Jane Austen fans never let the story end

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The many adaptations of Jane Austen
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a good book in possession of a large audience, must be in want of an adaptation.
Book covers courtesy of publishers

"... they were both ever sensible of the warmest gratitude towards the persons who, by bringing her into Derbyshire, had been the means of uniting them."

That's the last line of Jane Austen's classic "Pride and Prejudice." The End. Case closed. Darcy + Lizzie 4EVA.

But for many fans, it was only the beginning. Unwilling to let the story end, they took up their pens and began to rewrite, rework and reimagine.

There are now more than 200 different prequels, sequels and adaptations for Austen's classic love story.

Because "Pride and Prejudice" is no longer under copyright, Darcyphiles so inclined are welcome to bend and twist the tale to their own tastes. They can publish new versions as they please — and in the digital age, "publishing" only requires the click of a button.

The Austen spree is part of a larger, fast-growing world of fan fiction, in which fans of books, films and TV shows write their own stories using the familiar characters. (The world of fan fiction knows no bounds: There are fanfics for everything from Sesame Street to Mr. Clean.)

Fan fiction writers run into a key problem when they want to publish their work, however: The characters are often under copyright. But for Austen, and other classics in the public domain, it's a literary free-for-all.

"When a work of literature enters the public domain, this means that its copyright term has ended," Jennifer Jenkins, head of Duke University's Center for the Study of the Public Domain, explained. "You are free to use and build upon the work without permission or fee."

Which means: Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy are up for grabs for anyone's imagination. And oh, the imaginations. The derivative works come in every shape and style you could possibly imagine.

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains."

Do you wish "Pride and Prejudice" had vampires? Check.

Zombies? Yep.

Do you wish it was set in high school? Already been done.

Have you dreamed of Darcy on the open seas? You're not alone.

Do you just wish you knew what happened next? How about this sequel or this sequel or this one.

There's also "Prom and Prejudice," "Prada and Prejudice," "Spies and Prejudice" ...

Maybe you wish "Pride and Prejudice" had more passion. Well, the carriage windows get steamy in "The Truth About Mr. Darcy" — and there's certainly more where that came from.

Have you ever wondered how Darcy might handle an electric guitar? "Fitzwilliam Darcy: Rock Star" has your answer.

And if you were just dying for a Jane Austen / Napoleon crossover, never fear.

Writers haven't stopped with just Austen's cast of characters; they've taken their artistic liberties with Austen herself. In "The Jane Austen Mysteries," Austen goes full Nancy Drew, wandering around London as an amateur sleuth.

The same freedom that allows this flood of adaptations also limits it. Since anyone can write one, anyone can write one. In other words: Some are better than others.

For one "Pride and Prejudice" adaptation, whose modified plot includes battling obsessive compulsive disorder and adopting an orphan from Vietnam, a Goodreads reviewer wrote: "It was the iceberg lettuce of the book world. ... It's bland, completely tasteless, and lacks much in the way of nutrition."

But while some may be mindless reads, a few Austen adaptations have earned rave reviews. Beloved British crime novelist P.D. James offered her own macabre spin on Austen with "Death Comes to Pemberley." The bestseller "Bridget Jones' Diary" played fast and loose with the plot of "Pride and Prejudice," and inspired a whole new wave of Austen-mania. Finally, Booklist hailed "Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife," a more traditional sequel, as a "wild, bawdy, and utterly enjoyable novel."

But why the obsession with Elizabeth and Darcy? Maybe because they're the king and queen of the literary prom. In a way, these adaptations allow fans to test that perfect love. They've thrown everything they have at them: pirates, infidelity, prom, Napoleon — and still their love survives.

It's also about extending the life of a favorite book: With all these adaptations, the story never has to end.

In fact, for many of these Austen adaptations, "The End" is only the beginning.

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