7 favorite Jane Austen retellings

7 favorite Jane Austen retellings

As a Jane Austen fan, I’m a sucker for a good retelling. I don’t care about the continuing stories (what happened after Elizabeth and Darcy got married is best left to the imagination), but give me a modern spin on an Austen classic and there’s a good chance I won’t leave my reading chair until I turn the last page. Retellings are doubly fun because I get to enjoy the story on the page and puzzle out the author’s modern character and plot choices. Even if the story aspect disappoints, the puzzling rarely does.

Because they’re both fresh and familiar, and operate on multiple levels, I turn to these when I’m in need of a little comfort reading, or need to kick myself out of a reading slump.

I don’t enjoy every retelling (and I’ve left my dislikes off this list), but I’ve enjoyed a great many—and today I’m sharing seven of my favorites. As always, I’d love to hear your favorites in comments.

Jane Austen Retellings
Bridget Jones’s Diary

Bridget Jones’s Diary

Are we calling this a modern classic yet? At the dawn of another New Year, Bridget Jones is 32, single, and desperate to take control of her life—so she starts keeping a diary. And such a diary. Bridget is a free spirit, fond of witty banter, enthusiastic about everything, and her enthusiasm lives on every page, where she shares her never-lukewarm opinions about everything from diet to work her love life. She may seem flighty, but she's always searching for deeper meaning. She also has great people skills. This might not be obvious when she first meets straight-laced barrister Mark Darcy, but the novel is based on Pride and Prejudice, so of course they get off to a bumpy start. More info →
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Dear Mr. Knightley

Dear Mr. Knightley

You all keep saying this fresh update on Jean Webster's 1899 classic Daddy-Long-Legs with serious nods to Jane Austen's Emma is your favorite Katherine Reay novel; I think it might be mine as well. Samantha Moore spent her childhood struggling in the foster care system, relying on her favorite literary characters to survive. She even expresses herself using their words when she can't find her own. Samantha's big break comes when a "Mr. Knightley" offers her a full scholarship at the prestigious journalism school at Northwestern University. The only requirement is that Sam write her benefactor regularly to tell him about her progress. Through their correspondence, Sam begins to find her voice ... but then things get complicated. More info →
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Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice

Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice

This is the fourth installment of the Jane Austen Project, which invites contemporary authors to rework Jane Austen's novels for modern times, and my hands-down favorite. Our modern tale is set in Cincinnati, where Lizzie is re-cast as an NYC-based magazine editor, Jane is a yoga instructor nearing 40, Darcy is a snooty brain surgeon, and Bingley is an ER doctor turned star of the reality show "Eligible." The purists will need their smelling salts, but Sittenfeld is no Jane Austen, and she's okay with that: her snappy writing and spirit of playfulness make this such good fun for Jane Austen fans, if you're willing to go with it. More info →
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Unequal Affections: A Pride and Prejudice Retelling

Unequal Affections: A Pride and Prejudice Retelling

You all have been telling me to read this for YEARS, and last week I finally listened to the Audible version, which I quite enjoyed. I listened to this really fast because I wanted to find out what happens next. In this interesting twist on Pride and Prejudice, Ormiston imagines what might have happened had Elizabeth accepted Darcy's first proposal. This story focuses almost exclusively on the romance plot lines and is mostly dialogue, but I found it fun and entertaining, and—unlike so many other retellings—appreciated how Ormiston left the book's characters largely intact. More info →
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The Jane Austen Project

The Jane Austen Project

This is more "riff" than "retelling"—but if you love Jane Austen AND Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series, give this one a try. I'm not the only one who found this Jane Austen time travel novel a pleasant surprise. At some unspecified point in the future, the earth's atmosphere has been destroyed, food can no longer be grown, and wormholes to the past are in constant use. So when Rachel is asked to go back in time and retrieve the finished (yes, really!) manuscript of The Watsons, she jumps at the chance. But things do not go as planned. More info →
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Jane of Austin: A Novel of Sweet Tea and Sensibility

