As part of my Austen re-read, I meant to grab her Sense and Sensibility, but instead wound up accidentally with Joanna Trollope’s modernized retelling Sense & Sensibility. Firstly, I loved the cover of this – Austen covers can be quite bland and I thought this was a good integration of the old portraiture with the new technology.
Secondly, when I did pick up the original version after reading this revision, I noticed that its pretty par-on-course plotwise. Let me not recap much since most people know the plot, but Elinor is sensible, her younger sister Marianne is a senseless romantic, and youngest sister Margaret is scarcely important to the story. Marianne of course gets her heart broken by the wrong man while Elinor struggles with her feelings for the right ones and everything ends up happily.
Now, in Trollope’s update, the modern elements are quite good at enhancing this drama. Mrs. Dashwood, the second wife, a flaky hippy, has neglected formalizing the marriage and Mr. Dashwood dies without apparently clarifying the inheritance in a will. Since stories like this are common in today’s media, I wasn’t surprised to see his son John and John’s horrible wife kick them out without a penny or an apology, though I AM surprised no one in the family thought to take the story to the press and ruin their reputation in retaliation (guess I’m jaded!). Slightly more surprisingly was their inability to find a new place to live on the Internet, but eventually they find a home with a distant cousin.
One of my favorite new elements was that Elinor is studying to be an architect and she’s eager to take up a job, though not so thrilled she’s the sole bread-winner in the family. Overt feminism – yay! Austen is more pro-women than many authors, but is a product of her times and it’s great to see Elinor exerting her will to continue her education and support her family. Meanwhile, Marianne angsts like the depressive musician she is and Margaret complains about the lack of cell service.
If you can’t tell already, I really dislike Marianne in both versions – I guess I favor sense over sensibility as I very strongly empathized with Elinor, having to deal with her useless mother and complaints of her sisters on top of her other mental and emotional pressures. For her potential suitor, Edward Ferrars is soon found to be engaged to a friend of theirs, quietly fracturing Elinor’s heart, although none of her family notice.
Cruel may it be, my favorite part occurs when Marianne, who had been throwing herself at the supposedly-rich, supposed gentleman Willoughby, is publicly humiliated at a wedding by his rejection and gold-digging relationship and finds herself as the star of a viral video! Now I would never wish that on someone in real life, but I’m glad Marianne learned that hard lesson since she managed to grow up a bit in the process. I also have a soft spot for Colonel Brandon, who is possibly sweeter than ever in Trollope’s version.
Those fans of Austen looking for a light read in her vein may enjoy this. Though the plot is repetitive, the modern elements rejuvenate the story considerably.