Reader’s Digest’s book corner have been loving Jane Stubbs’ compelling Thornfield Hall, which tells the timeless story of Jane Eyre from the perspective of the servants. But are literary spin-offs simply money-spinners?
From Grace Poole to Bertha Mason, Jane Eyre to Rochester, this reimagining offers new perspectives on the best-loved characters that will leave readers with a totally new perspective on the classic novel. (Listen to our February podcast for a full discussion of the book.)
We’ve been so inspired by this literary spin-off, we’ve pulled together our top ten modern novels inspired by classic fiction. Half the titles on our list have a Jane Austen theme; Pride and Prejudice alone has inspired at least 70 works, in which Elizabeth Bennet has become a zombie, a serial killer, Bridget Jones, a lesbian, a cannibal and more besides.
Here in all their glory, are our favourites from the world of rewrites. Whether you class them as winners, or simply money-spinners…
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – Seth Grahame-Smith
‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains, must be in want of more brains.’ This hilarious expanded edition of the Austen classic comes with all new scenes of bone crunching mayhem. A living dead gore fest so popular that it’s been made into a Hollywood movie, due for release in 2015.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead – Tom Stoppard
Expanding upon the lives of two minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and turning it into absurdist, existential play. Adapted for the screen in 1990 with performances from Gary Oldman and Tim Roth, the play launched the career of writer Tom Stoppard who would go on to pen Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Shakespeare in Love, The Golden Compass and Anna Karenina.
Longbourn – Jo Baker
Similar to Thornfield Hall, Longbourn retells a classic novel from the perspective of the servants. The result is a fresh, compelling version of Pride and Prejudice that Austen lovers would never expect.
'If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats,' Sarah thought, 'she would be more careful not to tramp through muddy fields.'
West Side Story
The first film in our countdown, West Side Story restages one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, Romeo and Juliet, in the Upper West Side neighborhood of New York. The Sharks and the Jets replace the Montagues and the Capulets as a boy and girl from rival gangs fall in love across this musical tragedy. All together now: ‘I like to be in Americaaa’.
The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller
The Song of Achilles rewrites the story of Achilles, nearly 3000 years on from his immortalization in Homer’s epic The Iliad. In Miller’s spin off, the friendship between Achilles and Patroclus becomes a moving love story that transcends the boundaries of gender and time.
Death Comes to Pemberley - PD James (now also on DVD)
The year is 1803, Darcy and Elizabeth have been married for six years and their orderly world seems perfect. But on the eve of the annual autumn ball, Lydia Wickham - Elizabeth's younger, wilder sister - stumbles out of her carriage screaming that her husband has been murdered. P. D. James masterfully recreates the world of Pride and Prejudice in this incredible crime story.
Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys
This 1966 novel was penned as a prequel to Jane Eyre telling the story of Antoinette Cosway—a white Creole heiress—from her youth to her marrying an unnamed English gentleman who soon renames her, declares her mad and relocates her to England. A vivid reimagining of the ‘mad-woman in the attic’ that was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels since 1923.
Sense and Sensibility – Joanna Trollope
One of six parts of the current Jane Austen Project in which modern authors update Austen’s work, Joanna Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility brings drugs, depression and internet trolls into the lives of Eleanor and Marianne Dashwood.
An Austen adaptation like no other, Clueless reimagines Emma as spoilt teenager Cher Horowitz, who lives in Beverly Hills with her widowed father. Entertainment Weekly ranks the preppy 90s flick as a ‘New Classic’ and the 19th best comedy of the last 25 years.
The Lion King
Not everybody knows that The Lion King is a Disney spin on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, with the evil uncle Scar replacing King Claudius. One of Disney’s most popular animations of all time, the film won two Oscars for its musical score and the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture.
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