Discussion: Modern Adaptations of Classics

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A few weeks ago, I was introduced to a new YouTube show called The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (thanks, Anne!), which is a modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice, created by nerdfighter Hank Green and Bernie Su.

While I’ve had a copy of Pride and Prejudice on my shelf for quite some time now, I had never ever read it. In fact, I’m pretty sure I was signed up for a course in university that read the novel, but ended up dropping the course in favour of something else before it even started and just never got around to reading the book.

These days, though, it seems like there are lots of authors who do modern adaptations of such classic novels. Take YA author April Lindner, for example, she’s written two books that I’ve loved: Jane, which is based on Jane Eyre (by Charlotte Bronte), and Catherine, which is based on Wuthering Heights (by Emily Bronte). Now, I’ve read Wuthering Heights before, but not Jane Eyre; however, after finishing both of these novels, I wanted both a first read AND a reread.

Then there’s For Darkness Shows the Stars, by Diana Peterfreund, which is based on Jane Austen’s Persuasion. I adored Diana’s book and wondered why I had never checked out the classic.Β 

This happens to me ALL THE TIME. I’ll finish a book, LOVE it, and then learn that it was based on a classic piece of literature (if I hadn’t known before starting) and it makes me want to read that classic! Sometimes I follow through, but most of the time I find myself in a search for another adaptation. Really, though, I should be following through and reading the classic — not only would that get some books on my shelf read, but it’s always nice to read the source, the inspiration, of a modern adaptation.

And this doesn’t just pertain to classic literature, but even to fairytales. How many fairytale retellings have you read? Do they make you want to read the source — the place where that story started? I took a course in university on children’s literature and read a lot of these fairytales, the originals written by the Grimm brothers. They are gruesome and dark — nothing like some of the retellings that I’ve read or watched over the years! But it’s still nice to know that for some of these stories (Hansel and Gretel being my favourite), I know where it started and I find it interesting to see what kind of liberties and author will take in their retelling.

How do you feel about modern adaptations of classic literature? Do they make you want to read the original?

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26 thoughts on “Discussion: Modern Adaptations of Classics

  1. Yes, I have been there too. Actually, I think the first time I was inspired to read a classic from reading a modern adaption was Twilight. Wuthering Heights was an inspiration for one of those books, and I had never read it. So I grabbed a copy and enjoyed the read. I have read a lot of classics – especially Charlotte Bronte. The other day Jane Eyre was on TV and I thought – I haven’t read this one! How’d that happen? So I watched the movie, and now I do want to read the book.

    You have me curious about the original fairy tales. I remember my SIL talking about them when she took a class in University, about how different they are. I just may have to check them out now πŸ™‚

    • Jane Eyre is pretty good! I love watching something or reading something and THEN realizing it was based on a classic … really motivates me to pick up the original!

      And YES! Pick up a Grimm’s fairytale anthology to see the originals .. I have a book from university that tells the original story and then shows the differences that were made in retellings. It’s very interesting!

  2. Hmmm. So what you’re saying is… if I want the motivation to read a classic, I need to read a (good) adaptation of it first! I have always kind of dreaded picking up a classic, because they’re just *more work* in my opinion. I guess I like my reading to be easy!

    I do see what you mean, though. It’s nice to be familiar with the original. When it comes to music, I often seem to find a cover that I LOVE. Then when I realize it’s a cover, I go find the original — only I don’t like the original at all. I think maybe I’m afraid of that same thing happening with adaptations of classic books.

    BUT, I have to admit. I’ve been watching The Lizzie Bennet Diaries whenever time allows, and it HAS made me very curious about Pride and Prejudice. Maybe someday. πŸ™‚

    • Reading classics CAN be more “work” but I think it’s nice to sometimes push yourself to read something that’s not so easy to fly through. I’ve noticed that the more classics I read, the easier it is to get into that voice of the writer and the CENTURY gap between stories now and stories then doesn’t seem so big.

      • I do agree with you there. And it is nice to sometimes push myself. That’s one reason I’ve really enjoyed the book club I’m in. These women choose *great* books that are usually outside my comfort zone. πŸ™‚

      • That’s a great reason to join a book club! I’ve never had any luck with book clubs, unfortunately, because I don’t deal well with timelines for books I’m not too sure about. But I’m glad it works for you!

  3. I’m a little suspect of modern adaptations. If they don’t have something new to say, I see it as a money grab. It must be hard to walk that line between honouring the original work, but still saying something original.

