Jane Austen Spinoffs

If one way to measure the popularity of an author is to note the number of spinoffs that his or her work has created, then Jane Austen is high on the popularity list!

longbourn Longbourn by Jo Baker
This is the story of Sarah, the Bennet’s housemaid in Pride and Prejudice, as she serves in their household while the events of the classic unfold. However, the downstairs is just as eventful as the upstairs, especially when a new footman arrives.


prideandprejudiceandzombiesPride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
This is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice during a zombie apocalypse. Elizabeth Bennett is fighting off the zombie infestation after a plague has settled on the village. However, she also finds herself fighting Mr. Darcy after his arrival.


scargravemanorJane Austen and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor by Stephanie Barron
This is the first book in a mystery series about Jane Austen as a detective. In this book, Jane’s friend Isobel is newly wed to a man who is many years her senior. Then, during the night, her new husband dies. Soon after his death, Isobel’s maid accuses Isobel of murdering her husband and committing adultery with her late husband’s nephew.

anassemblysuchasthisAn Assembly Such as This by Pamela Aidan
This is the story of Pride and Prejudice, told from the point of view of Fitzwilliam Darcy. This is the book to read if you wish to know more about the mysterious man and his view of the events in the classic novel.


janeaustenThe Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen by Lindsay Ashford
Anne Sharp was Jane Austen’s governess. Ever since Jane’s death twenty-six years earlier, Anne has held onto a lock of Jane’s hair. However, Anne is following up on a suspicion that she has carried with her all this time. Jane may have been murdered, and the lock of hair may prove it.


missingmanuscriptofjaneaustenThe Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen by Syrie James
Samantha McDonough finds a letter that laments a missing manuscript at an estate in Devonshire. The author of both the letter and the manuscript is thought to be none other than Jane Austen. All that that Samantha needs to do is figure out a way of working with Anthony Whitaker, the handsome owner of the estate.


emmaEmma: A Modern Retelling by Alexander McCall Smith
As the title describes, this is the modern version of the classic novel about a young woman who interferes in the lives of those around her. Fresh from college, Emma is kept busy by running her own business, caring for her father, and playing matchmaker.


northangerabbeyNorthanger Abbey by Val McDermid
This is a modern retelling of Northanger Abbey. Cat Morland, who loves to read novels, constantly fantasizes about experiencing adventures. So, when she travels to Edinburgh to attend a festival, she begins to wonder about the mysterious Northanger Abbey and its seemingly perfect residents, one of whom is very handsome.



Classic Spinoffs

Have you read any classic books? Even if you haven’t, you can still enjoy the books on this list. These are inspired by classics as they tell the stories of supporting characters, are prequels or sequels to the classic stories, or even retell the classics themselves. Read them all!

gertrudeandclaudius Gertrude and Claudius by John Updike  
This prequel to Hamlet tells the story of Gertrude Queen of Denmark before the action of Shakespeare’s Hamlet begins. Updike brings to life Gertrude’s girlhood as the daughter of King Rorik, her arranged marriage to the man who becomes King Hamlet, and her middle-aged affair with her husband’s younger brother.


MadameBovarysDaughter Madame Bovary’s Daughter by Linda Urbach
This continuation of Flaubert’s classic Madame Bovary finds twelve-year-old Berthe cast off by society in the aftermath of her mother’s suicide and sent to live with her impoverished grandmother, from where she eventually rises through the ranks of Charles Worth’s famed fashion empire.


thebeekeepersapprentice The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, or, On the Segregation of the Queen by Laurie R. King   
In 1914, a young woman named Mary Russell meets a retired beekeeper on the Sussex Downs. His name is Sherlock Holmes. The Great Detective is no fool, and can spot a fellow intellect even in a fifteen-year-old woman. So, at first informally, then consciously, he takes Mary as his apprentice.


julietsnurseJuliet’s Nurse by Lois Leveen   
A new telling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, from the perspective of Juliet’s nurse. In Verona, a city ravaged by plague and political rivalries, a mother mourning the death of her day-old infant enters the household of the powerful Cappelletti family to become the wet-nurse to their newborn baby. As she serves her beloved Juliet over the next fourteen years, the nurse learns the Cappelletti’s darkest secrets.

ruthsjourney Ruth’s Journey by Donald McCaig
A prequel to one of the most beloved and bestselling novels of all time, Gone with the Wind. The critically acclaimed author of Rhett Butler’s People magnificently recounts the life of Mammy, one of literature’s greatest supporting characters, from her days as a slave girl to the outbreak of the Civil War.


revenge Revenge by Stephen Fry  
This brilliant recasting of the classic story The Count of Monte Cristo centers on Ned Maddstone, a happy, charismatic, Oxford-bound seventeen-year-old whose rosy future is virtually pre-ordained. Handsome, confident, and talented, newly in love with bright, beautiful Portia, his father an influential MP, Ned leads a charmed life. But privilege makes him an easy target for envy, and in the course of one day Ned’s destiny is forever altered.

thehistorian The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
A woman discovers that the past of her family is connected to the stories of Vlad the Impaler, the man who inspired Dracula and must decide whether to follow her father in a hunt that nearly brought him to ruin years ago, when he was a vibrant young scholar and her mother was still alive.


deankoontzfrankenstein Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein: Prodigal Son
This is a retelling of Frankenstein set in New Orleans. In the 19th century, Dr. Victor Frankenstein brought his first creation to life, but a horrible turn of events forced him to abandon his creation and fall away from the public eye. Now, two centuries later, a serial killer is on the loose in New Orleans, and he’s salvaging body parts from each of his victims, as if he’s trying to create the perfect person. But the two detectives assigned to the case are about to discover that something far more sinister is going on…

widesargassosea Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys  
Jean Rhys brings into the light one of fiction’s most mysterious characters: the madwoman in the attic from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane EyreSet in the Caribbean, its heroine is Antoinette Cosway, a sensual and protected young woman who is sold into marriage to the prideful Rochester. In this best-selling novel, Rhys portrays a society so driven by hatred, so skewed in its sexual relations, that it can literally drive a woman out of her mind.

monsignorquixote Monsignor Quixote by Graham Greene
When Father Quixote, a local priest of the Spanish village of El Toboso who claims ancestry to Cervantes’ fictional Don Quixote, is elevated to the rank of monsignor through a clerical error, he sets out on a journey to Madrid to purchase purple socks appropriate to his new station. Accompanying him on his mission is his best friend, Sancho, the Communist ex-mayor of the village who argues politics and religion with Quixote and rescues him from the various troubles his innocence lands him in along the way.

There are many, many more books that are inspired by the classics. Sometimes even classics are inspired by other classics! What are your favorite classic spinoffs?

In the Public Domain

 dressIn the past few years we’ve seen a sudden resurgence of fairy tales, bombarded by big-screen live-action versions of Snow White and the Huntsman, Mirror, Mirror (which came out the same year, just for overkill), Maleficent, Cinderella, Oz the Great and Powerful, the soon-to-be released Peter Pan (October 9), Alice Through the Looking Glass (spring 2016, reprising the 2010 cast of Alice in Wonderland), Beauty and the Beast (2017 release date) and so many more. While some of these have been spectacular (who can forget Cinderella’s dress!), did you ever wonder why?

It’s more than just the fact Hollywood can’t seem to come up with anything original lately, or that remakes are a fad. Movies cost huge coin to produce – truly, hundreds of millions of dollars, from pre-production through movie rights to scripting, set design, music, choreography, lighting, costuming, and advertising. One of those big costs is often acquisition of rights – buying the rights to the material from the original author. In the case of fairy tales, the cost of that right is Zero, and that is a producer’s favorite number. Zero means you can do whatever you want with the material. Yes, you could feasibly make (and I’m sure it’s been done) a very dirty film of Snow White, Cinderella, and Ariel and no one can stop you, as long as you don’t reference anyone else’s version.

We’re accustomed to believing that Disney or Touchstone or some other major Alice in Wonderland.jpg.653x0_q80_crop-smartcompany created Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Peter Pan, and so many other cherished films. In fact the answer is no, they did not. They only made their own version of them. Many of Disney’s greatest tales were old folk tales and fairy tales, borrowed from collections by Hans Christian Anderson or the Brothers Grimm, or bought way back when from J. M. Barrie or Rudyard Kipling. The original tales were often a bit different and usually very dark (Mermaid is a very murderous tale; the Little Match Girl freezes to death, etc). They all have one thing in common however: they are all in what’s called the Public Domain. That means they are not copyrighted, and anyone can make their own version of the tale. The stories don’t have to be bought, no author has to be fought with, and a producer can do whatever he or she wants to the story.

