If Sense and Sensibility were a twenty-first century novel, Marianne would be the heroine, not Elinor. There is no way a woman with perfect composure who never offends anybody would take the spotlight. Marianne always speaks her mind, sometimes to the degree of incivility. She wears her heart on her sleeve and gets it broken. This brings a drastic change in her personality as she adopts discretion for the first time in her life. Elinor, whose perspective we have the most access to, and can therefore be considered the primary character, is politically correct from the beginning. She is fully functional when she’s down in the dumps and low-key patronizes her sister for indulging in a mourning period.
Granted, it’s Jane Austen. But even Thomas Hardy with his candid, earthy writing could not do worse than Bathsheba Everdene in Far from the Madding Crowd, whose only fault is that she dares to run a farm without consulting a man. She is punished for it by being put through a series of toxic relationships that break her spirit and rob her of her independence until, spoiler alert, she finally submits to the man she spurns in the first chapter.
Many of our revered classics—The Picture of Dorian Gray, Anna Karenina and The Great Gatsby for example—were highly controversial when they were first published and received mixed reviews. It had a lot to do with the fact that the main characters sinned repeatedly without obvious remorse, and that readers of that time could not stomach the acres of moral grey area that these fictional worlds presented. One could say that they were ahead of their time, like most great works of art. They paved the way for eminent writers of our time to create realistic characters with quirks, vulnerabilities, and impulses.
It’s more than just the artistic cliche of romanticizing pain. I think society became more accepting of imperfection as time went by—or at least less ashamed of it. We finally admit that we relate well to flawed characters because they give us hope that we too can experience amazing, extraordinary things, battered and dented as we are. The last thing the modern reader wants is a morally unscrupulous hero or heroine. What we want is to witness growth.
Some stories are evergreen. They are told and retold in new ways, through new media. They are as relevant today as they ever were. Four of the most popular movie adaptations of well-known classics are listed below.
Clueless—Jane Austen’s Emma is about the eponymous heroine’s knack for matchmaking and keen eye for finding the perfect partner for everyone but herself. In its 1995 adaptation, Clueless, starring Alicia Silverstone, Cher is a poised teenager who is on the top rung of the social ladder in her high school, like Emma Woodhouse is in her village, Highbury. Having made two successful matches, Cher and her best friend Dionne (played by Stacey Dash) decide to take the newly arrived Tai Frasier (Brittany Murphy) under their wing. All goes well until Cher misreads a situation and Tai gets her heart broken. The resident cupid of Bronson Alcott High School makes a few surprising discoveries about her own feelings and, for the first time in her perfectly organized life, loses her composure.
10 Things I Hate About You—This is adapted from the Shakespearean comedy, The Taming of the Shrew. Julia Stiles plays Kat Stratford, the present-day version of the infamous Katherina. The movie gives her a much deeper personality than the original. She is headstrong, cynical, and independent in a generally “unfeminine” way, which, of course, makes her undesirable to most men—especially in contrast with her affable sister, Bianca (Larisa Oleynik). But Kat is far from a shrew, and the movie deserves credit for voicing her opinions and not stuffing her into the “difficult women” drawer. Patrick, played by the legendary Heath Ledger, is a refreshing upgrade from Petruchio as he makes no attempt to “tame” Kat. It’s a delight to watch the two find their way into each other’s hearts.
Bridget Jones’ Diary—The movie is based on a novel of the same name by Helen Fielding, which is inspired by the beloved classic Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Bridget Jones, played by Renee Zellweger, is the modern-day reincarnation of Elizabeth Bennet, with the same characteristic wit and tendency to get herself into awkward situations from which she needs to be extricated by her friends, who are her lifeline for surviving single life in London. Much like the Bennets, Bridget’s family, especially her mother, never fails to mortify her in public gatherings. Love seems a baffling mystery as Bridget trudges through heartbreak and disappointment and finds resonance in unexpected places.
She’s the Man—Also adapted from a Shakespearean comedy, Twelfth Night, this hilarious movie features Amanda Bynes as Viola who, after a humiliating fight with her boyfriend on the soccer field at school, goes to her brother Sebastian’s (James Kirk) private school, disguised as him, to cover for Sebastian while he goes to London to play music, his true passion. Viola, posing as Sebastian, gets an attractive new roommate in the form of Duke (played by Channing Tatum), and rises to become the star soccer player of the school with Duke’s help. Amidst a few secret crushes and a lot of confusion resulting from Viola hastily switching between her aliases, the day of the game against her old school arrives.
For fans of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Janice Hadlow has imagined the story from the perspective of “the other Bennet sister,” Mary, who was always perceived as less physically attractive than her sisters and thus shunted into the background.
