Every writer should have this on their wall:

No matter where it comes from; no matter how great the inducement; no matter who thinks it’s a brilliant idea which will make your career – if the suggestion comes your way to rewrite Jane Austen –


It is a truth almost universally acknowledged that no-one can rewrite the divine Austen and live.  It is simply not possible.  Jane Austen is the last word on Jane Austen.  It is futile to imagine, as PD James attempted to do, what happened to Elizabeth and Darcy after they married: there is no interest in picturing Emma as a child or Marianne married to Willoughby.  There are no holes in Jane Austen to be plugged; no stories left untold; she gives us everything we need and the rest is neatly cauterised.

Above all every writer must resist the temptation to bring Jane Austen up to date.  She simply refuses to move; and an attempt to bring her into the present day is as doomed as digging up her bones and trying to have a conversation.  Val McDermid is only the latest in a long line of writers (and film-makers) to try this, and her own blatantly-titled ‘Northanger Abbey’ reads like a 1950’s romance with Facebook and Twitter thrown in.  It just doesn’t work.

Now, I have a confession to make.  I, too, succumbed to the temptation – and last year I wrote a short story updating Emma and making Mr Elton a straight man whom Emma thinks is gay.  When I wrote it I thought it was utterly brilliant.  Nine months later I recognise it for the utter turkey it is.

I will make one exception, however.  You may not be able to bring Austen up to date, but you can move her sideways into another culture; one whose norms and traditions are similar to those of 18th-century England.  I refer of course to ‘Bride and Prejudice’ which, being a comedy to boot and featuring lots of Bollywood dancing, totally pulls it off.  But as for the rest of us – we should go back and read the original – and then head to our laptops and write something original instead.

Kirk out