Classic novels, retold

For my Day 19 Zero to Hero post I published a gallery of photos accompanied by a cento, which is a poem created with lines by poems from different authors. The Zero to Hero challenge for Day 21: “publish a post inspired by your post from Day 19”.

Initially, ideas for this post didn’t flow freely but composing the cento got me thinking about reimaginings and retellings of other peoples’ work. A lot of retellings are of classic novels ‘updated’ for the modern age. Sometimes these reimagined works add something new to interpretations of the original, for example, a novel which retells Jane Austen’s classic, Pride and Prejudice, from the point of view of the servants was published last year and received very good reviews. I haven’t had the time to read it yet but I saw copies in a bookstore today and was very tempted to buy myself a copy!

Public domain photo source

Public domain photo source

However, most of the time I feel that rewriting a classic novel to bring it up to date is unnecessary. I wrote about this in September when I published a post, “Do Modern Retellings of Classic Novels Actually Work?”, in which I discussed Joanna Trollope’s updated version of Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen.

One of the problems I found when reading the novel was the sheer amount of social differences between Jane Austen’s time (the Georgian era) and modern-day life:

“Do modern retellings of classic novels work? It is impossible to translate the restricted roles which women had in Austen’s time to the present day. Therefore, some of Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility comes across as a bit far-fetched; Marianne and Elinor do not need to marry to find a way out of their impoverished situation. This type of issue is one of the problems with updating classic novels into a modern-day setting”

Click here to read the full post. What do you think about updated versions of classic novels?

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5 thoughts on “Classic novels, retold

  1. You should check out Longbourn! It was excellent. 🙂

    I don’t read the updated classics, for the very reason you pointed out. It seems like forced storytelling, and the original P&P is good enough for me. I continue to re-read it!

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    • Thank you for the encouragement. It is on my TBR (to be read) list, along with many other books. 😀

      “Forced storytelling” is a good way to put it. I know that the Austen Project (http://theaustenproject.com), which pairs contemporary authors with a JA novel, is intended to be an homage to Jane Austen (and, as my cynical side says, an excellent cash cow for the publishers who know that Austen sells) but I think there are much better ways of paying tribute to JA.

      Having said that, although the updated version of S&S wasn’t great at all, I am curious to read Curtis Sittenfeld’s contemporary version of Pride and Prejudice. I love Sittenfeld’s writing; I’m currently reading Sisterland – her fourth novel – and it is excellent.

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      • This is an interesting movement, though I agree with your cynical side a bit. I wish I could pinpoint the swelling in the fandom — not that I’m not a fan, but it seems crazy all of the focused hype on JA lately. Are people just catching up, or what is happening?

        I’ll have to keep my eye on this though. I’ll strongly consider the remakes/homages as long as they are good ones.

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  2. Pingback: Saturday Shelfie | Cultural Life

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