OK, maybe that’s not quite Jane Austen era, but I always like saying that!
So yesterday was the official release day of my book, Sense and Sensibility (Realms, 2016). 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. Well, that is where one of the largest populations of Amish lives. That’s right…the Amish.
In my adaptation, the main characters are not the upper echelon of high society during the Regency period. Instead, they are simple Amish people. Eleanor and Mary Ann live on a dairy farm. When their father dies, they (along with their mother and younger sister) are relegated to the small grossdawdihaus by their half-brother and his wife who, subsequently, treat them like second-class citizens.
Sounds familiar, right?
The beauty of 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?
Sense and Sensibility is no different. People approach budding relationships with different ideas. Some people want to shout it to the world, while others prefer to keep the relationship under wraps until they decide if there is a future together. It’s not any different among the Amish. Considering that they tend to segregate themselves from the outside world, it’s especially impactful to understand that Amish communities are full of individuals who can make choices rather than cookie cutter people who simply follow a church directive…a comment I often hear from people who misinterpret the negative imagery perpetuated by “reality” shows and “saved” former members of the community.
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, isn’t it? Elinor maintained a more conservative approach to courting and, when her relationship soured, no one was any wiser. On the other hand, Marianne’s approach was much more open and, therefore, subject to scrutiny when it failed.
To me, 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.