Kirkus Reviews recently ran an article on “Books That Tweak Great Classics.” They included Longbourn, a novel about the servants at the Bennet family house in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice; Havisham, a prequel to Dickens’ Great Expectations featuring Catherine Havisham; and Ransom, about the Trojan War, among several other titles.
As the Kirkus piece says, “Writers are always borrowing from one another, across centuries and continents.” Using a great work of literature as a springboard is a popular method in literary fiction, and it is often used successfully. Here are a few more titles, not included in the Kirkus list, whose authors, I think, pulled off the experiment:
- Pride and Prejudice: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
- Shakespeare’s The Tempest: Prospero’s Daughter by Elizabeth Nunez
- Jane Eyre: Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey
- The Iliad: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
- Anna Karenina: What Happened to Anna K by Irina Reyn
In a related sub-genre of literary fiction, historical fiction authors often take real people as their subjects. These books are usually well-researched; the facts are accurate, but the author has imagined the character’s emotional life beyond what can be gleaned from primary or secondary sources.
- Mary, Queen of Scots: Fatal Majesty by Reay Tannahill
- Mary and Anne Boleyn: The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
- Thomas Cromwell: Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
- Anne Morrow Lindbergh: The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin
- Zelda Fitzgerald: Z: a novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
- “Typhoid” Mary Mallon: Fever by Mary Beth Keane
- Edith Wharton: The Age of Desire by Jennie Fields
This is just a start; I’m sure I’ve left many out. Have you read a contemporary novel that is in some way related to a classic? Or a historical novel that centers around a real person from history? Share your favorites in the comments. Or, if you can’t think of any but you like the idea, use any of the links above to request a title and start reading.