Hello! Today, I am honoured to have Sally Malcolm here talking about her view on retellings of Jane Austen’s works, especially on queer retellings. Her book Perfect Day (my review of it can be found here) has been released recently.
This year marks the 200th publication anniversary of Jane Austen’s classic second chance romance, Persuasion. It also sees the release of not one but two male/male retellings of the story—PERFECT DAY by me, and UNDUE INFLUENCE by Jenny Holiday.
In fact, this year we’ve seen a plethora of LGBTQ+ retellings of Austen’s work. Male/male versions of Sense & Sensibility (THE CALIFORNIA DASHWOODS by Lisa Henry) and Pride & Prejudice (OUT, PROUD, AND PREJUDICED by Megan Reddaway) are already available, and a female/female retelling of Emma (IF I LOVED YOU LESS by Tamsen Parker) will be published later this year.
And they’re hardly the first contemporary retellings of Austen. So what gives? What is it about Austen’s work that inspires so many writers to transpose her stories into a contemporary setting—and why do LGBTQ+ retellings work especially well?
First of all, we have to thank Austen. Her ability to create characters who leap off the page feeling as fresh and real as they did two hundred years ago is remarkable. They read like real people because Austen wrote real people. She didn’t write stereotypes or caricatures, she wrote what she saw all around her–the absurdity of human nature. And it turns out that people today are just as complex, conflicted, and comical as they were two hundred years ago.
In fact, we’re rather more like our 19th century counterparts than we’d like to admit. We might be charmed by the cosy drawing room drama of Austen’s novels, but as enlightened as we think we are in the 21st century we’re still restricted by similar irrational social prejudices. Race, class, sexuality, and gender still limit our lives and opportunities.
And that’s why Austen’s novels adapt so readily to an LGBTQ+ retelling.
In 2018 it’s difficult to imagine social class being an insurmountable obstacle between Darcy and Elizabeth. But it’s far easier to imagine Darcy’s influential family baulking at his marriage to an ‘Elias’ Bennet. When Elizabeth refuses to accept Darcy’s snobbery, and demands to be treated with respect by him and his family, she’s exposing the absurdity of their prejudice. A modern ‘Elias’ Bennett calling out Darcy’s homophobic family would do the same, exposing the ridiculousness of their prejudice.
In Persuasion, Captain Wentworth is considered unworthy of Anne Elliot’s hand because he isn’t rich or well-connected enough to deserve her. Anne’s interfering aunt persuades her that it would be imprudent, at nineteen, to tie herself to a man whose ability to provide for her is so uncertain. Anne accepts her point, but it’s not enough to deter her from wanting to marry Wentworth. So her aunt goes further and convinces Anne that by refusing Wentworth she’s protecting them both from financial misery—that he, too, would be harmed by marrying rashly. Anne is persuaded that her prudence will protect Wentworth’s future happiness.
Clearly that plot wouldn’t hold water in the modern world. A modern Anne Elliot would be financially independent of her husband—could support him, if necessary—and his career would be his own business. But in PERFECT DAY, my retelling of Persuasion, Josh Newton’s interfering aunt persuades him that not only would it be foolish to alienate his own conservative family by coming out and following Finn Callaghan to LA but, crucially, that arriving in LA with a boyfriend in tow would harm Finn’s dream of becoming a successful actor. Why risk both their futures, she argues, for the sake of a summer romance?
Needless to say, both interfering aunts are proven wrong. Anne and Josh both come to realise that they’d have been happier if they’d rejected social convention and followed their hearts. And the reader realises it, too. We see that the social conventions that held Anne and Josh back are not only hollow but harmful.
The truth is, Austen wrote her books to challenge social conventions and prejudices, to reflect their absurdity back to her readers. And LGBTQ+ retellings of her work can do the same thing for modern readers and modern prejudices.
No re-telling of Austen’s work will ever equal the original. But what a re-telling can do is have fun with her beloved characters and stories, and hint at the subjects Austen may have been writing about had she been living today. Hopefully it’s only a matter of time before we see a contemporary LGBTQ+ retelling of Austen on the big screen, and I for one can’t wait…
Buy links for Perfect Day:
‘First love conquers all in Perfect Day, a captivating contemporary male/male retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion.’
When Joshua Newton, prodigal son of one of New Milton’s elite, fell in love with ambitious young actor Finn Callaghan, his world finally made sense.
With every stolen moment, soft touch and breathless kiss, they fell deeper in love. Finn was his future…until he wasn’t.
Eight years later, Finn has returned to the seaside town where it all began. He’s on the brink of stardom, a far cry from the poor mechanic who spent one gorgeous summer falling in love on the beach. The last thing he wants is a second chance with the man who broke his heart.
Finn has spent a long time forgetting Joshua Newton—he certainly doesn’t plan to forgive him.
Sally Malcolm was bitten by the male/male romance bug in 2016 and hasn’t looked back.
PERFECT DAY is her first published male/male romance, with the follow-up (BETWEEN THE LINES) out later in December 2018 and a dozen other ideas bubbling away on the back burner. Her stories are emotional, sweetly angsty, and always have happy endings.
She lives in London, UK with her American husband, two lovely children, and two lazy cats.