6th - 22nd October 2017

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The Manchester Literature Festival Blog

Review: Joanna Trollope at the Royal Exchange

Author Joanna Trollope in conversation with Jenni Murray during MLF13Jon Parker Lee

  • Author Joanna Trollope in conversation with Jenni Murray during MLF13

The final event of this year’s Manchester Literature Festival took place in the round, amidst the stage set for Arthur Miller’s play All My Sons at the Royal Exchange. Broadcaster Jenni Murray interviewed Aga-saga novelist Joanna Trollope about the “noble experiment” of her reimagining of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.

The Austen Project, of which this is part, commissioned six modern authors to rewrite the novels of Jane Austen, sticking faithfully to story and characters but updated to the twenty-first century. Hence, in Marianne’s first encounter with Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility, he rescues her not from a sprained ankle but an asthma attack; he is not walking with his dogs but driving a (leased) Aston Martin; he is described not as “uncommonly handsome” but “hot”.

Trollope says she hopes that young people will return to Austen’s novel after reading her tribute, and that the timelessness of the story will compensate for the formal language and structure of the original. There is after all, she says, much that translates from Austen’s world to our own, including the importance we still place upon money and the way we value integrity and goodheartedness. We still respect manners and good behaviour, she insists. Young people are indeed often more reticent and restrained than the media would have it.

She points out that the three daughters in Sense and Sensibility translate easily to modern types – Elinor resonates as Absolutely Fabulous’s Saffy, Marianne embodies the current sense of emotional entitlement and Margaret is a paid-up member of the “Whatever” generation.

Trollope’s enthusiasm for the project and for Austen herself is palpable. Her readings from both novels conveyed a similarity in tone and measured narrative. If the girls’ dialogue feels less like the language of teenagers we might know, perhaps this is due to the social background of the characters. Her new Sense and Sensibility may enlist a legion of young fans, but possibly those who might have become fans of Jane herself anyway.

About the writer: Catherine Marshall is the author of two novels and a variety of short stories, now in search of a new agent and publisher for her recent work. Her website is catherine-marshall.co.uk and she blogs under the pseudonym Kate MacCormack.