I recently came across a meme that made me realise how Jane Austen’s words and characters could be relatable in today’s world. With so much fan-fiction out there, we could never really run out of material to modernise or adapt our own versions of Austen’s universe. Here are four picks to get you started, and get you thinking – Do we read Austen to abscond from reality or to see it more transparently?
Austenland by Shannon Hale
Lazy summary – In pursuit of Mr Darcy in the modern world
New Yorker Jane Hayes is obsessed with Colin Firth aka, TV’s beloved Mr Darcy, and jumps at the chance to visit ‘Austenland’ – a resort that embodies Regency-era England in real life. Jane is all set to spend three weeks in this Austen haven complete with corsets, no modern gadgets and with the aim of securing an ideal ‘suitor’ at the end of it. Needless to say, hilarity ensues with plenty of misunderstandings. This is a refreshing take on classic romance. Will Jane find a Mr Darcy of her own?
Longbourn by Jo Baker
Lazy summary – Jane Austen meets Downton Abbey
This is not for the light-hearted. This read takes you down below to the lives, scandals and troubles of the Bennet family’s servants. Don’t go into this expecting Austen’s customary flowery language, this retelling gives anchor to the maids, footmen, housekeepers and cooks of the Regency era. Plenty of hardship, audacious circumstances and heartbreaking realities to provide you with a harsher look at what goes on between the seams of class and privilege disparity.
Pride And Prejudice And Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith
Lazy summary – The title says it all!
Two seemingly unrelated worlds come together in this cult favourite of recent years. Grahame-Smith expertly uses satire to fuse Austen’s world with a grotesque plague of the undead. It’s as bizarre as it sounds, and done so efficiently enough that you can’t believe this wasn’t an Austen original in the first place. Pick this one up if you’re interested in knowing how the Bennet sisters would have slayed zombies while navigating gender and social norms in a monster mash-up.
Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Pattillo
Lazy summary – Jane Austen saves a woman’s life
A fun and quick read, don’t let the title fool you. Following an academic scandal and a failing marriage, professor Emma Grant flees her life in search of clues about Austen’s world and apparently some secret hidden letters and treasures. The treasure, of course, is the journey of introspection and self-realisation that Emma undergoes as she slowly unravels mysteries about her favourite author while drawing parallels to her own life. The ending may not be typical, but it is happy in its own way.