July 19, 2011

Making Modern Sense of Sense and Sensibility (Guest Post by Jennifer Ziegler)

When I first came across Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility as a young adult, I resisted it. I didn’t understand the title – particularly the word “sensibility,” having never heard it used to mean “deep feelings” or “sensitivity.” But once I did read it, I fell in love with the story, the characters, and Austen’s gently ironic writing voice. I wasn’t surprised to discover that Austen had siblings and was especially close to her sister Cassandra. In her books, family dynamics are vivid and realistic. And the sister relationship in Sense and Sensibility seemed particularly lifelike.

As the oldest child, I could relate to Elinor’s position in the family. The do-gooder. The example-setter. The one-who-knows-better. I also felt pressure to be responsible and reliable, even a stand-in parent at times. Yet, I also connected with Marianne’s dreamy nature and cheerful spirit. I understood what it was like to get carried away with my imagination.

When I sat down to write my retelling, I knew my main characters couldn’t simply be Elinor and Marianne in modern clothes, so I had to take time to find them. It’s like this with all my fiction writing; I can never proceed until I have the characters in my head – until I hear their voices, understand their personalities, and know their struggles. Eventually, my protagonists came to me.

Daphne is my Marianne. She is also in love with the concept of true love and eager to start her happy-ever-after. And, like Marianne, she will break rules or go against social norms to be with the boy she adores. However, Daphne, as a modern teen, has to struggle with different peer pressures regarding sex. And her longing for love stems at least partially from missing her absent father, the family member with whom she identifies the most.

Gabby is my Elinor. She is the good girl in the sense that she works hard, helps out her family, and makes high grades, but her motivation stems from her wish to escape what she thinks is a stifling, narrow-minded environment. She isn’t so much repressed as she is soured on the idea of love and hiding behind layers of emotional shielding. I also gave her an acerbic inner voice that contrasts with her dutiful nature.

Sass & SerendipityThe dire circumstances faced by the family also needed translating. In the original, Mr. Dashwood died, leaving his wife and daughters in financial straits. When I read the book for the first time, it really threw me how the characters didn’t spend a lot of time mourning their loss. I later realized that losing loved ones, while awful, was more of a fact of life two hundred years ago, and the real tragedy was the lack of security left behind for the family.

In Sass & Serendipity, the father is alive but mostly absent, as the parents are recently divorced. This made more sense to me from a 21st century perspective, and also added to the novel’s explorations of love.

Modernizing my favorite Austen book was the biggest challenge I’ve faced so far as a writer, but also one of the most rewarding. One could even say the experience brought me a heightened sense of – and sensibility to – the art of storytelling.


Jennifer Ziegler is the author of Sass and Serendipity, How NOT to Be Popular, and Alpha Dog.

A Sassy Giveaway!

Three lucky winners will each receive one copy of Jennifer Ziegler's SASS & SERENDIPITY along with Jane Austen's classic, SENSE AND SENSIBILITY. To enter, send an e-mail to SassandSerendipity@gmail.com. In the body of the e-mail, include your name, mailing address, and e-mail address (if you're under 13, submit a parent's name and e-mail address). One entry per person; prizes will only be shipped to US or Canadian addresses. Entries must be received by midnight (PDT) on 8/5/11. Winners will be selected in a random drawing on 8/6/11 and notified via email.

To learn more about Jennifer, visit her website or blog!


  1. Awesome interview! I'm super excited for this one!!


  2. What a fantastic guest post. I loved how Jennifer described her motivations for fashioning the characters in this retelling. While I have not read Sense and Sensibility (seen the movie) I think I would really enjoy reading Jennifer's book.

  3. Thank you, YA Bliss for hosting me and letting me explain my process. You are a guiding light to book lovers everywhere!


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