Our Favorite Jane Austen Updates

Jo Baker's Longbourn

Friday marked the release of the movie Austenland, concerning the romantic misadventures of a Jane Austen obsessive visiting a petticoats-and-courtship–themed amusement park. Based on Shannon Hale’s 2008 novel, it’s just one of the many, many (many) offspring of Austen’s original canon. Though only 7 of her works were published, the last in 1818, she maintains a tenacious (we’re talking Mr.-Collins-on-a-proposal-spree tenacious) hold on contemporary imaginations. Here are some of our favorite descendants of Austen’s originals, ranging from adaptations to alternate histories:

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. You didn’t have anything to do for the next 7 hours, right? Oh, good: because welcome to your Monday-afternoon rabbit hole. Co-created by Bernie Su and Hank Green (one half of the VlogBrothers, the other half of which is YA author John Green), this killer web series reimagines Elizabeth Bennet as Lizzie Bennet, modern girl and caustic video blogger, and gives her a revised family tree: Jane is a softhearted fashion blogger, Lydia an attention-loving party girl, Kitty a…cat, and Mary a sullen, eyeliner-loving cousin. But you just want to hear about Bingley (reimagined as Bing Lee) and Darcy, right? My advice is to start watching NOW, without looking around for further spoilers. Some of the best moments arise when a new character suddenly appears onscreen. In addition to Lizzie’s brief video posts, the LBD site has collected Twitter conversations, links to Jane’s blog, and various other digital detritus that will have you squee-ing over the creators’ creativity for days.

Longbourn, by Jo Baker. This guaranteed runaway success, forthcoming in October (film rights have already been sold), takes on the previously invisible “downstairs” half of the Bennet estate, including housemaid Sarah, who yearns for change to come to Longbourn. Beginning, as did Pride and Prejudice, with the arrival of Mr. Bingley, the book’s narrative intersects with Austen’s original in ingenious ways—Sarah glimpses the ball at Netherfield from the chilly yard, where she shares a stolen moment with a handsome footman, and she eventually follows Elizabeth to Pemberley, where P&P fans will thrill at glimpses of her and Darcy’s married life. Though the servants’ story takes center stage (and it’s well worth telling), part of the book’s pleasure is the way that Austen’s original characters are given new depth, when seen from another angle.

Lost in Austen. This miniseries answers the question so many petticoat-covetors (and Austen-loving romantics) have asked themselves: what if I were transported into the world of Pride and Prejudice? At the very least, you’d find Lydia Bennet angling for your lip gloss. At the most, you’d find yourself going head to head with Mr. Darcy, whose views on female impropriety may be more constricting than you could have foreseen. Modern-day Londoner Amanda Price finds herself in a Back to the Future situation when, after switching places with Elizabeth Bennet, her influence starts changing the course of the Bennet family’s fortunes.

For Darkness Shows the Stars, by Diana Peterfreund. Four years ago, Elliott North rejected the proposal of Kai, the man she loves, to join him in going off to seek his fortune. Now, he’s returned to her estate, successful beyond her wildest imagining and holding a serious grudge. Sound familiar? Peterfreund has taken Persuasion and retold it as a dystopic YA romance, in which Elliott North (Austen’s Anne Elliott) is part of an elitist clan of Luddites, the anti-technology class that rose to power in the wake of a societal collapse spurred on by an overreliance on genetic manipulation. That crisis led to the offspring of all modified people to become mentally “reduced,” unable to fend for themselves without the help of Luddites. Kai is what’s called a “Post,” the healthy offspring of Reduced grandparents, and he seeks a future of equality with the Luddites. Peterfreund’s wildly inventive premise is fully realized, and it’s fun to watch the way her story follows or alters the lines of Austen’s timeless original.

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