“It is a truth universally acknowledged that everyone loves a good Jane Austen remake.”
On December 14th, Jane Austen & Company hosted bestselling author Sayantani DasGupta for a live talk and Q & A on diverse YA retellings of Jane Austen. In her talk Sayantani discussed her two Austen YA adapatations, Debating Darcy and Rosewood, while also grappling with the issue of color-consciousness in Austen and other Regency retellings.
Sayantani asks the audience: "What are we doing when we cast Jane Austen adaptations or Regency stories in a color or sexiality conscious way? What does it mean to reenvision an all-white and seemingly heterosexual novel with BIPOC and queer contempary characters? Is it reclaiming the stories as their own or declaring that those stories are for everyone? Or are we letting those stories off the hook from a deeper critique ignoring the oppressive aspects?"
This is one of the main arguments in Debating Darcy between Leela Bose and Fitz William Darcy, Sayantani's Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, respectively. Jane Austen and other Regency adaptations are swapped for the hugely successful Lin-Manuel Miranda musical, Hamilton. Based on the story of American Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton, this musical employs color-conscious casting. Sayantani even argues that Hamilton set the stage for color-consious Regency stories. Leela and Fitz William argues about the aforementioned question of color-consciousness in traditionally and historically white stories. Fitz William describes Hamilton as a "weak apologist play that lets racist enslavers off the hook and makes them seem palatable and cool". Leela, who is a huge fan of Hamilton, argues that it's a" legendary moment in theater history in which Brown and Black people get written into the story of America". Fitz William asks "Why do people of color need to co-opt the majority's stories? Why can't we write our own?". Leela retorts, "Why can't we do both?"
Sayantani admits that there is no simple answer in this debate. For her part she wants to give young Austen fans of color the opportunity to see themselves more fully in Austen's work. She allows the characters in her novels to reflect on this debate themselves without her as the author taking a side one way or another. This may be of the many reasons why Sayantani's novels are well-received by young adults. She allows them to enter the conversation and reach their own conclusions and understandings.
Jane Austen Is For Everyone
Art from Georgie Castilla (Duniath Comics)
When visiting schools Sayantani reminds students that Jane Austen belongs to everyone. This notion is not only embraced in Sayantani's Austen adaptations and other Desi retellings of Austen's works but also in the pleathora of Jane Austen groups such as Black Girl Loves Jane.
Sayantani asserts that Jane Austen's popularity within the Desi community may be due to the centrality of marriage in both Jane Austen's novels and South Asian culture. Bollywood has produced a slew of Austen adapations including Kandukondain Kandukondain (2000) based on Sense and Sensibility and the Emma-inspired Aisha (2010). There is also the Bollywood-inspired, Bride and Prejudice (2004).
Images from Wikipedia
Desi retellings of Austen novels are also popular amongst YA and adult novelists, including Soniah Kamal's Unmarriageable, Sonali Dev's The Rajes Family series, Uzma Jalaluddin's Ayesha At Last, Mahesh Rao's Polite Society, and, of course, DasGupta's own YA novels- Debating Darcy and Rosewood.
Images from Goodreads
Interestingly, this shows that a culture that is presumably far removed from Austen's has much in common. This reinforces the belief that Jane Austen is truly for everyone. Each of us regardless of our background can find something that links us to Austen's works.
Sayatani ended the evening with a Q&A with questions from Jane Austen & Co. panelists and audience members. A recording of Jane Austen & Co.’s third live stream in The Many Flavors of Austen series is currently available on the Jane Austen & Co. website or YouTube.
New York Times bestselling author Sayantani DasGupta has written over ten books, including theNew York Times bestselling author Sayantani DasGupta has written over ten books, including the critically acclaimed, Bengali folktale and string-theory-inspired Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond books, the first of which—The Serpent’s Secret—was a Bank Street Best Book of the Year, a Booklist Best Middle Grade Novel of the 21st Century, and an EB White Read Aloud Honor Book. cally acclaimed, Bengali folktale and string-theory-inspired Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond books, the first of which—The Serpent’s Secret—was a Bank Street Best Book of the Year, a Booklist Best Middle Grade Novel of the 21st Century, and an EB White Read Aloud Honor Book.