Classics enter the Western canon for a reason: because as readers, we can’t stop going back to them. But for better or worse, neither can writers. Every year, we get a new crop of reimagined classics, from Helen Fielding’s superb Pride and Prejudice rewrite Bridget Jones’s Diary (1996) to Seth Grahame-Smith’s more violent Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009).
This year has been no exception: In addition to Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible, a take on the quintessential Austen love story, there’s also a slew of new titles riffing on Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre thanks to the 200th anniversary of that author’s birth, among other rewrites.
Adapting a centuries-old story for contemporary readers requires a certain balance between looseness with the facts and faithfulness to the feelings. These new releases span a wide range of fidelity. Eligible takes the events of Austen’s story and transplants them to contemporary Cincinnati, adding details about CrossFit and reality TV but hewing closely to the character arcs of the original, while Catherine Lowell’s The Madwoman Upstairs takes a more liberal approach to recasting the narrative of a Jane Eyre-ish girl and her own Rochester-esque paramour.
These books also demand varying degrees of familiarity with the originals. Readers would do well to brush up on the finer plot points of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights before reading Alison Case’s Nelly Dean, whereas readers of Theresa Rebeck’s I’m Glad About You might not even pick up on the fact that she drew inspiration for her characters from Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie and George Eliot’s Dr. Lydgate from Middlemarch.
Here’s a closer look at seven writers paying homage to their foremothers this year: