How to modernise classics

There’s a fashion for rewriting literary classics in modern dress, whether Shakespeare’s plays or Victorian novels, just as Ancient Greek plays were fair game for such treatment in the past, and as Norse mythology has provided such inspiration in recent years.

But much more remains to be exploited, not least the possibilities suggested by title manipulation. Here are some examples, offered gratis to anyone who feels they want to run with them.

Provided they include the acknowledgement “from an idea by …” on the title pages. Or not.

Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park and Ride (Crawford’s Register, in association with Penguin Rehashed Classics)

  • Fanny Price comes up against an irascible parking attendant Mrs Norris when the young woman loses her ticket, but she hopes her background in Nottinghamshire amateur dramatics will stand her in good stead.

Charlotte Brontë’s Jane’s Air Guitar (Fender & Fairfax Books)

  • The second Mrs Rochester aspires to win first prize in the finals of the West Yorkshire inaugural Air Guitar competition at the Thornfield Rock Festival, but will she meet her match in the person of the mysterious Bertha Mason?

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden Centre (Sowerby’s Seed Catalogue)

  • Mary Lennox attempts to persuade reclusive Colin Craven to invest in a new business venture — a retail operation selling plants and related products — on the edge of the Yorkshire moors, but will the inaccessibility of the locale spell disaster?

William Makepiece Thackeray’s Vanity Fair Trade Products (Pollock Press)

  • Becky Sharp enters the cutthroat hurly-burly of the competitive world of manufacturing, bypassing middlemen and scorning good practice. But doubt remains: who in fact is pulling the strings?

J M Barrie’s Peter Pandemic (Hook Publications)

  • The Darling children — Wendy, John and Michael — have to self-isolate in Neverland, socially distancing from the Lost Boys while remaining in lockdown. Relying on Tinkerbell to notify them of store deliveries to the Wendy house, they must beware of loan sharks crying crocodile tears, and meanwhile the prospect of flight overseas evaporates.

Alexander Pushkin’s Boris Isn’t Good Enough (Rasputin Press)

  • The successor tsar to May-Theresa the Terrible, Boris Ivanovitch is at first popular but is soon suspected of duplicity and treachery. A pretender to the throne, Mikhail Govitch, lurks in the shadows while his country’s policies alienates the surrounding nations.

Could this be a go-er, do you think?

41 thoughts on “How to modernise classics

      1. I fear this generation is missing out on creators coming up with memorable characters – so I’m quite serious. Give us something original, not a pastiche of the old, and take the consequences – improve until YOUR characters are indelible.

        We are so far from Sherlock Holmes’ London that most of the younger folk think it didn’t really exist, anyway, but they know some of what’s going on right under their noses. The famed London Fog – which was atmospheric (in the dramatic sense) – was just that, dirty air, and is now not tolerated. Etc.

        People will continue to do what they want, what they think will earn, but it’s a shame.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. We’ve discussed this before, Alicia, so I won’t go over old ground, but I personally think there’s enough new and original material being published that it’s entirely possible to avoid any rehashing.

          Liked by 1 person

  1. JD Salinger’s Catcher in Rye in which Holden Caulfield spends a pleasant summer on the Kent coast. DH Lawrence’s classic, Women in Hove which is a bit like the Salinger but a little further down the coast and Wuthering Heights of Abraham in which Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff get stuck in a cable car at Matlock Bath.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have a boxed collection of these regional rewrites, Simon, along with Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Rochester (UK pronunciation of course — North Americans might wax wroth over how Brits would say the first syllable of Rochester, of course).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Not only do we need to update some of these so-called classics, but we also need to help people get through them. We all know time is short so I also suggest making a few helpful combinations so that folks can cut their reading time in two.
    For example – James Hilton can help Milton out with “Paradise Lost Horizon.” And Kurt Vonnegut with a makeover by Agatha Christie in “Slaughterhouse-Five Little Pigs.”
    Here are a few more suggestions up update and speed up the reading::

    “Anna Karen In A Pickle”
    “Middle March to a Different Drummer”
    “Things Fall A Part from that Mrs Lincoln”
    “The Lord of the Rings of Saturn”
    “The Divine Comedy of Errors”
    “Invisible Mann Booker Prize”
    “Gulliver’s Travels with Charley”
    “The Red and the Black Beauty”
    “Midnight’s Children of Dynmouth”
    “The Old Man and the Sea, the Sea”
    “Pale Fire Next Time”
    “The Handmaid’s Tale of Two Cities”
    “Gone With the Wind in the Willows.”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. All excellent titles in the World Classics Mash-up-works Library, Josie: I’d dearly love to read the Hilton-Milton twinning, the Sebald-Tolkien collaboration, and what happened when Murdoch met Hemingway.

      And an important title in the library must surely be A Room with a View of One’s Own (which I noted here:

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I fear that a soaraway pandemic for Christmas or soon after is more than likely, thanks to those pantomime clowns in Westminster… Let’s hope it never as bad as we fear but that we can still hiss and boo and the real villains!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. piotrek

    “The Secret Garden Centre” – “…but will the inaccessibility of the locale spell disaster?” not when a lawyer working for a deposed wannabe dictator mistakenly chooses the place for his press conference and makes it famous world wide 😉

    I love the “Mansfield Park and Ride” especially, should be better than “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your scenario for the finale of The Secret Garden Centre is so implausible it just wouldn’t work in a novel, would it? Be realistic! oh, I see what you did there…

      Oh, and we could have a mash-up of a mash-up, could we not, with Mansfield P+Ride and Prejudice and Zombies — unless that’s what you already had in the back of your mind? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m afraid this kind of post is just an extension of my childish glee with corny puns, a mere substitute for the Dad jokes I used to inflict on my kids and nothing I can really credit to creativity and imagination on my part — but it’s kind of you to say so, Karen, especially as I’m in awe of readers like you who have such insightful things to say, and in such wonderful language, about books I have yet to read but then want to.

      In the meantime, the image of Jane doing air guitar on the Thornfield battlements like Brian May atop Buckingham Palace is one I shan’t be able to unsee in a hurry!


  4. Ha! Such a breath of fresh air! The Mansfield Park & Ride and The Secret Garden Centre reminded me of Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani’s recent PR disaster: he thought he’d booked the downtown Four Seasons Hotel for a press conference, but it turned out to be Four Seasons Total Landscaping, in a seedy neighborhood next-door to a porn shop!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wrote most of this and scheduled it before Giuliani’s farcical presser but it is singularly apt, isn’t it! And the fact it was next to an ‘adult store’ couldn’t be more poetic after his starring role in the new Borat film… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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