panIn the United States, copyright is generally good for the life of the author plus seventy years (in some instances, it is extended to as much as 120 years). If the author has good descendants and they renew on behalf of the estate, it can continue further. This is how Peter Pan is now in the public domain: J.M. Barrie died in 1937; his copyrights have expired. Treasure Island is a free e-book, because it’s in the public domain. Gone With the Wind will enter into public domain in 2031. Many of the early silent films are also free for making use of. This also holds true with music: that’s why so much classical music is used in movie and TV soundtracks: no one has to pay a penny to use it. You can tour the country playing Beethoven and Mozart all you want, and you never have to pay them a dime. Their works, like Shakespeare, and Byron, and even the Bible are all available for public use and performance.

Yes, Anne is now the public's darling, too.

Yes, Anne is now the public’s darling, too.

Now, that’s not to say you can pick up a copy of a play and start performing it for money. While the play and its characters are not under copyright, the person who planned out/composed/wrote the playbook or libretto has a copyright on the booklet or sheet music you are using – their “version” – which is why school plays cost so much (the same way “Snow White” is a public domain tale, but “Disney’s Snow White” is most definitely under copyright). Unless you’ve taken the idea of Romeo and Juliet and written up your own version, you’re going to wind up having to pay someone somewhere for your performance of the material.

Here’s one list of free public-domain books available on ebook, including both adult and children’s classics: https://www.goodreads.com/list/tag/public-domain.

So whether you look forward to some of the new, spectacularly beautiful versions of old tales coming out, or grumble about how much more money does Disney need rehashing their own blockbusters, remember the reason: movie studios are cheapskates, and copyrights don’t last forever.

Fairy tale fact: Cinderella is the most universal fairy tale. Almost every culture has a version of it. The very first known “Cinderella” story can be traced back to the story of Rhodopis, a real Greek slave girl from Thrace who married the King of Egypt. That story is from 7 BC! Our current version of Cinderella (Cendrillon) goes back to the late 1600’s France, a French version by Charles Perrault.

Top Ten Classics For Book Clubs

Classics are classic for a reason. Whether it be because they have timeless stories, epic characters, or are just classically awful (and that does happen!), we continue to read the “classics”. They have something to tell us about ourselves, because really, we’re still the same people at heart that our ancestors were one hundred, two hundred, three hundred years ago.

I run the classics book club here at the Cheshire Public Library, and from the moment it started, it was an instant hit. To this day, almost three years later, it’s still my most popular book group. If you run a book club, consider adding in a classic once a year. Just about anyone can read Gone Girl (and let me tell you – they have, ad nauseum), but it’s more of a challenge to read classics. And you sound smarter, too.

So here’s a list of my top ten classics for book club:

  1. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. See my post about why this is my favorite book – it explains everything!
  2. Persuasion by Jane Austen. Some people will argue with me about this, but Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen book. Austen is at her best in her final completed

    Persuasion by Jane Austen

    novel with a story of love lost and love regained. Second chances are possible in this memorable book. And while you’re at it, watch the recent Masterpiece Classics movie they did several years back. All I can say is: yummy!

  3. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. I read this book first in high school and thought it was *ok*. Both of my parents loved this book, and at the time, as a junior in high school, I couldn’t appreciate it. Having a little more life experience as a sophomore in college, re-reading it, I could finally see why they loved this book so much.
  4. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. During this 50th anniversary of Plath’s death, this book is especially appropriate for book clubs to entertain. I heard grumblings from some members about how “depressing” they thought this book was, but as a group we had excellent conversations on mental illness, gender roles, and the 1950’s Read my review of the book.
  5. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. I read this for the mystery book club I used to run here at the library and it

    The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

    would definitely count as a classic. If you’re looking for something that’s full of ambiance, setting, and great characters, Maltese Falcon is perfect. Short, easy to read, and a good mystery to boot. Hammett set the standard for noir fiction and mysteries. And how can you think of Sam Spade without thinking of Humphrey Bogart???

  6. My Antonia by Willa Cather. For everyone who has ever read or watched Little House on the Prairie before, you’ll love this book. My Antonia is beautiful in its descriptions of the people, the time, and especially the land. A majority of Americans can say that somewhere in their history is an immigrant story, and My Antonia speaks to our shared history on being newcomers in the “New World.”
  7. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. Now, this is an ambitious book for a book club, not meant to be read over a period of just one month. You’d have to

    The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

    give this at least three months or meetings for everyone to get through this lengthy, but well worth-it epic. This is the ultimate read on revenge. Dumas weaves an intricate story that by the end, will leave you going, “Holy smokes!”. For being a book written in the 1800’s, The Count of Monte Cristo is readable, especially compared to some of his other works. Like the show Revenge? It’s the Count of Monte Cristo updated.

