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Modern Classics: Jane Austen

Known for expressing her wit and social commentary through her characters, Jane Austen is a staple of classrooms and beloved by many. But for readers new to Austen, the language can feel challenging and lots of sneaky jokes get lost along the way. (Consider: a character preaching about the importance of frugality while renting the carriage equivalent of an Audi.) Modern retellings can reframe those jokes in a way that doesn’t require extensive knowledge of 1800s British customs, or offer a fresh take for those who know Austen’s works well. For longtime Austen fans and newcomers alike, here are 6 adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels.

The Austen Project:
Emma by Alexander McCall Smith & Eligble by Curtis Sittenfeld

The Austen Project brings Jane Austen into the present day. Eligible imagines Elizabeth as a writer for a magazine and Jane as a yoga instructor in New York. After their father has a health scare, the daughters return to their childhood city of Cincinnati to find the home in disrepair and a mother determined to marry off Jane before her 40th birthday.

In Emma, the titular character returns home from university to start her career in interior design. While she plans to get her business off the ground, she uses her free time to offer guidance to those she deems less wise in the ways of the world than she is – and she includes nearly everyone in Highbury in that tally.

Two other adaptations in the series, Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid and Sense and Sensibility have been released as well.

Jane Austen has been adapted across tons of different forms of media. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries series takes that to a new level. Playing out across YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, the series is a fully transmedia experience and a hilarious updated take on Pride and Prejudice.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is a YouTube series retelling from the point of Lizzie Bennet, Communications Major, featuring her sisters Jane and Lydia, and her best friend Charlotte.

Longbourn by Jo Baker

Reminiscent of Downtown Abbey, Longbourn explores the lives of the downstairs keepers of the Bennet family’s residence. Told mostly from the view of the orphaned maid Sarah, who does laundry and polishes floors, the servants have romances and intrigues of their own – and the arrival of a new footman threatens to throw their orderly existences into chaos.

Pride by Ibi Zoboi

Zuri Benitez is proud: of her neighborhood, her family, and her heritage. She doesn’t want to lose the Brooklyn she knows to investors who are pushing out long time residents. So when a wealthy family moves in across the street, Zuri wants nothing to do with their two sons (especially the arrogant Darius), despite the fact that her older sister Janae starts to fall for charismatic Ainsley.

Polite Society by Mahesh Rao

A Crazy Rich Asians/Emma mashup? Yes please! Rich, beautiful and bored, Ania has found a new hobby – matchmaking! Her recent success with her aunt has persuaded her that she’s found her calling in life and she sets out to replicate her success with her friend/pet project Dimple. But in the glamorous world of New Delhi’s elite, image is everything and there’s nothing like a secret to get in the way of a good romance.

Austenland by Shannon Hale

Fitzwilliam Darcy (BBC edition) has ruined Jane Hayes for any other man. When she accidentally lets slip that a fictional character is ruining her dating life to her aunt, she’s given a once-in-a-life time opportunity to go to an Austen-themed retreat, Pembrook Park, set in the English countryside and replete with all the ins and outs of Regency society. As Jane flirts with the other guests and actors, she finds herself falling in love. But is she falling in love with the truth or an act?