by Madison Palmieri ’22 A&E Staff
Love it or hate it, participating in the Development of Western Civilization program is a requirement for all Providence College students. While many are content to spend only a week with Augustine, Austen, Socrates, and Shakespeare, some leave the program fascinated by these authors and their works. One way for students to satisfy this intellectual curiosity is by reading modern retellings of the classics they encounter in class. In recent years, such adaptations have become a popular phenomenon in literature, thus providing readers with a wide range of retold works to enjoy.
The Odyssey, for instance, is reworked in Francesca Lia Block’s Love in the Time of Global Warming. This novel tells the story of a young woman named Penelope living in the wake of a catastrophic event, the Earth Shaker, which has devastated the city of Los Angeles. Readers follow Penelope’s journey to safety and her reunion with her family. Parallels to The Odyssey exist not only in the heroine’s name and the nature of her voyage, but also through a direct connection to the epic poem—Penelope carries a copy of Homer’s great myth with her as she navigates the post-apocalyptic world.
Likewise, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller recounts the events of The Iliad from the perspective of the titular Achilles’ close friend and confidante, Patroclus. Miller begins the story with memories from their shared boyhood in Phthia and ends with the course of events from its source material. Miller’s adaptation of this epic makes for a satisfying read because it offers the comfort of familiar characters and stories but explores them in a new and thought-provoking way.
Miguel De Cervantes’ Don Quixote finds a modern-day counterpart in Libba Bray’s Going Bovine. This retelling follows high school student Cameron, who has been diagnosed with Mad Cow Disease and must come to terms with the fact that he is going to die. The fantastical Dulcie enters his life with the promise of a cure, and the two embark on a journey across America during which they wrestle with questions about life and reality, similar to those addressed by Cervantes in his masterpiece.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen has received a great deal of attention from writers as they reimagine the premise of the original novel in nearly every conceivable way. The most popular versions of these retellings, those that take place in high school, are told from the character Elizabeth Bennet’s perspective. These books are relatively light reads that tend to maintain elements of the original love story and dispense with the underlying themes of classism and marriage. Tiffany Schmidt’s Bookish Boyfriends: A Date with Darcy and Elizabeth Eulberg’s Prom and Prejudice exemplify this subcategory of Austenian adaptations.
While some students may rejoice when they no longer have to examine classic works, those who wish they could take DWC for all four years of college may find intriguing reads in these modern adaptations.