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Thursday, August 29, 2019

"Austen, For the Rest of Us" — guest post from Nikki Payne

Earlier this month, Kerri stopped by to dream-cast Austen films with diverse actors. Today, debut author Nikki Payne is joining us to talk about Austen's place in a modern diverse world, and the types of new, relatable storylines Jane Austen fanfiction can take on.
Click through to check out her thoughts, and find out more about her serialized contemporary Pride & Prejudice retelling, Netherfield Must Go! And you can keep up with Nikki & future installments of her book on her instagram or her author page!

Austen, For the Rest of Us

As Hot Girl Summer comes to an end, I like to retreat into my Pumpkin-Spice-Regency-Novel-Fall. When I crack open Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility, it is to be taken away to a different time — one of genteel politeness — where manners, position and propriety rule every aspect of our heroines' lives. Almost every heroine has one fundamental thing in common in Austen novels — they are bursting with social commentary about the times in which they lived. So why do we so often read Jane Austen contemporary remakes filed with the false tension of a bygone era?

The reason why Clueless is a masterpiece (Don’t @ me.These are facts) is not because it meticulously recreated regency era class politics. It is because it told the story of an upper class busybody in a time of peak American surplus and the cresting of Mall Culture. Moreover it told it in tropes and issues that mattered to us in the 90’s. Here are some key changes:
  • Cher’s mother died in liposuction (a modern death if ever there was one)
  • Her best friend is a super rich African-American (an emerging possibility in 90’s America)
  • The orphaned Harriet Smith becomes a hispanic transfer student (cleverly adds teenage anxieties of belonging)
  • Churchill is revealed to be gay (a newly visible population)
Tl:dr It was incredibly topical, as was Austen in the time in which she wrote.

One of the first Jane Austen adaptations for television for an American audience was during the 1940s.
Lizzy’s Serving FACE Honey

At a time in which the United States attempted to drum up support for World War II. It was important to present England as an ally with our same values. Some of the commentary on class, so intentional in Austen's work, is in fact missing from the 1940s version of the movie in favor of connecting England with democracy and progress.

So how might we keep Jane Austen's novels relevant in the endless scroll of remakes?
Instead of making Scents and Sensibility, or the equally terrible Bride and Prejudice or that weird Mormon one that nobody likes to talk about (Don’t @ me these are facts), what would happen if we bring contemporary issues to bear on our heroines?
  • What types of possibilities are at play if Elinor Dashwood was so quiet in her passions because of an incident of assault on her college campus?
  • What if Elizabeth Bennet was the first generation sparkling second daughter in a boisterous Chinese immigrant family?
  • How about if Fanny Price is at the border in Texas, separated from her family as a child?
  • What if the cad George Wickham trafficked women for powerful men and Mr Darcy saved Lydia just before she boarded the plane?
I could literally go on for days. The way we keep Jane Austen relevant is to bring those same complex contemporary themes to bear on problems in our own society. In the end, the fundamental question still remains and becomes even more urgent. How will two people in this situation ever find love?


Writer, Mother, Ux Researcher and Anthropologist, not always in that order, Nikki loves a good tropey romance.

Nikki:Rolls eyes “Of course they only have one bed at the Desolate Inn”
Also Nikki: OMG what are they gonna do there’s only one bed!!

I contain multitudes. I wrote a contemporary P&P that I’ve made free for this community. I am writing it in installments and would love you all’s input about how to make it better for installment 2

Jane Austen, Austen in August, blog event, Jane Austen fan fiction, JAFF, The Book Rat, BookRatMisty
Click here to return to the master list of Austen in August posts!


  1. I love Clueless for all the reasons you named. Another modern retelling that's high on my list is The Lizzy Bennet Diaries. It was charming and clever and dealt with romance in our modern day (I'm thinking of Lydia's "sex tape" that went viral). Austen's stories really are timeless. Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

  2. Yes Nancy I can't believe I didn't put that on the list! Great contemporary remake

  3. Excellent point about Austen writing what was relevant and still can be. I've been able to read a few modern adaptions that go there like Nikki mentioned in the examples and its neat seeing how it really works.

    1. Oh!! Sophia I would love to read them! I'm an avid reader as well as writer! Hook us up!

  4. I just saw thi sin Amazon, I almost missed it. I am a collecor of all P & p, but i am so happy that post such upcoming/new books. I feel I won't miss any. Love new P & P variations.Thank you for this post

  5. I have to admit I liked the "Bride & Prejudice" version. However, I watched it with the perception that it was going to be wacky and not a traditional remake. I laughed at the craziness of it...and it's Mr. Collins was one of the worst with his braying laugh! I do not watch it a lot but over the years I have seen it like 3 times.

    Am I the only one who has a bad movie they watch? One that you just like because it is so bad?

    1. Most definitely not. I've liked and rewatched many a bad movie in my day. And I watch Hallmark Christmas movies every year, and lord knows they're not gonna win any prizes! lol

    2. LOL Danielle Not at ALL. I've seen Bride and Prejudice a whopping 4 times! I'm a glutton for punishment. But The Tropes! The Tropes!


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