Jane of Austin: A Novel of Sweet Tea and Sensibility

Readers, this new take on Sense and Sensibility was so much fun. Perhaps not great literature, but easy-reading, well-constructed, and enjoyable. In this novel, two broke adult sisters and their sweet little sister flee expensive San Francisco to set up a new tea shop in Austin, Texas. The bones of Austen's original are visible, but Lodge doesn't hew too closely to the original, to her credit. I spent a happy afternoon devouring this book. More info →
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Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe

Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe

In this brand-new short novel from the author of Something in Between, de la Cruz re-envisions Pride and Prejudice for the 21st century. But in her version, the gender roles are reversed: Darcy Fitzwilliam is a brilliant, successful career woman, and Luke Bennet is a minimalist carpenter (and one of five brothers) who's never left his hometown. This novel doesn't stand on its own; it needs Austen's background to prop it up, and that's fine by me. I especially enjoyed tracking how de la Cruz chose to interpret Austen's characters here, and the spot-on way she updates that first proposal for modern times. More info →
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What are YOUR favorite Jane Austen retellings? Which ones would you add to this list?

P.S. A gift guide for the Jane Austen fan. This Jane Austen mug would be an excellent addition to the list.

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64 comments | Comment

64 comments

  1. I’m sort of shocked Eligible is on this list. It’s terrible. It has absolutely no relation to Jane’s writing, at all. It’s not a retelling, it’s a whole sale gutting. This is one of only two books I HATE–Moby-Dick is the other–so I Feel Very Strongly about this, but really, it’s not even *close* to P&P. Emma, one of the other books in the Jane series, is close. It’s a modern re-telling. Alexander McCall Smith did a great job. But there is no way that this is even CLOSE to anything Jane would recognize.

    • Kellie says:

      I’m so glad I’m not the only one who feels this way. I HATED Eligible. Not because i’m a purist, I just thought it was really dull and everyone was SUUUPER unlikeable.

          • TJ says:

            The only book I have read by Curtis Sittenfeld was Prep which I hated with a passion. I vowed to never read another of her books again since, as far as I could tell, her idea of good writing is being as disgusting and shocking as possible. Glad to know my initial impression was accurate.

    • Amy says:

      I AGREE. When I first started reading, I was absolutely delighted, but that quickly deteriorated into disgust. The author’s interpretation of the characters was sorely lacking, and the agenda in this book was about as subtle as a bat to the head. So disappointing.

    • Melanie says:

      Agreed. I feel like the author’s aim in Eligible was to make all of the characters as crass and unlikable as possible. (I know that wasn’t really her aim, but that’s how it felt to me.)

    • Bethley says:

      I loved Eligible! The falling down house, the shopping addiction and all the self-involved sisters were perfection. She really capture Cincinnati, too.

    • You’ll like the Sense & Sensibility update then! While I didn’t HATE this book, I wasn’t pleased with it as a retelling like I was with the Emma and S&S retellings in this series (I have Northanger Abbey, but holding off reading it ubtil I have read the original). It has its merits as its own story/book, but failed as a retelling of P&P.

    • Guest says:

      YES! This is the first time
      I’ve wondered what on earth our much loved Modern Mrs. Darcy saw in a book. The characters were vapid, weak minded, and devoid of any virtue. Ugh.

  2. Emily says:

    Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope is well done. Also though not a book the Lizzie Bennet diaries are worth mentioning. Now to go bury myself deeper into all things related to Austen.

  3. Andrew McCall Smith’s Emma tops my list for retellings. Some strongly oppose it because it doesn’t capture the romance between Emma and Knightley. I love it because Smith Writes with the PERFECT wit and humor. It’s simply genius. I think he is one of the only contemporary authors capable of t!

    • Rebekah in Redlands says:

      I just finished Emma: A Modern Retelling. I mostly enjoyed it but I thought McCall Smith massacred that final scene between Emma and Knightly.

      I find that retellings fall short for me. Although I do love literary mystery books about Jane Austen books.