  8. 1984 by George Orwell. It’s been years (10!) since I read this for senior year summer reading in high school, and I can still remember the impact this book had on me. Who hasn’t heard of the term “Big Brother”? Yup, it came from 1984. Orwell was a man ahead of his time, correctly guessing how we as a society would develop, as well as the implications of Communism. This book has garnered a lot of press time recently with the whole Snowden/NSA episode, so if just for curiosity, this book is well worth your time.

    Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë

  9. Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte. Ok, so you’re probably wondering, “What about Wuthering Heights? Or Jane Eyre?”. Wuthering Heights, frankly, is terrible. And Jane Eyre is scores better, and would definitely make another “Top 10 Classics List” were I to write another. Agnes Grey is a gem, a diamond in the rough. So much time is spent reading her sister’s books, that Anne is often overlooked. And I would argue that she is the true heroine of the Bronte sisters. What takes Emily and Charlotte more than 400 pages to describe, Anne takes less than 300 hundred to tell a fabulous story of perseverance and responsibility.
  10. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. Ok, so admittedly I’m not a Hemingway fan. He, along with so many other male writers of his time, writes women one dimensionally and usually with obvious disdain and dislike. However… of the three Hemingway books I’ve read is the most tolerable, and therefore, the only one I’d recommend. Some of the comments in classics club were that it was just a bunch of people sitting around, doing nothing with their lives. And in truth, yes, that’s what they were doing. However, I thought The Sun Also Rises had a lot more to say about the period and the consequences of World War I than anything else. With the 100th anniversary of WWI next year, The Sun Also Rises is a treatise on how war changes everything.

Enjoyable Assigned Reading

Tackling books that have been labeled as classics, or are required reading in school, can be a daunting or even dreaded task. However, many of these books are classics because so many people enjoyed reading them, not just because of their literary value or the statements they make about humanity or the time in which they took place. Here are some of the classics, or assigned reading, that I have come to love, either when they were assigned to me or as I picked them up on my own.

Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury was originally published in 1953, and seems to be even more relevant today than we might want to admit. Guy Montag is a book-burning fireman that used to enjoy his job but is beginning to have some doubts. The boring life he leads with his wife contrasts drastically with that of his young neighbor Clarisse. This young girl inspires Guy’s doubts through her interest in books. When Clarisse mysteriously disappears, he decides to make some changes and begins hiding books in his home. When his wife turns him in, he is expected to burn his secret cache of books. Guy runs from authorities and winds up joining a group of outlaw scholars who keep the contents of books in their heads, hoping society will once again desire the wisdom of literature.

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee was originally published in 1960, and remains on my list of favorite books. We are introduced to the Finch family in the summer before Scout’s first year at school. Scout, her brother Jem, and Dill Harris,spend their days reenacting scenes from Dracula and trying to get a peek at the town bogeyman, Boo Radley. The alleged rape of Mayella Ewell, the daughter of a drunk and violent white farmer, has no impart on the children. But when their father Atticus defends the accused, Tom Robinson, they find themselves caught up in events beyond their understanding. As the trial progresses the good and bad of human nature is clearly exposed with the key aspects being the heroism of Atticus Finch, who stands up for what he knows is right, and in Scout’s learning to see that most people are essentially kind. To Kill a Mockingbird is funny, wise, and heartbreaking, and deserves to be reread often.


1984 was written by George Orwell in 1948, and still stands as chilling prophecy about the future. This novel is set in a future world which is dominated by three warring totalitarian police states. Winston Smith’s longing for truth and decency leads him to secretly rebel against the government. Smith has a love affair with a like-minded woman, but they are both arrested by the Thought Police. The resulting imprisonment, torture, and reeducation of Smith are intended not merely to break him physically or make him submit but to destroy independent thought and spiritual dignity.

Dracula, Silas Marner, War of the Worlds, Pride and Prejudice, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Stranger in a Strange Land are some of my other favorite classic or assigned reads. Do you have a favorite book that you were required to read in school, or one you read afterwards that you wished you had been assigned to read?