Madame Bovary was heavily influenced by Don Quixote, Finnegans Wake was inspired by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Wide Sargasso Sea is a prequel to Jane Eyre. And those are just a few sterling examples — the trend of adaptation and re-adaptation is rampant, and sadly, there are plenty of cheap reincarnations of classic texts that put their inspirations to shame.
~Emily Temple, "10 Contemporary Novels Based on Classic Lit That Are Actually Worth Your Time"
The publication of Longbourn, the novel by Jo Baker which retells the story of Pride and Prejudice from the point of view of the servants, got us thinking about other novels that retell a story. Wide Sargasso Sea retells the story of Jane Eyre from the point of view of the "madwoman in the attic", Bertha Rochester (born Antoinette Cosway). The Mists of Avalon retells the Arthurian legend from the point of view of the female characters, primarily Morgaine (Morgan le Fay), Arthur's half-sister.
In these "shifted perspective" novels, the traditional protagonist is no longer in the limelight, and the story is retold through the eyes of another (many novels are also reinterpreted by changing the time in which the stories happen, but that's the subject of another blog post). We find these revisited stories interesting because, in the right hands, the changed viewpoint takes the reader in new and interesting directions, including calling into question the reliability of the original novel's narrator.
Despite some wrangles with the estates of the authors of the original novels (in the case of Lolita and The Lord of the Rings), we are seeing more and more retold classics with shifted perspectives. Here are some you can find in the library catalog:
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire
Ahab's Wife, or, The Star-Gazer by Sena Jeter Naslund
Finn by Jon Clinch
The Wind Done Gone by Alice Randall
Jack Maggs by Peter Carey
March by Geraldine Brooks
Becky: The Life and Loves of Becky Thatcher by Lenore Hart
Lady Macbeth by Susan
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
Monster: A Novel of Frankenstein by Dave Zeltserman
Adèle: Jane Eyre's Hidden Story by Emma Tennant
Rebecca's Tale by Sally Beauman
Ophelia by Lisa M. Klein [YA]
"10 Shifted Perspective Novels I Would Totally Read"
"Make lit new: Are retold tales a new fad or the latest incarnation of a rich tradition?"
"Middle-earth according to Mordor"
"Pact Reached on U.S. Edition of 'Lolita' Retelling"