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Borrowed Characters

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  • Longbourn by Jo Baker book cover, Image courtesy of Syndetics, 2016

Jessica, Hespeler | November 24, 2014

Have you ever finished a good book and wanted MORE? You may be in luck! Many authors have borrowed famous literary characters to create their own great works, both to the joy and derision of fans.

Perhaps you’re looking for a sequel? Emma Tennant chronicles the post-Pride and Prejudice lives of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy in Pemberley. Laura Kalpakian continues the story of Les Miserables in her novel, Cosette. And perhaps most notoriously, Alexandra Ripley finally gives Gone with the Wind a happy ending in Scarlett.

Other authors have chosen to revisit classic stories through parallel novels, told from other characters’ perspectives. In Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys constructs a tragic post-colonial novel from the history of Bertha Mason, Jane Eyre’s mad woman in the attic. Similarly, Gregory Maguire offers a sympathetic portrayal of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz’s nemesis in Wicked: the Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.

Beyond a new perspective on old characters, parallel novels offer a new angle on social issues which often have not been addressed in the original source material. Jo Baker’s Longbourn focuses on the servants who are barely mentioned in Pride and Prejudice (they are too busy with their drudgery to care about upstairs drama). In March, Geraldine Brooks explores the American Civil War through the eyes of Mr. March, who was famously injured in Little Women. Donald McCaig tackles the other side of the Civil War in his Gone with the Wind sequel, Rhett Butler’s People.

It’s always fun to revisit favourite books in new ways, whether you’re looking for a peek at the “happily ever after” or a different take on beloved characters. Check out some of the literary sequels and parallel novels available from Idea Exchange.