  4. Courtney Milam says:

    I enjoyed Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James. A light mystery, involving a suspicious death, and most of the original characters from P&P make an appearance. I felt that James did an authentic job keeping the characters intact, and imagining a new plot line. I loved the narrative of the Jane Austen Project, but honestly, really disliked Rachel, the female researcher and protagonist.

    • There are a nr I enjoy more than others and that is Rebecca Ann Collins series (15) where she is instead of redoing the original plot makes up a story of the offsprings of the original persons. I love this spin of the story. I also love the comical version Nr Darcy Dantes by Sophie Lynbruck, bit there are others as Stephanie Barrows spin of Jane herself as a detective following her living at the real Places she Lives in.

  5. I was a little surprised that Longbourn wasn’t on this list. While it does have its flaws (and is more a story of that happens in parallel to P&P rather than just a straight up retelling), I enjoyed the moody atmosphere the author created and the backgrounds of Mr. and Mrs. Bennett.

    Of course, I actually like stories that either are sequels or are stories where alternative events happen instead of those that happen in the books. Books by Abby Reynolds are fun examples of that; she has some interesting ones, including one where Elizabeth accepts Darcy’s first proposal.

    • Aimee says:

      I wanted to like that book but it was SO depressing. Part of why I like Jane Austen so much is that she made cunning observations on injustice and society in such a way that it was still pleasurable to read her books. I felt like Longbourn vastly missed that mark. It just kind of dragged on one depressing page after another.

      • That is a very fair critic of the book- and I do recall thinking the author would have done better to make a completely original tale that wasn’t constrained by the bracket of Austen’s story as her story was really quite a different one.

  6. Several years ago I reread Pride and Prejudice and became obsessed with Jane Austen’s novels, read all of them, and then went looking for more. At the time (2013) I compiled a list of over 600 books and 50 movies inspired by the novels and Jane Austen herself. I put those into a book called Jane Austen Junkie, available on Amazon. In fact, that obsession is what originally led me to this blog which I’ve been enjoying ever since! So many more books have come out since then, including several on your list, that I have given up trying to keep up with them. Anne, if you’re interested, I’d be happy to send you a complimentary copy of the book.

  7. JoAnn says:

    I have to say that I enjoyed Eligible. I do understand that it would be a shock to the system of anyone expecting something more genteel. I thought she had the spirit of most of the characters right on. And enjoyed finding them in current times. When I thought about would a character do this or that in current times I frequently thought, well of course, that suits his or her personality perfectly.
    I did think it wouldn’t be more fun to read if I were more familiar with Cincinnati and it’s geography. As it was I enjoyed asking fellow Austen fans “What would Mr. Darcy order at Skyline?” and knowing the answer.

    I also have read Dear Mr. Knightly and Joanna Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility and have recommended both.

    I will have to give Alexander McCall Smith another try. I listened to an audio book of The Number One Women’s Detection Agency once and it missed me completely. I have avoided that author since.

    • Bernadette says:

      JoAnn, I really dislike the No 1 Ladies’ series and couldn’t make it through he ones I tried … but I have loved almost all of McCall Smith’s other books, so you might too! The Scotland Street series is my favorite (though later volumes get a bit repetitive.) I really liked his Emma, though; I thought it really cleverly adapted so much to modern times. (And I do not like adaptations, rebelling, sequels, copycats, etc. — I would never have read it were it by someone else.)

    • Denise says:

      I liked Eligible too. It is the only Jane Austen ‘re-telling’ that I have read so maybe my opinion will change if I read more. I enjoyed it thought and it made me want to read more of the author’s novels.

  8. Stephanie says:

    Right now I’m reading Among the Janeites by Deborah Yaffe–it’s a fun examination of all aspects of Jane Austen fandom, including these retellings. I recommend it!

    As for a retelling, my favorite is Jane Fairfax by Joan Aiken. You’ve guessed correctly: it’s Emma retold from Jane Fairfax’s point of view. I thought it was well done; it gave me more sympathy for a character I never knew quite what to make of.

