Classics date, don’t they? The archaic language can obscure meaning, contemporary references often require intensive research to make sense, and social customs can seem more irritating than quaint.
Time then to bring them bang up to date, to make them relevant to the period we live in. Here are some title rewrites suited to a time of crisis. I invite you to reimagine the texts for yourselves but, please, there’s no need to share your full adaptations here.
As before, I offer suitable cover designs for Penguin Classics and Oxford World’s Classics courtesy of this online app where you may wish to avail yourselves of endless hours of amusement or, indeed, frustration.
First up is a take on how Hemingway may have considered For Whom the Bell Tolls as the Covid-19 situation developed.
With his experience as a traveller he no doubt could have made something of the presumed epicentre of Wuhan in China, though whether in quite the crass way POTUS-45 did might be doubted.
I ignored Albert Camus’ La Peste as too obvious, and went for how he may have framed L’Étranger as his gesture towards the Western genre.
The time-honoured end of episode question “Who was that masked man?” took me onto my next proposal.
Face masks are no longer the appurtanances of costumed vigilantes and bank robbers: they have been de rigueur in several countries of the western Pacific rim for a while now and now elsewhere due to the current pandemic.
If Edgar Allan Poe was still alive he might well have repurposed The Masque of the Red Death as a warning against the spread of the disease via coughing or sneezing, I should think.
Alan Sillitoe’s novella The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner was turned into a memorable film starring a young Tom Courtney, with a screenplay by the author.
Now we must picture townscapes slowly (or otherwise) coming back to life after a period when self-isolation and physically distancing were regarded as the correct social stance to take to prevent the spread of the dread disease. How would the writer have managed the gradual lifting of restrictions in the pages of a story?
I leave you with the classic author and her best-known title to whom many turn to for consolation: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. How would our mistress of the happy ending treat a contagion that has proved catastrophic for many?
The 19th-century was no stranger to fatal infections — yellow fever, measles, cholera, tuberculosis, smallpox, influenza, typhus, even plague — and any number of cancers (Austen is surmised to have died from Hodgkin’s disease, a lymphona).
Though she lived through a time of war, contagion and shortages Jane’s novels show little of these concerns, preferring to cast her omniscient and often amused eye on individuals within a community.
In our own time, when news feeds mostly fill us with anxiety and anger, is there not a case for allowing ourselves the permission to laugh a little in the face of adversity?