Austen-Adjacent: Austen Adaptations, Retellings, and Other Related Media

I don’t *love* many classics, but I do love Jane Austen. I didn’t read anything by her until I was in my mid-twenties. I started with Sense and Sensibility and I wasn’t really a fan, but I wasn’t going to give up on her. I continued by reading Pride and Prejudice and Emma and I was SOLD. Emma is one of my favorite books of all time and I think about it constantly. 

But that’s not exactly what this post is about.

Today I want to talk about Austen adaptations or Austen-adjacent content because I’m fairly new to the world of Austen-related things but there are a few that I really enjoy and I want to share three of them today. I was partially inspired by Sofia at Bookish Wanderness and her post “Ranking Jane Austen Screen Adaptations” so please go check out her blog!

The retelling that Sophia mentioned that inspired this post is Bride and Prejudice. Clearly a Pride and Prejudice retelling, this Bollywood film follows Lalita as she meets several suitors including the American Mr. Darcy. This movie made me laugh so much! I liked seeing the ways they modernized the original Austen text and the musical numbers were so extravagant and fun. Also, for fans of the TV series Lost, it was fun to see Naveen Andrews as Charles Bingley.

Another Pride and Prejudice retelling I enjoyed is Longbourn by Jo Baker. This story takes place during the same timeline as Pride and Prejudice but follows the servants who work for the Bennets. I know some people don’t like seeing a different side of the Bennets, but I think Baker does some interesting work in showing all of the things that have to be done so that the Bennets can remain in relative comfort. Baker does not shy away from the sometimes disgusting reality of the work Sarah and the other servants have to do. I also appreciated (and wrote a lengthy paper about) the difference in the way Austen and Baker portray the soldiers. Showing the “behind-the scenes” of classics can be a way of making people aware of what had to happen in order for things to be the way they are. I won’t talk about this adaptation here but the 1999 Mansfield Park film does a good job of this, as well. 

The last thing I want to talk about is not based on Pride and Prejudice and is not a retelling. It’s a science-fiction story about time travelers who want to recover one of Austen’s missing text and, potentially, save her life – The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen Flynn. I was a little skeptical about this book because I am not a sci-fi girl but I did enjoy the historical references to Jane Austen’s personal life and the romance. I don’t want to say a ton about one particular element I enjoyed, because spoilers, BUT the main character, Rachel, is Jewish and that plays an interesting role in the story. It’s been a little while since I read this and I would love to pick it up again when my physical TBR is a bit more manageable but I do have positive memories when I think back on my initial reading experience.

I have definitely read and watched other Austen adaptations that I would like to talk about here so if you want to hear about those in the future, let me know! Also, do you have any Austen-adjacent or Austen retellings/adaptations you particularly enjoy? I need more!!

Books I Read for School and Actually Enjoyed

I finished my Master’s in English this past May, and it’s surprising to some who know me, but it is most surprising to me. I have always hated school. From kindergarten, I would try and get out of school as much as humanly possible, and that didn’t stop until my last two years of undergrad. I’m talking I almost failed my senior year of high school because of absences. I just couldn’t be bothered to do anything more than the bare minimum the entire time. Yes, even for my English classes where I had to read. 

It wasn’t until I switched to being an English major and depression and anxiety diagnoses in my last two years of undergrad that I started caring about school. This new excitement for school and English carried me through my MA degree. During that time, I got the chance to read some really cool books, and I thought it would be fun to share six of these books with you in no particular order.

The first book I have on this list is Sula by Toni Morrison. This book follows childhood friends Nel and Sula. As they grew up, the women took vastly different paths in life, and when they reunite, they can see the consequences of their choices. Of course, Morrison’s writing is fantastic, but what really makes this book stand out is that it is centered around the two women. The men in their lives aren’t as much the focus as their friendship is, which is refreshing to see. It doesn’t often seem that we see women and how they are outside of their relationships with men. I know I’ve seen quite a few people picking up Beloved and The Bluest Eye lately, but if you haven’t considered Sula, please do!

Second, I want to talk about Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work by Edwidge Danticat. This is a non-fiction collection of essays about immigrant artists continuing to create even when their worlds are in crisis. Danticat is Haitian-American and writes about other Haitian artists and writers. She discusses the importance of continuing to create for those who might need art from their specific point of view. Since this is a collection of essays and they all deal with different topics, I just want to leave you with a quote and hope it’s enough to get you to pick up this beautiful work. 

“Create dangerously, for people who read dangerously. This is what I’ve always thought it meant to be a writer. Writing, knowing in part that no matter how trivial your words may seem, someday, somewhere, someone may risk his or her life to read them.”

Edwidge Danticat

You might know Sandra Cisneros from The House on Mango Street, but I beg you to pick up Caramelo if you get the chance. This is the story of “Lala” Reyes and her summer trips to visit her Awful Grandmother in Mexico City. Lala then begins to tell her grandmother’s story and thus begins a story that goes back generations. This book is on the longer side, but it’s definitely worth it. I’ve talked about my love for unique story structure, and in Caramelo, Cisneros gives us the story in an almost circuitous way that is tied to culture and asks readers who aren’t used to this style of storytelling to pay attention and come along. I also really enjoy books that follow someone’s entire life or multiple generations, and Caramelo definitely delivers.

Emma, The Dog

There’s one classic on this list and, of course, it’s Emma. I’ve read this book a few times, and I just love Emma. I named my dog after her because, like Emma Woodhouse, Emma the Dog is obnoxious and hilarious. This story follows Emma Woodhouse, who thinks she’s really great at matchmaking. She is not. I love watching all of the drama and hilarity unfold. It’s one of the original rom-coms, and I’m here for it. I totally suggest watching Clueless after finishing the book. 

I don’t think I’ve shut up about Fun Home by Alison Bechdel since I read it, and I’m not even a little sorry. This is a graphic memoir that details Bechdel’s childhood and the less-than-perfect relationship she has with her father. I know some people think graphic novels go by too fast, and there’s not much to them, but that’s definitely not true for Fun Home. There is just as much to analyze in the artwork as there is in the actual text. There are also literary references throughout which add to the story. Still, you can definitely get a lot from Bechdel without knowing every single reference. The professor that taught Fun Home also had us listen to several songs from the musical. “Ring of Keys” and “Telephone Wire” get me every time. I’m not going to stop talking about and thinking about Fun Home for a really long time.

The last book I want to talk about is Queer: A Graphic History. This graphic novel is not the only and final word when it comes to queer theory, but it is a place to start. It covers a variety of topics, including sexuality as a spectrum and identity politics. The images are really helpful when it comes to recalling different concepts and making connections to other texts and media we were looking at. I think it is an interesting way to deliver complex information. I appreciated having it as a supplement while just starting to learn about different theorists. 

There are definitely other books I enjoyed reading while I was in school, but I thought I’d start with a selection from my last two years of school. Hopefully, this was enjoyable, and I’d appreciate talking with you guys in the comments. What books did you read in school that you really enjoyed?