Modernizing Austen Themes

category K C Kahler, Writing 0

(Crossposted from My Love for Jane Austen)

Jane Austen explored universal themes that still resonate with readers today. As a result, her novels lend themselves to interesting and imaginative modernizations. Sure, Regency England was a lot different, but in modern society people still struggle with some of the themes Austen wrote about: class and privilege, self-discovery, morality, and of course – romance!

The trick to modernizing an Austen novel, in my opinion, is not to get hung up on slavishly mimicking every detail of the plot, but to concentrate on updating a few important details that play into the overall theme an author wants to highlight. Clueless dropped many twists from the plot of Emma, but it’s still a brilliant modernization.

There is one common Austen theme that doesn’t translate easily to modern times, namely the emphasis on marriage as the only viable means for women to gain financial security. Thank goodness that isn’t the case nowadays, am I right, ladies?

Mrs. Bennet’s desperate desire to marry her daughters off as soon as possible really doesn’t make sense today. Single women can now earn a living for themselves, and they aren’t the victims of sexist and antiquated inheritance laws. As a result, many modern takes on Pride and Prejudice downplay the marriage aspect of the story. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries web series is a great example. In that adaptation, the female characters were mainly grappling with career choices, not marriage proposals (or a lack thereof).

For Boots & Backpacks, I went in a different direction. Darcy is the one whose future security depends on getting married. If he wants to inherit the family fortune, he is very much in need of a wife, though he isn’t particularly in want of a wife. Tricky, eh?

How did I accomplish this? I used an amalgam of the Silly Will and On One Condition tropes. (I posted about tropes previously.) Darcy’s deceased parents, who were otherwise loving, sensible people, have stipulated that their son must get married by his thirtieth birthday in order to inherit the family fortune. If readers can suspend their disbelief and accept this far-fetched plot device, everything else about Darcy’s behavior makes perfect sense.

The struggle then becomes: how can Darcy find happiness with all of these constraints on him? How can he balance the practical concerns of financial security with matters of the heart? In other words, he faces the same dilemma every Austen heroine faces! I hope that readers of Boots & Backpacks will find this switch as refreshing as I do.