Jane Austen was a “British author whose six novels quietly revolutionized world literature, and who is considered one of the greatest writers of all time.” (The Oxford Encyclopedia of Women in World History, 2008)
Those who are in charge of the Harper Collins project of rewriting Jane Austen’s novels say they are doing this because of the success of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and the X-rated Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts. Since I have no idea why anyone would want to read either of those books, I didn’t find the announcement that Joanna Trollope was writing a “contemporary reworking” of Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility a cause for celebration. Did I buy it? Yes. Did I read it? Yes. Did I like it? No.
I have enjoyed Trollope’s original books, especially The Choir and A Village Affair—contemporary plots and good writing. Her rewrite of Sense and Sensibility reads as if she’d cut Austen’s work into little pieces, and scattered them throughout 361 pages, perhaps using an electric fan to make sure the pieces go in all directions.
A later announcement that Austen’s books are being rewritten for the “social media generations” seems to me an admission that the publisher is desperate, and that more books are being dumb-downed. This is very sad. Austen’s originals are written in clear and perfect English, do not use pretentious or pompous language, or slang or vulgarity. They have been read by many people for many years, and enjoyed so much that most of us read them over and over. I do not think the language in the new Sense and Sensibility will be understood nearly as well as the original (tosser? Unwrapped her fleece? Lots of Anglo speak and Anglo references?). Many Americans will need a translation.
Val McDermid’s rendition of Northanger Abbey, which is now a “vampire heaven” is not likely to please those of us who are thoroughly sick of vampires (we are overjoyed that Austen’s books, and other favorites, do not contain any). Worse, McDermid’s book is full of the loathsome slang and misused English many people write and speak these days. I was truly horrified: “cool” and “brilliant” (for everything except their original meanings), “twat”, and worst of all, “like” in the following way, “Glasgow? Isn’t that miles away? Like, on the other side of the country.” The best schools in the country are trying to rid students of the ghastly “like” disease, while a rewritten Jane Austen includes it. Horrors! Val McDermid is a very good writer. I think her considerable talents and abilities are wasted on this endeavor. I and all of her other fans know that she’s adopting the misuse of language for this book. It would be a great shame if readers thought this was her usual style.
There are more of these rewritings to come. Why?