So as you may have noticed in the past week I’ve read two retellings of the Pride and Prejudice story, Jane Austen’s very own classic. I touched on this a little bit in my post about new ideas in adaptations, but for this post I really want to chew on whether or not Pride and Prejudice needs to be retold in new ways.
Austen’s original Pride and Prejudice was groundbreaking work for a woman of her time, in which the female protagonist Lizzie Bennet prioritized her autonomy and desire for love over the need to secure financial stability for herself, or potentially her family. Lizzie also struggled with holding grudges and snap judgments, and learned to reconsider her first impressions of others with her love interest, Mr. Darcy. Darcy, as well, learned to not judge others so harshly, particularly those beneath him in social and wealth status.
While the classic is still much loved today, some of its lessons don’t translate as well to a modern audience. In some parts of the world, women still need to marry to secure financial stability. But in many parts of the world that is no longer the case and women are accustomed to pursuing education and careers. Social status and wealth are smaller factors in choosing suitors than they once were, and many of the major conflicts of the novel would no longer be huge events if they happened today. For those that would rather read a contemporary book, or see the Pride and Prejudice love story put forth with new conflicts, a modern retelling can take the story to a new level.
Take the webseries, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, for example. Lydia running off and eloping with Wickham would not have been a huge conflict despite the drama the event would have caused. Instead, TLBD addresses Lydia’s crisis with a modern version of ruining a woman’s reputation. The relief that Lizzie feels and the way that paves the way for forgiveness of Darcy is poignant and far easier to relate to than the relief of seeing Lydia safely married to save her future.
Ayesha at Last also elevates the story by setting it within a modern Indian-Muslim community. The stakes of marriage are similar due to the values of the community Ayesha and Khalid live in, but the motivations are different from that of Lizzie and Darcy. Ayesha wishes to pursue her life and would rather marry for love, while Khalid wants to please his mother and settle down as she sees fit. The story places arranged marriages and marrying for stability into a modern context while retaining the realistic values of the community it portrays.
What these retellings do in the modern context is provide a new way to look at the story. Both stories heavily feature the character development in the two leads, who must both learn that first impressions are not always correct and being judgmental and stubborn can prevent personal growth and loving relationships from blossoming.
I think that retellings of traditional stories help bring out new aspects of those stories, especially retellings of Pride and Prejudice. Perhaps there are those that don’t enjoy the original story, but do enjoy an adaptation or a retelling because of its updated story and characters. Or there are those that find another story about rich white English characters dull and would rather read a version of the story with LGBTQ+ representation, or BIPOC representation.
So tell me fellow readers and bloggers: How do you feel about retellings of Pride and Prejudice? Do they make the story better for you, or would you rather just return to the original?