Friday, 25 July 2014

Classics & Contemporaries | Romance (Jane Austen Edition)

Last month I said I was going to start a new five part series titled "Classics & Contemporaries", to try and help anyone who feels intimidated by classics find another way of getting into them - you can find the initial blog post I wrote about the series here!

As I said then I promised the first installment would be Romance, but I did tell one little fib: I said for each genre I'd be talking about two classics and their contemporaries, but just this once I'm going to talk about four instead! Why? Why not! Well when I was narrowing down the classics I could talk about and finding their 21st century equivalents, I was torn between talking about some of the world's most famous love stories and some equally well-known modern reads, or talking about classics with some less obvious, and perhaps even lesser known, contemporaries.

So instead I decided to talk about both, and I suppose having double the amount is a good way to celebrate the start of this little series!

Two of the classics I ended up choosing for Romance were written by Jane Austen - one of the most famous romance authors of all time - so I thought I might as well split Romance into two separate posts, and centre one of them around the two Austen picks.

First up, let's start with one of the most famous, and most popular, love stories in the world...

Jane Austen's most famous novel, Pride and Prejudice, was first published in 1813 and is still widely read today. In fact to date the novel has sold 20 million copies worldwide!

When it comes to Jane Austen I can completely understand why someone may struggle to read one of her novels because I'm not one of her biggest fans myself, and I think a big reason for that is that I was simply introduced to her in the wrong way. For years I have said I will always dislike her novels, but recently I've thought about giving her a second chance. She must be well-liked for a reason, and perhaps now that I'm older I will have more patience with her work.

I had to read Pride and Prejudice during the second year of my degree but I just couldn't force myself through it, and yet I can watch an adaptation of any Jane Austen novel and enjoy it. And, in all honesty, I want to like her. I feel like I'm missing out on something!

The story of Pride and Prejudice is the kind of story I should love; give me a story about two characters who hate each other only to grow to love each other and I'm sold. And if you're the kind of reader who enjoys those kinds of love stories but feels too intimidated to jump straight into one of Jane Austen's novels, I have just the book for you!

I'm sure this doesn't come as much of a surprise to most of you; those of you who haven't read Bridget Jones's Diary have probably seen the film, and if Colin Firth playing the part of the modern Mr Darcy isn't enough of a clue that this is a modern day retelling of Pride and Prejudice then I don't know what is!

Though I was still pretty shocked when I realised the connection. I'm dumb.

Just like Elizabeth Bennet, Bridget Jones is a single woman whose mother is desperate for her to be married; so desperate that she tries to set her up with Mark Darcy, a lawyer and old family friend, but Mark and Bridget don't get off to the best start...

This story is so much fun, and because it's basically a direct retelling of the original story I think reading this before you try reading Pride and Prejudice will make reading the classic much easier, and therefore less intimidating!

Next up we have one of Austen's less famous works, and the novel that first introduced me to her when I was 18: Persuasion.

Like Northanger Abbey, Persuasion was published posthumously in 1818 and is the shortest of Austen's novels. You might think that would make it the ideal Austen novel to start with, but this is the novel that made me dislike her work so much as a teenager (although it's also the one novel of hers I'd most like to reread now that I'm older). Having said that, if you are the kind of reader who finds the size of classics more intimidating than their content, this could be the ideal read for you!

Persuasion tells the story of Anne Elliot, an intelligent, 27 year old spinster, who was persuaded to break off her engagement to Captain Wentworth 8 years before because of his poverty and uncertain future. However, due to his success in the Napoleonic Wars, Wentworth is now wealthy and much sought after, and still hurt by Anne's rejection years before. While Wentworth seeks out a suitable bride, Anne struggles with the decision she made all those years ago and the feelings she still has for Wentworth.

If a story about people who are already in love - people who need to work through their troubles rather than try and get together in the first place - is one that interests you, then Persuasion is the novel for you, and I've managed to find a contemporary equivalent. A very recent equivalent!

Rainbow Rowell has quickly become one of the most famous authors of contemporary romance since the success of her YA novel Eleanor & Park. Her second YA novel, Fangirl, took the book community by storm, and this summer she released her second adult novel, Landline.

(I reviewed her first adult novel, Attachments, here!)

Landline tells the story of Georgie McCool and her husband, Neal, who are going through some marital troubles. They decide to spend Christmas with Neal's family in Omaha, but Georgie's job as a TV writer is hectic and something comes up at work. She has to stay in Los Angeles. Neal, however, takes their children and leaves for the airport.

Terrified that she has ruined their marriage for good, Georgie calls him, but the Neal that answers is the Neal from the past. Perhaps Georgie can use this strange connection to fix their future, or perhaps she should end their marriage before it even begins.

Obviously Landline and Persuasion are very different novels, Landline isn't a direct retelling in the way Bridget Jones's Diary is, and yet they share a lot of similar themes. Both feature a heroine who has made a mistake concerning the man she loves, and both include a mixture of maintaining an existing relationship while also including a small dose of 'will they, won't they'. If you're interested in Jane Austen's novels and you like Landline, I see no reason why Persuasion wouldn't be the perfect classic for you!

So there we have it: my 21st century suggestions for a 21st century reader who wants to read some Jane Austen. I really hope this has been useful (or at least fun!) and I'll be back on Monday with my non-Austen Romance installment!


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