Which books do you think are most and least suitable to setting updates? Despite its popularity I always thought P&P was the least because the lack of entailments totally kills the "marry for love or money" conflict--the solution just becomes Jane and Lizzie go to college and get jobs. While Northanger Abbey is the easiest because there are always poison friends and teenagers getting too deep into genre fiction (source: was a teenager who got too deep into genre fiction).
I think all the novel settings need updating as the status of women has changed so much in general, since Austen’s time. The Dashwoods would not have weird legal loopholes entirely cutting them out of Mr. Dashwood’s will and forcing them to leave their family home to make way for John and Fanny–unless Mr. Dashwood had entirely neglected to update his will, and there’d be a strong case, then, for his widow and daughters to contest such a will in the modern legal system. And the Ferrars inheritance/secret engagements shenanigans would be watered down a great deal if these people just had regular jobs and normal incomes and you don’t HAVE to marry someone just because you said you would years and years ago, if the relationship is over, you can just WALK AWAY EDWARD, IT’S OKAY. I’d think this would be the trickiest bit to update for Sense and Sensibility, as Edward has to either be clueless about Elinor’s feelings to an unattractive level (the restraints of 18th century courtship allows better plausible deniability when it comes to being aware of other people’s feelings and intentions than our present-day where one hopes honest communication happens more easily in developing romantic attachments.)
Emma would not be confined to such a small circle of society as she is in Highbury, and certainly would not be quite so likely to be as snobbishly isolated as she is, unless she was, for some reason, homeschooled and shy of reaching out to make new friends. (Which is rather at odds with her commanding character.) As a forceful and ballsy woman she’s probably easy to make Modern, but again, the dynamics at play in the background make it less workable, played straight. (Frank’s difficulties gaining his inheritance, his ‘need’ for a secret engagement, the disparity of wealth between landowning families and the genteel poverty of the Bates women, who rely on charity and the a dwindling income of interest on a small sum, rather than even considering work of any kind, as they would in the present day. Even Mrs. Weston’s position as a governess to Emma for so many years, then finally having the ‘luck’ to marry and get a home of her own in her thirties is difficult to find a parallel for in the present age, where an educated woman working full-time ought to be able to provide a comfortable and steady home for herself.)
While Catherine Morland’s entry into the world is in general terms much like any young person’s striking out on their own (to college or a first job/moving out/adulting in general,) the notion that a girl of 17 ought to have an opportunity to be displayed in a social setting to help her, perhaps, to a good marriage, is ridiculous in the 21st century–as is the Thorpe’s meddling and conniving over how much money anybody stands to inherit or have as a dowry.
Lydia’s elopement and the stigma against premarital sex definitely doesn’t work in a modern setting, and Wickham’s predatory nature must generally be pushed beyond being purely mercenary to being a sexualized threat to young women and their boundaries of consent in some way, as there’s not really any hush-money to be made these days in bragging about having had sex with someone who isn’t a married celebrity.
Persuasion’s tricky on the same level–unless there’s severe levels of manipulation (which there could be, and to some degree, are in the original novel,) why on earth would Anne stay in a place with a family that made her so miserable? Guilt and family complexities being what they are, I could see this easily being updated, however, as Anne has no real material reliance on ‘needing’ to marry rich. Though her father and elder sister are profligate and the family does have to downsize from a country estate, their lives are still comparatively quite comfortable, for their time. Ultimately even Sir Walter and Elizabeth’s pride are able to accept their situation in Bath, which, though cheaper than living at Kellynch, they don’t feel is too much of a degradation of their circumstances (and given how sensitive/whingey they both are whenever anything doesn’t go their way, this must mean that their Bath life is comfortable, indeed.) Anne’s discomfort and need for escape are more psychological and emotional, rather than material, and as so much of the novel revolves around what is said or unsaid, and the influences we have on those around us, and what/who we allow to influence ourselves and why, I think Persuasion could probably stand to be updated most easily, as it lacks some of the more material plot contrivances which push other characters in other novels to conceal or ignore matters to create conflict. The dynamics in Persuasion are much more to do with personal fears, guilt, and insecurities, which have always plagued us as humans, and always will.