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Pride and Prejudice Retellings: Bringing out New Ideas

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is one of the most widely read classics, has been adapted into various film and TV forms, and has a wide array of retellings, sequels, and other fan written and officially published media accompanying it. With each new version of the story, new creative challenges and risks are encountered. In this post, I’ll be addressing just a few of the retellings that I enjoy the most and what new ideas I feel they brought to the table.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

This is a pretty well known example, especially as it now has a screen adaptation (which I love by the way). By adding zombies to the story, Pride and Prejudice gains a new horror layer to the story while still managing to examine class relationships the way Austen’s works do. The training that people of different status and wealth receive to deal with the zombie scourge reflects the value that society places on them, with lower class and poorer members of society the most vulnerable to zombie attacks. Additionally, the strife between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy is given a physical aspect in the form of fighting and making them into a battle couple who can fight together.

For the most part, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is just a more interesting update to the story that explores the horror genre in an Austen setting. Otherwise, not a whole lot of new challenges are provided to the world, which is fine as it never promised to do so. I think this novel (and film) are a good way to engage readers/viewers who normally wouldn’t care much about the gossip and drama of the original tale. If Northanger Abbey was your favorite Austen novel, this might be a much needed horror twist to Pride and Prejudice.

The Lizzie Bennett Diaries

One of the first YouTube webseries I got into, this show really kickstarted a genre of YouTube series based off classic literature pieces. Emma, Little Women, Jane Eyre, Carmilla, Much Ado About Nothing, The Three Musketeers, and more were adapted into this YouTube format of video diaries with worlds built around the reason why a character might be streaming their life online. The Lizzie Bennett Diaries follow Lizzie Bennett, a modern day grad student who embarks on a YouTube video diary series as part catharsis and part media relations project. In this adaptation, the Bennett sisters are condensed into Jane, Lizzie, and Lydia representing a responsible older, cynical middle, and party animal younger sister trio.

Through the medium of video diary, we receive only Lizzie’s perspective when she is not inviting her sisters, and best friend Charlotte, onto the screen. Thus the way Lizzie’s negative perception of Darcy forms, and the slow realization that she misjudged him too harshly, is played out through visual character development assisted by other characters voicing their opinions. Additionally, aspects of the original novel are updated to reflect a more modern audience. Mr. Collins, for example, is a rising media mogul and Pemberley is not a vast estate but a media company involved in producing online gaming and TV. Without giving away spoilers, many of the plot points are also transformed into a more modern version of themselves to reflect the modern sensibilities of the characters.

But bringing modernity to the Pride and Prejudice story is not all The Lizzie Bennett Diaries has to offer. Because these diaries are not just Lizzie’s perspective but also her place to vent and talk about life, we get her deepest personal thoughts, which are usually absent from an adaptation out of necessity. In this way, the growth between Darcy and Lizzie and the way Lizzie feels about what happens around her are more understandable. They make more sense and they happen naturally on screen, which attests to the talent of the writers and the actors alike. This modern update definitely embodies the spirit of Austen’s original work, and brings it into a new, fun medium that can be consumed slowly or all at once.

Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin

I’ve already reviewed this book in my usual format here, but that format didn’t leave as much space to talk about the impact of this retelling on literature. Previously, the only retelling of Pride and Prejudice that focused on protagonists who were people of color was Bride and Prejudice, the Bollywood adaptation (that I have only seen part of sadly). In comes Ayesha at Last, a modern adaptation of the story in Toronto, Canada focusing on an Indian-Muslim community there. Beyond incorporating the basic plot devices of Pride and Prejudice–Darcy makes a hasty judgement of Elizabeth, Elizabeth returns this judgement with malice, they slowly spend more time together in common company leading to Darcy falling in love, Elizabeth rejects his first proposal for being insulting, a crisis hits the Bennett family (specifically Lydia), and Darcy steps in to fix the problem leading to Elizabeth forgiving him for his wrongs and opening herself up to her feelings for him–this novel maintains its own original plot that follows not only our “Darcy,” Khalid, and our “Elizabeth,” Ayesha but a series of side characters as well.

Jalaluddin did a masterful job of incorporating the story they wanted to tell into the Pride and Prejudice format. Where characters or plots would not have made sense for the story being told, they are left out and this does not detriment the story as an adaptation in the least. The most important elements and lessons remain very much intact. And, not only as an adaptation of a classic with modern people of color, Ayesha at Last covers some important topics. Modern arranged marriages, immigration difficulties, Islamophobia, and more are covered extensively by characters that have strong voices and opinions.

Conclusion

This is an incredibly short list of Pride and Prejudice adaptations, but I think these three really represent, to myself, the most interesting changes to Austen’s story. I like the modern updates to her work, as the values she put into them were radical for a woman of her time. However, a modern audience for Pride and Prejudice can have a hard time grasping that, so placing the story in modern day allows the growth of the conflicts involved to reflect the growth of changing values. Ayesha at Last especially does a good job of this by taking the further step to express values for underrepresented characters in literature.

Are you a fan of Pride and Prejudice or any subsequent retellings there have been? What about sequels to it, or adaptations? Tell me your favorites in the comments!

By Catherine

I'm a lover of books, coffee, wine, and bees. Happy to join the ranks of book bloggers everywhere!

One reply on “Pride and Prejudice Retellings: Bringing out New Ideas”

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