No plain Jane.
Jane Austen (1775-1817) isn't just for English majors anymore. The sharp-witted author of six classic novels including Pride and Prejudice and Emma has entered the pop culture domain -- and just won't leave. Today, her fiction is the basis for many film and TV adaptations (Jane made Colin Firth an international star) as well as the template for countless rom-com movies or romance novels.
But perhaps the strangest development is the unlikely mashups -- we're looking at you, zombies -- that bring all manner of monsters and other fantasy creatures into the Austen universe. Here's a roundup of some of the most notable, not to mention the most unlikely, Jane Austen remixes.
Whit Stillman's indie-film gem from 1990 is set among the debutantes and upper-class toffs of '80s Manhattan, as observed by a middle-class Princeton student who joins their circle. A discussion of Mansfield Park by the film's characters makes explicit Stillman's homage to the author. Stillman is still at it: In 2016 he will release Love & Friendship, a film based on an unfinished Austen story, along with a companion novel.
Amy Heckerling's 1995 film is a work of pop culture brilliance that has attained classic status itself. Clueless takes the know-it-all heroine of Emma and transports her to a Beverly Hills High School, dubs her Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) and puts her in a yellow plaid skirt suit, among other eye-popping outfits. We're still watching it more than two decades later.
Bridget Jones' Diary
Helen Fielding's 1998 novel about a boozy weight-obsessed, chain-smoking, single girl on the loose in contemporary London wears its Pride and Prejudice credentials on its sleeve. There's even a character named Mark Darcy, played in the hit 2001 movie by Colin Firth, the swoon-worthy Mr. Darcy of the 1995 BBC miniseries.
The Jane Austen Book Club
In 2004, Karen Joy Fowler (whose last book was a Man Booker Prize finalist) wrote this clever riff on Jane Austen and Austenmania. The book club of the title is composed of five women and one man, and readers follow their monthly discussions of Austen's novels and see the contemporary resonances in the characters' lives -- and our own. Skip the forgettable 2007 movie.
Lost In Austen
Don't call Emma Campbell Webster's Lost in Austen a novel: This 2007 book is an interactive Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure, an homage both to Pride and Prejudice and to the Choose Your Own Adventure books with their multiple possible storylines. You, the reader, are Elizabeth Bennet, and "your mission is to marry both prudently, and for love" -- with the help of Confidence and Intelligence points (but no Fortune or Accomplishments). Now go.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
This 2009 novel is the ultimate mash-up -- into verbatim passages of the 1813 classic, author Seth Grahame-Smith has inserted a legion of the undead to stalk the poor put-upon Bennet sisters. The 2016 movie version features plenty of ladies in Empire-waist frocks swinging swords and busting out martial arts moves. Newsday film critic Rafer GuzmEin called it "an unexpected treat."
Jane Austen's Fight Club
Jane Austen, meet Chuck Pahluniuk. In this hilarious three-plus-minute YouTube clip, life for Austen's Regency heroines has "become an endless surrender to propriety" -- until, that is, Lizzie shows up and instigates the Fight Club of the title. The rules are simple: "No corsets. No hat pins. No crying." Other than that, anything goes.
Death Comes to Pemberley
The last novel published by English crime writer P.D. James before her death in 2014, Death Comes to Pemberley is -- naturally -- a mystery set six years after the end of Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth and Darcy are married, and sister Lydia's husband, Wickham, is accused of a murder. Reviewing it for Newsday, Ed Siegel praised James' "graceful writing" but knocked the "lifelessness of its characters."
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries
"Who am I? I am a 24-year-old grad student with a mountain of student loans, living at home and preparing for a career. But to my mom, the only thing that matters is that I'm single. My name is Lizzie Bennet, and this is my life." So begins this 100-part web series created by Bernie Su, and narrated vlog-style by actress Ashley Clements. The P&P gang is all here, including Jane, Lydia, William Darcy and Bing Lee.
Jo Baker's 2013 novel -- which cleverly tells the Bennet family story from the perspective of the household servants -- is "no mere riff," wrote Wendy Smith in her Newsday review," but a fully imagined rejoinder to Pride and Prejudice that casts a sharp working-class eye on the aristocratic antics of Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy and their friends." Austen, she concludes, would approve.
Marrying Mr. Darcy
Wherever Austen fans intersect with hard-core gamers, you'll find them playing this card game created by Erika Svanoe with art by Erik Evensen. Between 2-6 players take the roles of Pride and Prejudice's marriageable young ladies, collecting points (via character cards) and vying for eligible bachelors through the courtship and proposal stages of the game. Undead and Emma expansions are available.
Curtis Sittenfeld's new novel recasts Pride and Prejudice in 21st-century Cincinnati, making Lizzie a 38-year-old writer-at-large for a women's magazine, Darcy a brain surgeon and "Chip" Bingley the star of a Bachelor-style reality show. It's the latest installment in The Austen Project, which has tapped contemporary authors to update Austen's six classics. To date we've had Joanna Trollope's Sense and Sensibility, Val McDermid's Northanger Abbey and Alexander McCall Smith's Emma. --Newsday/TNS
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