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Alexander McCall Smith brings Jane Austen into the 21st century

Writers including Alexander McCall Smith and Curtis Sittenfeld will bring some of Austen's most famous stories into contemporary times.

By Husna Haq / October 7, 2013

'Pride and Prejudice' (adapted in 2005 into a film version starring Matthew Macfadyen, l., and Keira Knightley, r.) will be one of the Austen novels reworked for the Austen Project.

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Can there be too much Jane Austen?

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Publishers don’t seem to think so. There’s been zombie- and vampire-fueled versions, a popular book club-inspired version, Austen bios, even a book studying the cult-like following of Austen fans. 

And now there’s this, a project to rework Austen’s six most popular novels into the present day. The Austen Project pairs six bestselling contemporary authors with Jane Austen’s six complete works. The authors will put a contemporary spin on the characters and setting, leaving the plot largely intact, for a decidedly modern Austen series.

The novels include “Sense and Sensibility,” “Northanger Abbey,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “Emma,” “Persuasion,” and “Mansfield Park.” The authors include Joanna Trollope, whose modernized “Sense and Sensibility” is out this October, as well as Curtis Sittenfeld, who will be reworking “Pride and Prejudice”; Val McDermid, who will update “Northanger Abbey”; and the latest author pairing to be announced, No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series author, Alexander McCall Smith, who will revamp “Emma.” 

Authors for “Mansfield Park” and “Persuasion” will be announced later this year.

What can readers expect? Think light, humorous updates on the characters and their environments. According to the UK’s Guardian, in “Emma,” Mr. Woodhouse is obsessed with vitamins, Jane Fairfax plays the tenor saxophone, and Frank Churchill has been living abroad in Australia.

What won’t change, of course, is the romance.

“One of the issues, of course, is the erotic tension that pervades the original novel Emma,” McCall Smith told the Guardian. “That is there in large measure and will remain there in my version. And Freud will be looking over my shoulder as I write. I can't wait to begin my encounter with these delicious characters.”

Trollope’s reworked “Sense and Sensibility,” which HarperCollins will release later this month, bears this description: “Elinor Dashwood, an architecture student, values discretion above all. Her impulsive sister Marianne displays her creativity everywhere as she dreams of going to art school.”

McDermid’s reimagined “Northanger Abbey,” to be published in spring of 2014, features a CCTV camera and satellite TV dishes on the cover.

No matter the dozens of Austen spin-offs circulating the market, we’re predicting the Austen Project will be popular among the country’s countless Austen fans. To paraphrase one of our favorite authors, it is a truth universally acknowledged that there can never be too much Austen.

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