In the comments section of my Library of Congress post recently, my blogger buddy Elisa and I got into a fascinating conversation. I mentioned a current trend in modern literature, which is to take a classic novel and give it a new twist by mashing it up with something else such as vampires, zombies or other creatures.
I saw a revised version of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre in a library I visited. At first, I rolled my eyes at it and didn’t want to have anything to do with the book, since I’m a purist for the most part.
It’s not that I’m against all vampires or adaptations. Far from it. I find TV shows such as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” are entertaining due to the witty writing and talented acting. (Joss Whedon — genius writer!) And I’ve loved adaptations such as the movies “Scents and Sensibility,” “Clueless,” and “Lost in Austen,” both of which stayed reasonably faithful to the Austen storylines while introducing their own modern twists. “The Jane Austen Book Club” is fun too — some of the characters in it have their Austen counterparts and it’s interesting to figure out who mirrors their literary character.
The revised version is called Jane Slayre, and the authors are Charlotte Brontë and Sherri Browning Erwin. After the online talk with Elisa, I thought I should give the book a fair trial, so I’m reading it. It’s still the same basic Jane Eyre story, but the Reed family are vampires, Ms. Temple and Jane Eyre are slayers and some of the students at Lowood School are zombies. Hmmmm.
The book strikes me as a mix of modern Buffy and classic Jane Eyre. I’m up to the part where Rochester has met Jane (she saves him from being a snack for three vampires after his horse falls on road ice). She’s taking tea with him while he checks out her qualifications.
So far the other characters at Thornfield seem okay…but then there’s Grace Poole…and the mysterious laughter from the attic…
I’m still not sure why classic books need to be given such twists. Is the writer just appealing to the current fad for mash-ups or trying to stand out from the scores or other writers out there?
I like Jane Eyre because she’s an intelligent, gutsy person despite the fact that she’s plain and poor. She stands up for herself, even if it means going up against someone who ranks higher than her in society (Edward Rochester). I also enjoy The Count of Monte Cristo because it’s satisfying to see Edmond Dantés fight back against the people who wronged him when he was younger and naive.
The Austen novels entertain me because they often poke fun at the cultural norms of the time and I like the family relationships in them. Jane Austen wrote her novels in an era where women had a rigid role: make a debut in society, find the wealthiest husband possible with the help of your parents (or guardians, or chaperones), have the guy ask for your hand, get married, have kids and manage the household.
Then Jane Austen came along and pointed out that people should marry for love instead because it tends to lead to happier lives. Her sense of irony about marriage even starts off Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
But in the end, everybody’s going to have different opinions on the same books. Some people don’t like certain authors because they’re too sentimental, melodramatic, gory, explicit and/or profane. Others don’t mind these qualities because they like the plots and characters.
I guess I’ll have to judge my adaptations on a case-by-case basis. It might even be entertaining to see the Bennet sisters as modern bounty hunters capable of kicking demonic you-know-what. (If somebody hasn’t thought of that already, I wouldn’t be surprised if they do!) We’ll see.
Blog readers, ponder and comment: What are your thoughts on adapting classic novels with modern twists? What are your personal standards for good books and bad books?