The best modern retellings of classic literature

Bringing once-silenced voices to the fore and reimagining stories for present-day audiences, these modern retellings of the classics are not to be missed.

29/01/2020
1 minutes to read

Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea gave voice to a previously silenced woman of colour in a feminist retelling of Jane Eyre, while Jeanette Winterson’s recent novel Frankisstein was inspired by Mary Shelley’s gothic story and addresses gender fluidity as well as the possibilities of artificial intelligence. Although sometimes controversial and a daunting task for any writer, reimaginings of the classics see overlooked voices stepping into the spotlight and important themes reassessed in the context of a modern society.

With the propensity to have such an impact on modern readers,  retellings of the classics have surged in popularity in recent years, driving authors from Margaret Atwood to Val McDermid to participate in projects to bring classics from Shakespeare and Jane Austen to new audiences. Here’s our edit of the best modern retellings of classic literature.

The Other Bennet Sister

by Janice Hadlow

Book cover for 9781509842025

Helen Fielding’s hilarious and heartwarming Bridget Jones’s Diary reimagined Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy’s romance in mid-nineties London, but readers and writers alike have traditionally had little time for the overlooked middle Bennet sister Mary. Janice Hadlow, however, gives life to Mary Bennet, cast aside amidst the glory of her sisters. In The Other Bennet Sister, we see Mary as a person fighting for validation in a family where she feels she doesn’t belong, but for whom there might be a happy ending after all.



Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl

by Andrea Lawlor

Book cover for 9781529007664

Inspired by the life of her lover, Vita Sackville-West, Virginia Woolf’s Orlando is a fictitious biography of a young Elizabethan nobleman who wakes one morning to find himself a woman. But what if he were a gay university student from the 90s who could shapeshift at will into a man or woman’s body? This is the reality for Paul Polydoris, the star of Andrea Lawler’s radical retelling, Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl.



A Thousand Ships

Book cover for 9781509836192

Taking inspiration from The Odyssey, The Iliad, The Aeneid and many more Greek myths, Natalie Haynes retells the story of The Trojan War and its aftermath from the perspective of those who were originally silenced: the girls, the women and the goddesses. Impeccably researched, A Thousand Ships takes the stories we are so familiar with and gives them a refreshing, feminist twist.



Diary of a Somebody

by Brian Bilston

Book cover for 9781529005561

Brian Bilston’s Diary of a Somebody is a brilliant spin-off of George and Weedon Grossmith’s original comic tale, The Diary of a Nobody. Both told in diary form, George and Weedon document the ups and downs of pompous Charles Pooter in a satire of middle-class suburbia. Whilst using poetry, Brian navigates the everyday monotony of spreadsheets, ex-wives and his arch-nemesis, Toby Salt.



Cannibal

by Safiya Sinclair

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Shakespeare’s The Tempest is a poetic evocation of storms and island life, rife with magic, romance and politics. Inspired by this masterpiece, Safiya Sinclair’s poetry collection Cannibal mirrors many of the same themes as she explores postcolonial identity, her childhood in Jamaica and the female body.