.

In Northanger Abbey, Austen’s would-be heroin Catherine Moorland sets out on her first adventure beyond the family home. She is t spend 6 weeks in Bath with her neighbours, Mr and Mrs Allen. Catherine is determined to find adventure but her hopes are dashed as their lack of acquaintances leaves them sidelined from society. However, two chance encounters soon end this initial isolation and propel Catherine into a series of events and friendships that offer more opportunity for adventure than she could have hoped for.

Catherine Moorland is an innocent propelled into society she cannot fully comprehend. The direct honesty she is used to has not prepared her for the deceitful and ambiguous nature of those who claim her as their friend. She thinks the best of everyone but she soon begins to realise that not everyone is as honest about their feelings as she is.

Whilst it might not be to everyone’s taste, Northanger Abbey is a pastiche of the gothic tales of the time and is a book I enjoy revisiting.  

Eligible (The Austen Project #4)

Eligibleby Curtis Sittenfeld

Pride and Prejudice is one of the great classics of English literature and undoubtedly Jane Austen’s most loved novel. Revisiting the Bennet family as part of the Austen Project is no easy task, But Curtis Sittenfeld takes on the challenge with some relish it seems. Not only does she transpose Austen’s most dysfunctional family into the twenty-first century, but she also manages to relocate them several thousand miles to the North American city of Cincinnati. Now I have to say that I was immediately put on my guard but such a bold move. The Bennet’s and their friends have always seemed to be the most English of communities. How could they ever be American? But once you begin to look at the characters, their lives, their prejudices and the social circles they move in, they just don’t exist in the UK anymore, but it seems they are alive and well and making a nuisance of themselves in Cincinnati. 

In their new surroundings, Liz is a magazine writer and Jane is a yoga teacher. They both live in New York but have returned to their hometown following their father’s recent health scare. Once they are back home the book follows the themes and general plot of the original story, but in some unexpected ways. Whilst the fundamental characters remain the same, the prejudices they face are very different indeed from those envisioned by Jane Austen in her original book. This new version tackles everything from class to racial and gender issues. In many ways it is like a mini soap opera with a whole host of twists and turns.

Whilst I enjoyed this modernisation of one of my favourite books, I did find it a little uncomfortable at times and through it lacked a little of the clever observational wit that made the original so endearing – and enduring. Of the books in this series, this is the one I felt the least connected with. Whilst the characters by and large remain true to Austen’s original creations, the twists ion the plot I found too far removed. That is not to say I didn’t like the book – I did. Sittenfeld is an accomplished and compelling writer but I sometimes felt she had her own agenda that had nothing to do with Austen’s classic. Although I haven’t read any of her other books I am sure I will before too long.


Sense and Sensibility (The Austen Project #1)

by Joanna Trollope

Sense and SensibilityThis was the first book of the Austen Project which sees contemporary writers revisit Jane Austen’s timeless stories. And the one thing that the project proves, to me at least, is just how timeless Austen’s work really is. Obviously there have to be some changes to the plot and, in some cases, characterisations, but on the whole, the stories stand up well to being dragged into the twenty-first century.

Elinore and Marianne Dashwood’s story is one of Austen’s most endearing tales. thrown out of their childhood home the family find themselves dependent on the charity of relatives in Devon. Far from their friends and relatives, the Dashwoods are going to have to make some serious changes if they are to survive. But while Marianne wears her all-too-fragile heart on her sleeve, falling in love with the dashing Joh  Willoughby on first sight, her sister Elinor’s heart is much harder to find and even harder to win. 

Bringing the wonderful cast of characters up to date was particularly tricky in this book, so dependent on 19th-century manners and rules of inheritance, but Joanne Trollope pulls it off with real panache. The characters are still very true to Austen’s originals, and the tweaks and twists necessary to make the plot work in the modern age work well.

Whilst I don’t think any adaptation is ever going to match the wit and insight of the original, I have enjoyed each of the books in the series so far. I suppose that by getting such well-established authors as Joanne Trollope involved guarantees a high standard. 

A really good read.


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.



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.

Re-read: 08/08/2021

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 new 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.