On March 1st, my book, Sense and Sensibility (Realms, 2016) is released! This adaptation of Jane Austen’s book by the same title is a bit different than others you may have read for it is not set in England or during the 1700s. Instead, it is set in present day Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
Why Lancaster County? you may ask. And isn’t that where so many Amish lives? How could that possibly relate to anything Jane Austen wrote?
That’s right…the Amish live in Lancaster and that, indeed, is the setting for my adaptation.
You see, in my version of Sense and Sensibility, the main characters are not the upper echelon of high society during the Regency period. Instead, they are simple Amish people. The two main characters, Eleanor and Mary Ann do not live on a fancy estate with servants to tend to their needs. Instead, they live on a dairy farm. When their father dies, they (along with their mother and younger sister) are not just removed from authority of the property, they are also relegated to the small grossdawdihaus by their half-brother and his wife who, subsequently, treat them like second-class citizens and make their lives miserable.
While different, doesn’t the storyline sound familiar?
One of the things that I love the most about Jane Austen’s novels is that she presents timeless themes that readers have all experienced-one way or another-throughout the course of time. How many times have we tried to set up friends only to realize that it won’t work? How often do we form judgments about people only to later realize that we were blinded by our individual bias? Haven’t we all been persuaded to do something by family or friends, even though we really wanted to do something else?
In her novel, Sense and Sensibility, she presents another situation that is rather common, especially in today’s society of social media and instant information distribution (albeit sometimes too much information!). We all know that people approach budding relationships in unique ways. Some people choose to shout it to the world, posting every last date and detail on Facebook, Instagram, or other social media applications. Others prefer to keep the relationship under wraps until they decide if there is a future together.
Believe it or not, its no different among the Amish. For starters, like high society during the Regency period, they tend to segregate themselves from the outside world. And while they, too, have their own acceptable social norms and values, their communities are full of unique individuals, not cookie-cutter people who simply follow a church directive as a single-minded body practicing group think.
Just like in Sense and Sensibility, there are good and not so good people in Amish communities. And what tends to circulate in the media is the not-so-good experiences of the few who leave. After all, the many people who choose to accept their baptism and remain members of the Amish church would be breaking their rules (called the Ordnung) if they talked to the media to share their positive experiences.
A little like Jane Austen’s Elinor and Marianne, wouldn’t you agree? While Elinor maintained a more conservative approach to courting—a good thing for, when her relationship soured, no one was any wiser!--Marianne’s open and carefree approach resulting in gossip and public subject to scrutiny when it failed.
To me, Jane Austen’s Elinor represents the traditional Amish way of life while Marianne represents the worldlier exposure which threatens the Amish church’s very existence. Interestingly enough, the former never was at risk of leaving the community while the latter was at risk of being shunned. Fortunately, her choices and suffering led her right back to the place where Elinor sensibly remained all along.
For me, it was a fascinating book to adapt into this unique setting. Hopefully you will feel the same way. After all, by integrating the general storyline into an Amish setting, readers can better understand how the problems encountered by all of Jane Austen’s heroines transcend culture, religion, and social status.
Sarah Price has always respected and honored her ancestors through the exploration and research about her family’s Anabaptist history and their religion. For over twenty-five years, she has been actively involved in an Amish community in Pennsylvania. The author of over thirty novels, Sarah is finally doing what she always wanted to do: write about the religion and culture that she loves so dearly.
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