    I think something like Death Comes to Pemberley is interesting – a different take on the characters or a “what happened next” – but it’s not something I would choose to read.

    I’ve never heard of the YA adaptations of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights you mentioned, but my first thought it, why do they need a YA adaptation? Teens can read those books (and are likely forced to in English class.) It’s not like the themes or language are beyond the grasp of a teenager. What did you think? Did they add anything to the original, or were they just reworkings in modern language?

    I won’t even talk about the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Jane Eyre Laid Bare side of things. You can probably guess what I think of those πŸ™‚

    • Well, I do think that modern adaptations are a great way to introduce today’s readers to the classics … like me, reading an adaptation may pique the interest in reading the original in others.

      I think I like the retellings and adaptations because it lets me relive the feelings I had when reading the original. Mostly, for books released nowadays, there’s only ONE of them, but take Pride & Prejudice, for example. There are SO MANY retellings of it that it can be fun to read them or watch them and see where the changes are and how the author adapted the story for a modern audience.

  4. I have read and watched SO MANY P&P adaptations (it seems to be the favourite) and yet I haven’t read the book. It’s the one classic I really, really want to read someday. Besides that I can honestly say that I don’t really care for the classics I’ve read. Maybe I’m lazy, but I prefer books that I can read, understand, and relate to easily (there are exceptions, of course), and classics don’t tend to fit that bill for me. I’d love for someone to change my mind about that, but so far it seems to be the case.

    • I’ve read & watched a few P&P adaptations, too … and I love them all! I hope you can read the book. πŸ™‚

      I think it’s easy to relate to some of the classics, but it does take time to get in the voice of the writer. It’s not quite as accessible as books these days are.

  5. I love fairy tale retellings! As far as classics, they are hit or miss for me. I’ve read some that are more ‘inspired by’ the classic, rather than a ‘retelling’, which usually disappoint me because the parallels aren’t strong enough. I love retelling movies as well!

  6. I was an English major in college, so I have read many of the classics. It’s usually not necessary to have read the original in order to understand the retelling, though I get an extra layer of enjoyment when I can see what choices the author made to adapt the original.

    • Exactly. That’s something I really like! I just like to see where everything started — I mean, people must be retelling the story because it’s great, right?

      I was an English minor in university, but didn’t read a lot of the really OLD classics, but more of the early 20th century ones.

  7. I love reading adaptations!! I’m working on reading the classics, I liked Pride and Predjudice, I didn’t love it, maybe next time I will like it more? I love the LBD!! ❀ And the movie adaptaions. I really like Jane Eyre and really want to read more retellings!

    Fairy tale retellings are always awesome! I'm currently watching Once Upon A Time, and loving it so much, but getting basically no reading done! 😦

    And If I read an adaptation about a classic I haven't read and really enjoy it, normally I do want to check it out.

    • I like Pride & Prejudice more, the more adaptations I see/read of it. I’m reading Jane Eyre right now! It’s a little slow-going, but it’s good so far.

      I’m glad you also want to check out the classics!

  8. I haven’t read too many adaptations because I like the idea of reading the original first, and I’m horrible when it comes to reading classics. There are SO many P&P adaptations and every month I say I’m finally going to read P&P since it’s been sitting on my shelf for 10+ years, but I haven’t done it yet. As for fairytale retellings, I love them. I haven’t read the originals, but again, the Grimm tales are on my tbr. I don’t know why it doesn’t bother me so much with fairytales – maybe because I know the originals were really dark and the retellings usually aren’t. I also want to read P&P so I can watch the Lizzie Bennett Diaries and see what everyone’s raving about. πŸ˜‰

    • I think there are times where I don’t even realize a book is an adaptation until I’m partway through (much like For Darkness Shows the Stars) — AND there are times where I wasn’t interested in the original until I read an adaptation.

      You must read Pride & Prejudice AND the original Grimm fairytales! It’s funny you mention those because I just bought a beautiful little book yesterday with the Grimm fairytales, that I was hoping to work my way through. AND I bought a beautiful compendium of Jane Austen’s works the other day, too! There are so many great P&P adaptations that I feel lucky to have finally read the original. I think you should read it just for Lizzie Bennet Diaries! It ends at the end of this month!

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  12. This happens to me ALL THE TIME! Either that, or I put a book on my list, find out it’s a retelling/modernization and then put it off until I can read the original… and NEVER get around to it *facepalm* I like to do things in the right order too much!

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