Jane Austen in Scarsdale Or Love, Death, and the SATs by Paula Marantz Cohen

This is part of my reading for the Everything Austen Challenge, hosted at Stephanie’s Written Word. I wanted to read this one because it’s set in Scarsdale, New York, which is very close to where I live, and I wanted to see how Westchester County would get portrayed. I also loved that Anne Elliot is now Anne Ehrlich and comes from a wealthy Jewish family!

The Premise: This is a modern day retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. I’m going to be lazy and type out the inner jacket flap today. It really explains the story better than I could:

“Anne Ehrlich is a dedicated guidance counselor steering her high-school charges through the perils of college admission. Thirteen years ago, when she was graduating from Colombia University, her wealthy family-especially her dear grandmother Winnie- persuaded her to give up the love of her life, Ben Cutler, a penniless boy from Queens College. Anne has never married and hasn’t seen Ben since – until his nephew turns up in her high school and starts applying to college.

Now Ben is a successful writer, a world traveler, and a soon-to-be married man, and Winnie’s health is beginning to fail. These changes have Anne beginning to wonder…Can old love be rekindled, or are past mistakes too painful to forget?”

My Thoughts: At first when I read this book I thought “this is really different from the original Persuasion“.  Anne has a grandmother and only one sister, her family’s house is being sold (not leased), Ben’s sister has a son (and she’s not married to an admiral), Ben is engaged, the list went on. You see very loosely based versions of Lady Russell, Captain Benwick, Mrs. Clay, Mrs. Croft, and Louisa Musgrove, but a lot of other characters are missing, and a lot are added. On top of all of this, Anne’s job is a huge part of the book. Most of the time Anne is dealing with one crisis or another to do with college admission. I learned A LOT about what college’s may be looking for and the college application process, and I was reminded of all the fun (said sarcastically) of applying to college myself. It was interesting to see some of the impressions the author had certain schools, including the one I ended up going to, but at times I felt that all of this took up way too much of the book in comparison to the romance.

After thinking about it, I decided that the book had to be really different to translate to modern times. Nowadays Anne can have a job, and she would if her family is no longer wealthy. So she can’t be visiting people the way that Anne Elliot seems to do throughout the original book. Which means there’s no need for some of the characters in the original Persuasion. Anne’s character of quietly and steadily helping people with all their little dramas in Persuasion works very well with Anne’s job as a guidance counselor. It also wouldn’t make sense if Ben was still single. In Persuasion, Anne was considered too old to marry, but today, she wouldn’t be, but she has to feel like Ben is no longer available to her, thus the fiancee.

The writing itself is well done. Easily readable and full of amusing anecdotes about the college application process, I had no trouble getting into the book and enjoying it. The description of the over-achieving parents didn’t make me think of Westchester in particular, but as parents stressed out about college as a whole, it seemed to fit that bill. It was a bit over-the-top at times, but went with the lightness of the story.  Anne’s father Elihu, a man of leisure who just likes to spend money, and her sister Allegra, a poet, who does the same, also brought in some amusement with their self-indulgence and lack of common sense.

After all this, I was still left a little wanting. Not because of the way the setting, time, and people changed, but because of the way the romance changed. We see very little interaction between Anne and Ben. We get most of her side of the story here (she remembers their past together, and tortures herself by googling him), with very little about Ben and what he’s going through. That is much like the original, but we don’t even get a letter from him in this version! I think they spoke to each other directly maybe two times, and yet of course they get back together. I’m not quite sure HOW if they hardly were in the same room. We don’t even have any situations where one overhears the other or where Ben realizes how Anne is the most capable and levelheaded in a crisis (or was it so subtle I missed it?). The only clues we have are one possible case of jealousy and secondhand information. The way things resolved conveniently with hardly any talking between the hero and heroine left me a bit irritated.

Overall: An innovative re-telling of Persuasion, and not bad if you’re looking for a fun read, but not without it’s flaws (too much about the college application process, too little interaction between hero and heroine). I still want to read this author’s other retelling, Jane Austen in Boca (which is Pride & Prejudice set in a retirement community).

Other reviews:
Austenblog – similar response to mine, maybe a bit more glowing

Buy: Amazon | B&N

5 thoughts on “Jane Austen in Scarsdale Or Love, Death, and the SATs by Paula Marantz Cohen

  1. Great review! I’m not sure if I’m going to read this. I’m struggling enough to finish the original Persuasion. I think I perhaps overestimated myself when I chose to read it in English, next Jane Austen novel I think I’ll choose the Norwegian translation.

    • Ah, I didn’t know you weren’t completely fluent in English. So which Jane Austen’s have you read so far? My favorites are P&P and Persuasion.

      • I thought that shined through my posts, I’m not always sure if my spelling is 100%(I know the grammar isn’t), but I try my best.

        Persuasion is my first one. I almost think that reading in English is as easy as Norwegian but the English Jane Austen used was much more formal and some of the words are unfamiliar to me.

  2. Fabulous review!

    I’ve got Jane Austen in Boca on its way to me via bookmooch, so I can’t wait to see what its like. Definitely going to add this one to my wishlist too.

    For Persuasion re-tellings I really liked Persuading Annie by Melissa Nathan.

    • From what I hear “Jane Austen in Boca” is better liked, so I plan to read it when I get a chance. 🙂

      I really liked “Persuading Annie” too, but I LOVED “Pride, Prejudice, and Jasmine Fields” by the same author. Sad that she passed away, I like her writing.

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