Jane Austen adaptations are a staple on PBS Masterpiece. Though Sanditon is the latest Austen story to hit it big thanks to public media, it's hardly the only one. From Mansfield Park (2008) to Sense & Sensibility (2008) and Northanger Abbey (1983 and 2007) to Emma (2009), it's unlikely that you'll go more than a few years without a new version of one of the beloved author's classic tales arriving on our screens. (Heck, if you're feeling nostalgic, you can watch the famous 1996 A&E adaptation Pride & Prejudice, thanks to PBS Passport!)
But Masterpiece is currently planning to bring us a very different sort of Austen story next year, one focused on the life of the author herself. A four-part limited series is in the works based on Gil Hornby's popular novel Miss Austen, which revolves around the lives and loves of Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra. It delves into why Cassandra burned a treasure trove of letters written by her sister, Jane—an act of destruction that has troubled academics and Austen fans for centuries.
"Miss Austen is about one of the most important people in Jane Austen's life, her sister Cassandra," Masterpiece Executive Producer Susanne Simpson said in a statement. "We can't wait to bring Gill Hornby's captivating novel to life for our Masterpiece audience."
Andrea Gibb, the Scottish screenwriter behind Swallows and Amazons and Elizabeth is Missing, will write the limited series from former BBC Films head Christine Langan, who will produce via her Bonnie Productions outfit. "Gill's instincts for these unforgettable characters is flawless," Langan said. "Her moving, revealing, and often hilarious story of love, loss, and sisterhood is captured brilliantly for the screen by Andrea Gibb. I share with Susanne at Masterpiece great excitement for the emotional impact, the warmth, and the deep pleasure this show will bring."
"I'm so thrilled Miss Austen has landed with Christine and MASTERPIECE/PBS – the dream team for the project," Hornby said. "I can't wait to see Jane and Cassandra brought back to life."
We don't know much about what the television adaptation will look like, but here's how the publisher describes the book.
England, 1840. For the two decades following the death of her beloved sister, Jane, Cassandra Austen has lived alone and unwed, spending her days visiting friends and relations and quietly, purposefully working to preserve her sister's reputation. Now in her '60s and increasingly frail, Cassandra goes to stay with the Fowles of Kintbury, family of her long-dead fiancé, in search of a trove of Jane's letters. Dodging her hostess and a meddlesome housemaid, Cassandra eventually hunts down the letters and confronts the secrets they hold, secrets not only about Jane but about Cassandra herself. Will Cassandra bare the most private details of her life to the world, or commit her sister's legacy to the flames?
Moving back and forth between the vicarage and Cassandra's vibrant memories of her years with Jane, interwoven with Jane's brilliantly reimagined lost letters, 'Miss Austen' is the untold story of the most important person in Jane's life. With extraordinary empathy, emotional complexity, and wit, Gill Hornby finally gives Cassandra her due, bringing to life a woman as captivating as any Austen heroine
Miss Austen will most likely arrive on Masterpiece sometime in the second half of 2023. Hornby's latest Austen-inspired novel, Godmersham Park, will be published this June.