Celebrating Jane Austen: Reboots and Reimaginings

What to read if you love Jane Austen

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in time to 1815, two years before Jane Austen’s untimely death, to befriend the novelist and steal her letters and an unpublished manuscript.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)

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Book Review: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
(Publisher Advance Copy)

eligible

It is a truth (almost) universally acknowledged, that there are myriad ways to find love in the 21st century.  Mrs Bennett may still take some convincing, but over the course of Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible, the modern Bennett girls of Cincinnati discover that love and happiness come in many forms.

There have been several modern reboots of Pride and Prejudice in the last decade, notably Bridget Jones, Bride and Prejudice and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and I have found each enjoyable for it’s creator’s reshaping of a classic story.  For the reader, there is a certain glee in knowing the ins and outs of the story, but not the particulars. I always appreciate the slow reveal as everything comes together and the particulars in Eligible are particularly well done.

Enter Longbourn as a neglected, cluttered mock-tudor mansion on one of Cincinnati’s best streets.  Elizabeth is a 38 year old journalist and Jane a 40 year old yoga instructor, both home from a decade in New York to help out with the family after Mr Bennett has a health scare.  Mr Collins is a start-up millionaire. Kitty and Lydia are obsessed with Cross Fit and Paleo diets. Mary is completing her third online masters degree and Mrs Bennet has a shopping addiction. Bingley and Darcy are, of course, both doctors.

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