Around this time every year, my brain starts going into hardcore Jane Austen mode. Maybe the warmer weather makes Austen sound extra appealing, or maybe when I read all her novels for the first time one spring, the timing imprinted itself on my brain. Now, I could go on and on about Austen novels and why I love them, but that’s not what I’m going to do today. Instead, I’m going to talk about some of my favorite Austen adaptations. I find all these adaptations great in their own right, and nobody makes this many versions of something without great source material. So without further ado, here are some great retellings of fantastic classics.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith and Jane Austen (adaptation of Pride & Prejudice) – If you’ve ever been reading or watching something and thought “this would be better with zombies,” P&P&Z is for you. And if you’ve ever thought “it would be good to read some classics” but found yourself too busy with action and excitement, this is still the book for you. A lot of the book is Jane Austen’s original prose, but then Grahame-Smith adds, edits, and remixes, so that you are literally reading the words of Pride & Prejudice…just with some slight, zombie-ish additions. Despite the additions, it is clear that Grahame-Smith likes and respects Austen’s original novel, and that makes his zombie-fied version truly fantastic. P&P&Z is perfect for fans of classic literature, zombies, action, and drama. It is the monster/manners mash-up the world didn’t even realize it was waiting for.
Clueless (adaptation of Emma) – Whenever adaptations of any book come up in any conversation, it’s only a matter of time until I start talking about Clueless. In addition to being a brilliant and hilarious teen comedy that inspired a whole generation (yes, mine) to start saying “as if” twenty times a day, it’s also my favorite adaptation of any Jane Austen book. Cher is the perfect modern(ish) day Emma – charming, beautiful, caring, arrogant, self-centered, and entirely wonderful. The key to any adaptation of Emma is showing how flawed she is – while making viewers and readers love her anyways. Clueless nails this in a way no other adaptation that I’ve seen has. And the supporting characters are every bit as colorful, entertaining, and well-developed as Austen’s originals. Cher’s father is just as lovable but goofy as Mr. Woodhouse, and it’s possible I actually prefer Josh to Mr. Knightley (though it’s a tough choice.) The key to a great retelling is being true to the spirit of the original, and no version of Austen does this better than Clueless.
For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund (adaptation of Persuasion) – I’m super in to Diana Peterfreund right now, and I have For Darkness Shows the Stars to thank for it. Persuasion is the most serious and poignant of Austen’s novels, and Peterfreund expertly captures that. She delves into disappointed love, the influence of class, personal responsibility, and some really lovely letter-writing, just like Austen does in Persuasion. But Peterfreund does it in a sci-fi/dystopian setting, adding in some excellent world-building and some high-stakes action for the characters. Elliott and Kai are a swoon-worthy couple, and you won’t be able to resist cheering for them right from the start. Because this book is a dystopia, some of the unlikeable characters have been elevated to villain, and some action speeds the plot along. But never at the expense of the characters and story, and never at the expense of Austen’s work.
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (adaptation of Pride & Prejudice) – The Lizzie Bennet Diaries are an absolutely charming adaptation of Pride & Prejudice (a popular candidate for retelling, as this list shows) done in vlog style. We hear from and see a modern day Lizzie, as well as her sisters, friends, and even the famous Mr. Darcy. But The Lizzie Bennet Diaries doesn’t stop at just a funny and faithful (enough) adaptation of Pride & Prejudice. It also features Twitter conversations, pictures, and more from Lizzie and the other characters, even bringing in the audience in on some of it. Jane curates a fashion Tumblr. Lydia shows off her double-jointedness in response to fan questions. Lizzie’s best friend Charlotte pushes her own little sister into vlogging. Although the series is over and it’s too late to be part of the story yourself, it’s never too late to enjoy an immersive and entertaining new media version of a classic.