Austen powers offer enduring appeal

August 4, 2009

David Cameron has gone for something trashy, the Pope we might now expect to be dipping into something from the Harry Potter back catalogue and Nicolas Sarkozy will no doubt be packing the latest issue of Runners’ World in his designer luggage.

If you haven’t already decided on you summer reading list, let me mark your card. Harpenden author Juliet Archer has given a modern makeover to the Jane Austen classic Emma, called The Importance of Being Emma. Juliet, who describes herself as having “a 19th century mind stuck in a 21st century body”, says her imitation of Austen is intended as the highest form of flattery.

“Jane Austen’s enduring appeal lies in her classic love stories and great characters – easily recognisable in any period and setting. I have a theory that most of today’s romantic fiction has been inspired – consciously or unconsciously – by a Jane Austen novel. I’ve just been much lazier than most authors and not bothered to change the names!”

Modernising Austen has given Juliet the opportunity to redress some of the limitations of her heroine’s style – in her six novels Austen apparently never wrote a scene without a woman present – and fill out some of the male characters. It is also allowing her to spice up the storylines. In updating Persuasion in a soon-to-be published book, Persuade Me, Juliet has not put Wentworth into the navy but gives him hunk appeal by comparing him to James Bond.

Juliet admits that she may upset some ‘purists’ by tampering with the Austen legacy but says there should be enough space on shop bookshelves for two JAs. She says she has also won several converts for her Emma redux among people who were originally skeptical, including the manager of Hitchin Waterstone’s who arranged for her to have a slot at the 2009 Hitchin Festival last month.

“I could never be Jane Austen and am not trying to be, but I’m having great fun re-interpreting her novels in a modern setting.”