Now, Mary gets the spotlight and, finally, a fully fleshed-out character. Key scenes from Austen’s novel are told from Mary’s perspective and then her story continues in describing her life after her sisters’ marriages.
Mary struggles with finding her place in the world, especially in a sense of home. She tries living with Jane and Charles Bingley, then with Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy, and then an extended visit to Charlotte Lucas and William Collins, but in each place she lacks purpose and belonging, and she cannot rid her mind of the stinging retorts of Caroline Bingley. It is not until she goes with her aunt and uncle Gardiner in town that she begins to discover who she really is and what she really wants for her life.
As an unashamed Janeite, I was thrilled to read more imaginings in the world of Pride and Prejudice, and The Other Bennet Sister did not disappoint. I loved being able to dive back into 95 (yes, 95!) more chapters of life following the Bennets. Hadlow’s portrayals of the scenes from Austen’s original novel read faithfully, as were her representations of the characters. In particular, she captured Charlotte Lucas Collins’s characterization and choices strikingly well.
Without giving away Mary’s ending, I will say that even the predictability of the conclusion was satisfying. The echoes for Mary’s experiences from what Elizabeth suffered during the latter part of Austen’s original were tastefully included.
Overall, watching Mary’s progression from a little girl in her sister’s shadows to a confident woman capable of securing her own happiness was even more delightful than the pleasure of seeing beloved Pride and Prejudice characters in new scenes. For that reason, I could recommend this book to readers looking for a taste of Austen’s characters and themes even if they haven’t read Pride and Prejudice (although knowing that story first would definitely make this read a much richer experience). And for other Janeites, this is a first-rate addition to your Austen bookshelf!
Thanks to the Changing Hands Bookstore for providing an ARC in exchange for this honest and unbiased review.
Whether you’re a long-time literary lover or a new addition to the bookworm family, there is no debating: Jane Austen’s works are a must read in your repertoire. But what are you to do when you finish devouring every single novel? Well, reread them (obviously!) and, of course, explore some marvelous spin-offs. While they aren’t the classics themselves, we’ve compiled our top 5 that let you explore just a little bit more of Jane Austen’s wonderful world.
Austenland – Shannon Hale. Mr. Darcy has ruined Jane Hayes’ life. As a New Yorker living in the 21st century, she cannot seem to find a man who measures up to him. Luckily for her, she finds herself staying in a manor in England for vacation—complete with a team of actors who look and act the part of Mr. Darcy’s Regency-era charm. But as she begins to flirt with the characters at the manor, she can’t help but wonder, is it the characters she finds alluring or the men playing them? Join Jane Hayes as she explores the depths of her Darcy-obsession and see where she ends.
Mr. Darcy’s Little Sister – C. Allyn Pierson. Have you ever wondered about Miss Georgiana Darcy, Mr. Darcy’s charming, but elusive, sister? She is quite literally the catalyst in Pride and Prejudice—the reason Elizabeth begins to see the goodness in Darcy’s heart. But what do we really know about Georgiana? C. Allyn Pierson explores this question in the compelling novel, Mr. Darcy’s Little Sister. Complete with an explanation about Georgiana’s colorful past with Mr. Wickham, Pierson fills in the gaps beautifully while leading readers on an exciting journey to see just what Georgiana’s future holds in store.
Darcy’s Passions – Regina Jeffers. Ah, Mr. Darcy. The most sought after, contemplated, mysterious, and bewitching character in all of literature. What would it be like to see the story of Pride and Prejudice unfold through his eyes? Regina Jeffers wondered that as well, which is why we have been graced with her addicting novel, Darcy’s Passions. This novel is absolute perfection for any P&P junkie, exploring corners of the legendary story you never thought to look around, and leaving readers loving Mr. Darcy even more. We know, we didn’t think it was possible either.
Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor – Stephanie Barron. The first in Barron’s Jane Austen mystery series, Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor takes readers on an adventure with Ms. Austen herself. While visiting her newly-wed friend, Isobel, at her new home of Scargrave Manor, her husband, the Earl of Scargrave is murdered—and Isobel has been accused. Follow Jane as she begins to unravel the mystery of the Earl’s untimely and unseemly death. Amidst the mystery and suspense, she learns one thing very quickly: no one at Scargrave is safe until they uncover the truth, especially not her.
The Jane Austen Project: A Novel – Kathleen A. Flynn. What is a Jane Austen spin-off without a little sci-fi? For you Austenites who love a little (or a lot) of Stranger Things in your life, The Jane Austen Project: A Novel is your saving grace. Join Rachel and Liam, two time-travelers from the future, as they go back in time for one purpose alone: to find a supposed unpublished work of Jane Austen and bring it back with them. The only question is, how do you steal from one of earth’s most legendary authors?