Sonali Dev—author of Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors, Recipe for Persuasion and the newly released Incense and Sensibility—was the featured speaker at our Zoom event on July 17. The video is now available on the JASNA Southwest YouTube channel.
She revealed that her earliest memories of becoming an author were in kindergarten composing couplets. Her introduction to Austen was in middle school, when a real prince played Mr. Darcy in a TV adaptation that was a sensation in India, where she grew up (in Bombay, now Mumbai).
Dev explained that she was drawn to Austen because of her striking heroines. For instance, in Pride and Prejudice, Dev saw “a heroine who always spoke her mind, had opinions about everything and didn’t temper them. She expressed her opinions ‘very decidedly for so young a person’ and was liked for it. It changed the woman I became.” She added that, in Elizabeth Bennet, she saw “everything I believed about myself that wasn’t being reinforced by the world I lived in suddenly visible in a story. Elizabeth had a sense of self worth and was rewarded and not punished for it.”
She described Austen as a contemporary writer, reflecting the world she lived in through her unique vision. Dev said the rigid rules of Regency England felt similar to the rigid rules she grew up with in India. “The sharpness of Austen’s social commentary was so relevant,” she noted.
Reading Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion and Emma taught her about female agency and self worth, Dev told the audience. It became her dream to write contemporary versions of these four novels, her favorites, and to place the characters within the same story universe. Her goal was not to retell Austen’s novels or to simply translate them to another culture—which had already been done—but to pay homage to what these novels taught her.
Dev added that her novels explore and comment on subjects like truth, love, agency, politics, and privilege (among other flavors), and learning from loss, while playing with conventions and Austen’s character archetypes. She also gender-swapped some characters, as in Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors in which the heroine is the Darcy character.
Dev recounted how publishers suggested she make Trisha—the Darcy character—more likeable, which only emboldened Dev to tell the stories she wanted to tell.
She also shared that the next installment in her series, what she expects to be the last in the Raje family saga, will be based on Emma and released in summer 2022.