I read Sense and Sensibility in my final year of high school for an English class. My teacher’s enthusiasm for the novel was infectious, and to this day it remains my first and favourite Austen. As a classic, it’s had many an literary adaptation and I wanted to chat about three that I’ve come across.
In 2009, Ben H. Winters worked with the same publishers responsible for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to produce Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. As its title suggests, it is a parody of the original, taking the original story and adding the ludicrous notion of sea monsters to spice it up a bit.
Recently, I lent this book to a friend and was surprised to receive this message at 8pm:
Tentacle erections? Really?
Uh. Whoops? I must’ve forgotten to warn her about that… That being said, I do feel as though her message does set the tone for the book’s humour. It’s about sea monsters, for goodness sake! Colonel Brandon has tentacles sprouting from his face! Really, you should expect the absurd. To be fair, this kind of humour doesn’t exactly appeal to me, but I could see what they were getting at.
The best of part this retelling was the collection of questions at the back the novel. Mocking the questions asked at the back of many books in order to provoke thought, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters continues its parodical nature by asking questions such as:
Is Monsieur Pierre a symbol for something? Name three other well-known works of Western Literature that feature orangutan valets. Are those characters also slain by pirates?
In my opinion, this book did what it wanted to do, although it wasn’t quite to my taste.
Nancy Butler adapted the classic for Marvel in 2010. Firstly, it needs to be said that I absolutely adore the idea of classics being reproduced in graphic form. I know there are a lot of purists out there, but I reckon that the graphic novel form is a great way introduce people to the characters and ideals that classics introduce us to. It’s also pretty swell if you want to jump back into the story, but don’t have the time for a reread.
Nancy Butler did a wonderful job adapting the story, mostly sticking to the original script. From the description to the dialogue, it reads exactly like the original (there’s just a little less, obviously). And so, I obviously still adored the story. The downfall of this for me was the art. Now, Sonny Liew is an incredibly talented artist. Her portrayals of the characters were excellent and I can understand why she picked a more subdued colour palette. It just didn’t excite me in the way that I’d hoped it would.
In 2013, Joanna Trollope released her modern take on the tale for The Austen Project. Although I’m always going to be biased towards Sense and Sensibility, this adaptation really didn’t do it for me. In this retelling, Joanna Trollope attempts to bring Sense and Sensibility into the modern day. And to be honest? I just don’t think it works. For me, the beauty of the original was how desperately and carefully the two sisters needed to navigate societal constructs in order to get their happy ending. Removing all those obstacles made all of the issues the girls faced in this adaptation feel contrived. And their responses? Well, in this modern world, a girl is more tempted to roll her eyes at them than actually empathise.
Ugh. How negative! To give credit to the author, I didn’t think her writing style or her execution were bad, necessarily. She was dealt a difficult hand, the story not lending itself to modernity in the slightest. However, I love the idea of the Project as a whole and can’t wait to get my hands on the others!
And there you have it! A parody, a graphic novel and a modern retelling. Tackling a well-loved classic is hardly an easy task, and everyone that worked on these projects should be applauded. While Marvel’s graphic adaptation was my unabashed favourite of the three, and I’d recommend it to anyone with the slightest interest in Austen’s debut novel.
I’m still excited to find more adaptations and retellings. Even though I know the core of the story will never change, I love seeing how other people are choosing to represent and play with one of my favourite stories. What am I going to read next? Some of my next picks include Stacy King’s Sense and Sensibility for Manga Classics, A Modern Day Sense and Sensibility by Kaitlin Saunders, and Sense and Sensibility: The Amish Retelling by Sarah Price.