This month is the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, and her novels are as much loved and relevant today as they were in her own time. Her acute understanding of human nature, her wry observations and her ability to create complex three dimensional characters leave her stories feeling so modern in many ways. Or if not modern, then enduring… timeless.
Perhaps this is why her books still matter. Despite the fact that many women today have more agency than they would have had in Regency England, many readers still relate to the dilemmas and conflicts that Austen’s characters face, the internal and external tensions in our lives as we seek the path that is right for each of us.
I’m not a Janeite, myself… not yet… but my love for Jane Austen and her world is growing, and I especially like some of the modern twists on her writing. Here are several novels that are Jane Austen adjacent, a contemporary adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, a biographical film, and a fantasy film and television show for the Janeite in all of us.
The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn
Two researchers from the future travel back in time to 1815, two years before Jane Austen’s untimely death, to befriend the novelist and steal her letters and an unpublished manuscript. Presenting themselves as distant relatives from colonial Jamaica, the time travellers must settle themselves into Regency society and convincingly pass themselves off a brother and sister from that time. I loved this novel for its insight into a historical period I knew little about, and the many facts that I gleaned about the Austen family and Jane Austen’s life. While the character depiction of Jane is fictional, it’s a charming way to widen the net cast by her novels and imagine her as a character in her own story.
Longbourn by Jo Baker
An engrossing recentred telling of Pride and Prejudice from the servants point of view. This novel begins on washing day, when a maid at the Bennett house, Sarah, bemoans the fact that Lizzie Bennet likes to go for muddy walks in the fields – as Sarah is left scrubbing her petticoats. All the action from Pride and Prejudice is still there in this novel, but is off to the side, while Sarah’s life and the interest caused by the arrival of a new footman takes centre stage. A gorgeous love story set in familiar territory, but seen with new eyes.
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
A thoroughly modern take on Pride and Prejudice, set in contemporary America. Jane is a 40-year old yoga teacher, Lizzie is a journalist, Kitty and Lydia are obsessed with paleo diets and crossfit, Mary is undertaking her third Masters degree online, and Mrs Bennett has a shopping addiction. Jane and Bingley met on a Bachelor style reality TV show, the ball at Netherfield is replaced by a particularly crass game of charades, and Lizzie and Darcy keep running into each other while out jogging. Not one for the purists, but I loved this modern take on a classic (and the plural ways we can find love and happiness that it offers)
Austenland directed by Jerusha Hess
A rather silly, but quite enjoyable film in which a Jane Austen devotee holidays at an immersive resort for lovers of Jane’s work. I very much enjoyed the British show Regency House Party and this was just the icing on the cake. For more of the same, I’ll have to read the novel Austenland by Shannon Hale that the film is based on and The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler.
Lost in Austen created by Guy Andrews
A gorgeous 4-part television series in which Lizzie Bennet accidentally ends up in contemporary London, while a modern woman finds herself in Recency England with the Bennett family. The timeslip situation allows us to see how thoroughly modern and ahead of her time Lizzie really is, and it is so much fun watching her delight in the conveniences of modern life.
Becoming Jane directed by Julian Jarrold
Watching this film about Jane Austen’s early years and her brief romance with Thomas Lefroy sparked my interest in Jane Austen, and I think has left me feeling much more attached to her novels. I thought about this film a lot while reading The Jane Austen Project, as I enjoyed both depictions of the authoress and the fact that she was able to lead a relatively independent life in a society where women had few paths to independence.
I discussed all things Jane Austen and the bicentenary of her death on Breakfast with Dugald Saunders this morning on ABC Western Plains Radio. I will be doing a regular spot with the ABC talking about books and reading, every second Monday.
And there is still time to book in for our Better Living Through Books panel at the Mudgee Readers Festival on Sunday 13 August. The Mudgee Readers Festival runs from Thursday 10 August-Sunday 13 August.