  9. Well,”Dear Mr. Knightly” and “Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe” popped right to the top of my TBR!! They both sound scrummy! As far as retellings, I enjoyed “The Flight of Gemma Hardy” which is, as you know, a Jane Eyre retelling. What we really need, MMD, is a really fantastic AOGG retelling…Hmmmmm…Have you heard of “Ana of California”? That is NOT the AOGG retelling we are all waiting for!

  10. Lori Erokan says:

    I also really enjoyed “Longborn,” by Jo Baker. We are so used to thinking of the Bennet family as poor, since they don’t live on a great estate like Pemberly and because the Longborn property is entailed, but there are some auxiliary characters who actually ARE poor, with little prospects for wealth or relationships beyond the jobs that they do: the servants of the Bennet family. This fascinating “Upstairs/ Downstairs” takeoff on “Pride & Prejudice” seemed very well researched. And while the story parallels what is happening upstairs, the Bennet family is not the main focus. When you have to arise at 4:30am to light the fires in the Bennet bedrooms so the inhabitants wake to a toasty house, then work nonstop in the kitchen until you are finally allowed to crawl into your scruffy bed under the eaves, there’s not a lot of spare time for flirtations…but Jo Baker allows us a peek to see how it could happen! And I will admit it: I also really liked “Eligible”! I thought it was hilarious.

  11. hmbalison says:

    I also hated Eligible. One of the reasons it left me cold was that Jane and Lizzie were too old in the book. Behavior that I could accept and understand when J&L were 21 and 23 in the original P&P just seemed immature and stupid in the re-telling.

    • Lori Erokan says:

      One of the reasons I found Eligible so funny is because Jane and Lizzie WERE older than the original characters. Each had a career and her own residence, yet both were still so tied to their parents and siblings. I think that is true to life, at least in my experience. We think of the original Elizabeth Bennet as wholly admirable–which she IS–but she also is something of an outcast in her social circle. She is honest, practical, somewhat competitive, and can be outspoken. I think the modern day equivalent might be a prickly journalist who is irritated by modern social manners, doesn’t like small talk (except with her sisters), and is a distance runner (the modern day version of Elizabeth B. striding across the fields for some fresh air). Eligible wouldn’t be everyone’s cuppa, but my sisters and mom and I (all Austen readers) sure enjoyed it!

      • It’s one thing to make them older. That’s fine. And I wasn’t expecting something “genteel”, but I *was* expecting the characters to be at least recognizable. Elizabeth Bennet would not have “hate sex” with someone. Lizzie has self-respect, as does Jane. Jane is not a soppy pushover who cries and wails all the time. Etc. I mean, it was crass. Whoever said that above was right-on.

        • This was what I found failing about it! Jane and Lizzie had no self-respect or moral fiber to them. And while they aren’t perfect, they are GOOD and not wild and ridiculous. Which this book makes them. The parents and sisters were perfectly portrayed though (although Lydia’s indiscretion was very…. I don’t know).

  12. Anne,
    I’ll have to check these out. But I have to say that I have read some wonderful continuation novels of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. I like them because I automatically do that after reading a great book, or watching a movie I love. I make up stories in my head about what happens to the characters after the last page.

  13. Jamie says:

    I love Austen retellings, too, especially when they make me see the characters or plot in a new way. I enjoyed Claire LaZebnik’s retelling of “Mansfield Park.” She changes the ending and I think fixes what always bothered me about Fanny and Edmund (how he igonores her the entire book, is swept away by Mary Crawford, and still gets Fanny in the end.) Granted, it is YA, it is not high literature, but it was fun.

  14. Ellen says:

    Pamela aidan’s DArcy series is one of my favorites. It’s a retelling from his pov. Some of it feels a bit heavy-handed which I attribute to the difficulties with a modern author imitating austen’s language, and an American doing British dialect. But I still love it. It’s neat to see how she gets into Darcy’s head and imagines his motivations.

