First of all, we engage with the new version on its own terms. We don’t need to know the original work, we can just enjoy a good novel or a good film or a good musical.
However, if we happen to know the original, there is further pleasure to be had from spotting allusions and references and contemplating the choices and changes made by the contemporary author.
Then there is the added delight of revisiting and rediscovering the originals in the light of our new experience.
I have enjoyed this process so much, that I’m making my own offering to the world of Jane Austen reimaginings.
A modern look at Pride and Prejudice
I’m beginning with a contemporary take on Pride and Prejudice. My novel isn’t a faithful transcript of the original, but it does follow the trajectory of the plot and includes the essence of crucial scenes.
If you are familiar with Austen’s novel, you will see that some of the characters are dropped altogether, and only one retains her original first name.
You will recognise three of the Bennet girls, Elizabeth, Jane and Lydia.
Darcy is there, of course, as are Bingley and Wickham.
You may enjoy spotting other characters who fulfil similar functions to those in the original. And there are some linguistic references…
How time changed my view of the characters
There are many contemporary interpretations of Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth Bennet is a beguiling heroine who in modern adaptations appears in a variety of guises: a shy librarian, a graduate student, a feminist, a zombie-assassin, the lead singer in a girl band, a former gang-banger from Chicago.
But it wasn’t Lizzie, compelling as she is, who kindled my interest in this project. The passage of time can cause a shift in the way we view our heroes and heroines.
I was a little surprised to discover that I felt a glimmer of sympathy for Mrs Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, having previously mocked her, as did Jane Austen.
You will discover that I have taken huge liberties with Mrs Bennet, although not quite as audacious as placing her in a world of werewolves and alien invasions.
The action in Austen’s novel begins with news of the arrival of a rich young bachelor in the neighbourhood, news which Mrs Bennet sees as having great significance for her eligible unmarried daughters.
And so, the themes of marriage, love, money, class are brought into play – themes which are as relevant as ever 200 years after the original book was written.
The enduring reality of Charlotte’s situation
My take on the novel begins at a different point. Although contemporary social mores are different, and nowadays, of course, girls don’t hang around waiting for a husband, the popularity of romcoms and romantic fiction demonstrates the enduring emotional appeal of finding a partner to love.
Modern misses also know the harsh realities of making a living in the modern world. There you have it – love and money.
And who in Pride and Prejudice demonstrates most tellingly these imperatives? None other than the vibrant Lizzie’s best friend, Charlotte Lucas, a character for whom my sympathy has grown.
Charlotte isn’t a looker and she’s not rich. She’s not old, but the clock is ticking. So she takes the only offer of marriage she might be likely to receive.
This decision brings into focus the novel’s central concerns. Charlotte’s action raises issues about the nature of marriage, compromise, security, romantic love, pragmatism, status and the position of single women who need to make their way in the world.
And that is why my novel begins when Charlotte announces her engagement to a man who has nothing to recommend him apart from the financial security which he will offer her. And that is why the novel is called Charlotte’s Wedding.
Charlotte’s Wedding is now available at Amazon worldwide.