It is a truth universally acknowledged…

that you should not mess with literary perfection!

After all this blood shed and suspense of Brookmyre I needed some romantic relief. A trusted source is Jane Austen. Knightley, Darcy, Colonel Brandon. Sigh!

I love reading Emma and Pride & Prejudice and I can do so over and over again, just as my kid loves watching the same episode of PJ Masks over and over again. But as there are rewrites or “modern” versions of Jane Austen’s classics available, I thought I would give those a try.

I started off with Alexander McCall Smith’s Emma. I like his other work so I thought this would be a winner. But I ended up not liking it at all. Emma is not Emma, Knightley is absent most of the time and their ending up together more than flawed. Even though it is supposed to be an “updated” version, the language is very antiquated and does not match the modern set-up. Still, I finished reading it and here are my favourites quotes from McCall Smith’s Emma:

  • To dispatch one’s friends to a dictionary from time to time is one of the more sophisticated pleasures of life, but it is one that must be indulged in sparingly: to do it too often may result in accusation of having swallowed one’s own dictionary, which is not a compliment, whichever way one looks at it. (True, true)
  • (Mr. Bennet on health issues) There were dangers all about, not least those identified by the medical statisticians, whose grim work it was to reveal just how likely it was that something could go wrong.
  • Never underestimate the capacity of the human mind for ignorance

The “updated” version was clearly no match for Austen’s Emma, though.

As for Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, I was determined (dare I say prejudiced) not to like Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible. It is set (spoiler alert) in contemporary America (US of A, that is). Jane and Lizzy are pushing forty, and Bingley (lo and behold) calls himself not Charles but Chip (yikes) and is a doctor slash reality TV star having participated in a TV show called EligibleĀ in which he was the eligible bachelor being able to choose a “bride” from an array of candidates (i.e. a TV-show like The Bachelor). There is lots of extra-marital sex, too but thank God not as elaborated in detail as in Fifty Shades of Grey. Not that I have read Fifty Shades of Grey… well, I might have, for literary research purposes…. Anyhow, in my mind, this whole set up was spelling disaster but actually I was wrong. The book is witty, true to Jane Austen’s characters and the bickering between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet very funny. Here are some quotes I particularly liked and that reflect the tone and feel of the book:

  • In compliance with FCC regulations, Marcy’s subsequent tirade consisted primarily of bleeped-out words that nevertheless did little to conceal her rage.
  • (Mr. Bennet in hospital on forced first name terms with a nurse) “Fred!” the nurse said, though they had never met. “How are we today?” Reading the nurse’s name tag, Mr. Bennet replied with fake enthusiasm, “Bernard! We’re mourning the death of manners and the rise of overly familiar discourse. How are you?” (I LOVE this piece of dialogue!).
  • (you learn something about cheese, too) The casomorphines in cheese are as addictive as opium.
  • “Kitty, it’s called reality TV. It’s not called true TV.”
  • (It is a truth universally acknowledged…) It was Mary’s firm belief that any woman capable of satisfying her own desires […] would never need to disgrace herself in the pursuit of a man.

Both Emma and Eligible are praised on their covers with quotes saying they are updates to Jane Austen’s original stories. As far as I am concerned, Jane Austen does not require any updating. After all, she is not an iPhone or iWatch. But I have to admit I thoroughly enjoyed Sittenfeld’s witty and charming update on Pride & Prejudice.

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