Austen reworked as crime writer to turn Emma into a thoroughly modern heroine

Alexander McCall Smith
Alexander McCall Smith
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Jane Austen’s heroine Emma will be given a literary makeover by crime writer Alexander McCall Smith in a new novel that will be published 199 years after the original.

The book is part of the Austen Project which sees modern authors reinterpret Austen’s work with Joanna Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility due out this month and crime novelist Val McDermid’s version of Northanger Abbey out next year.

McCall Smith is the author of The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series which was made into a TV show by the BBC.

He said: “Writing a contemporary version of Emma is both a privilege and a real challenge. Not only is Emma one of the finest novels in the English language, but it is possibly Jane Austen’s most thought-provoking and interesting book. I have already embarked on the writing of my new version, set in 21st century England, and have become thoroughly immersed in the story. Being asked to do this is like being asked to eat a box of delicious chocolates.”

Emma is one of Austen’s most popular novels and the story of the spoiled young woman who fancies herself as a matchmaker has been adapted for film and television several times, with actresses including Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Beckinsale in the title role.

Trollope said: “It’s wonderful to hear that Alexander McCall Smith is going to take Emma on. Of all the great Austen heroines, she is the one who will benefit most from being, as it were, handled by a man, especially a man with such form in creating a heroine. I can’t, personally, wait to see his take on this novel – and this heroine.”

The project’s authors have to stick with the existing plot and characters but are free to make some changes, with McDermid’s abbey being transplanted to the Scottish borders instead of its original setting near Bath.

The new version of Emma will be published next autumn and a fourth novel, Pride and Prejudice by US writer Curtis Sittenfeld, comes out in 2015.

Two more writers who are taking part will be announced later this year.