  15. Katie Seringer says:

    I loved eligible! But I didn’t have a critical ear towards it. I love reading books from places I recognize and since I live in Columbus I so enjoyed hearing it told in Cincinnati.

    I loved reading me and Mr Darcy 5 years ago don’t know how it would hold up but it was totally enjoyable at the time!

  16. Sarah says:

    Love this list! Always in the mood for a good retelling, and I enjoy the idea of the gender swap one! Just requested it at my local library.
    Also, I personally enjoyed eligible I found it quirky and fun. Different for sure but enjoyable nonetheless.

  17. Susan says:

    First & Then by Emma Mills is a Pride and Prejudice-inspired high school romance that I liked. It doesn’t try to follow P&P too closely. You can see the parallels, but it’s not a character for character, incident for incident telling. Her writing reminds me of John Green or Rainbow Rowell. The dialog and plot have that same “real-life but wittier” style. But this recommendation is coming from someone who found Eligible super funny 😉

  18. If you’re interested in venturing into dramatic literature, you should check out Lauren Gunderson’s MISS BENNET: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY, a play about the occasionally forgettable Mary Bennet. It’s actually one of the MOST produced plays of the 2017-2018 season at theaters across the country. Go, Jane Austen!

  19. Bridget McArthur says:

    I really liked Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict and Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler.

  20. My favorite favorite favorite is Dear Mr. Knightley. I don’t usually reread books, but this is one that I need to own so that I can reread it over and over. I LOVE it so much! I am so so glad you included it.

  21. Kathleen West says:

    I agree about Elligible — I won’t read anything by Curtis Sittenfeld after she wrote that trashy Prep. I agree that Alexander McCall Smith’s version of Emma was wonderful!

  22. Debbie says:

    I stumbled upon the series “Jane Austen Takes the South” by Mary Jane Hathaway and was surprised it wasn’t already mentioned. She has 3 books, Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits, Emma, Mr. Knightly and Chili Cheese Dogs and my favorite of the trio, Persuasion, Captain Wentworth and Cracklin’ Cornbread. Loved the retelling in a southern setting.

    I also loved Dear Mr. Knightly! I might just have to go reread it now…

  23. Barbara L says:

    My favorite retelling is still Lady Vernon and Her Daughter which didn’t so much “retell” “Lady Susan” but brought it back into the Austensphere more in line with her Big 6. Written by a mother and daughter. There was a movie based on “Lady Susan” last year, “Love and Friendship” and a novelization of the book. I also liked “A Match for Mary Bennet” by Eucharista Ward. There are a whole crop of Mary Bennet books, but this one was true to the period and character. Also fun – Carrie Bebris Mr. & Mr. Darcy mysteries and the anthology “Jane Austen Made Me Do It” with Austen inspired stories, some prequels or sequels, some modern day.
    Teri Wilson’s “Unleashing Mr. Darcy” was a fun novel and TV movie, modernization of “Pride and Prejudice” based in the dog show arena. I also liked the TV movie “Scents and Sensibility” – for one of those Lifetime type movies, it was a pretty good take on S & S.

  24. Annie says:

    Eligible was the worst book I read in 2018 unfortunately. Makes me nervous to try any of these other retellings ?

  25. Shelly says:

    Loved Dear Mr. Knightley! I am looking forward to reading several others on this list. I just finished a fun retelling called Pride and Prejudice and Passports by Corrie Garret. Set during the recent presidential election, Elizabeth is from an immigrant family while Darcy works with the GOP.

  26. Julie says:

    The Carriage House by Louisa Hall is a book inspired by Persuasion, the Austin work notably missing in this list. Persuasion is one of my favorites by Austin, perhaps the most melancholy yet hopeful. The Carriage House captures that atmosphere of regret and the perspective that grows out of age and experience in a way that is inspired by Austin rather than a re-telling or modernization.
    I loved the Val McDermid rework of Northanger Abbey. A much more faithful modernization, but I never understood the allure of the original and this made me see it with new eyes.

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