I recently finished reading Geraldine Brooks‘ March, which I think along with Jean Rhys‘ Wide Sargasso Sea, is only the second parallel novel I’ve read. What’s a parallel novel? According to Wikipedia:
“Parallel novels are written within, or derived from, the framework of another work of fiction by another author. This does not include franchised book series, which are typically works licensed by the publisher of the original work to use its settings and characters … . Works … usually have the same setting and time period, and many of the same characters, but are told from a different perspective”.
So for example in March, Geraldine Brooks took the character of the (absent) father from Little Women – who had gone off to fight in the American Civil War – and wrote an original story recounting his experiences. It’s a powerful book that I enjoyed reading which explores themes such as injustice, a woman’s place, miscommunication, abolitionism, racial bigotry, slavery, and obligations. I last read Little Women when I was, well, little, and couldn’t remember very much about the story but that wasn’t a hindrance in understanding or following the story in March. I’m not surprised it won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, although it has been compared to ‘respectable’ ‘fan fiction‘ (see here).
I read Jean Rhys’ most successful novel, Wide Sargasso Sea, a few years ago, and enjoyed it too, although maybe not quite so much as March. Published in 1966 it acts as a prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, written in 1847. It tells the story of Antoinette Cosway (known as Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre) from the time of her youth in the Caribbean to her unhappy marriage with Mr Rochester and relocation to England. Rhys, who was born in Dominica, re-imagined Brontë’s ‘madwoman in the attic’, and deals largely with the theme of racial inequality. She used several narrative voices: Antoinette, Rochester and Grace Poole (the caretaker). In 2005 WSS was named by Time as one of the 100 best English-language novels since 1923, and is rated N° 94 on the list of Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.
Have you read any parallel novels? I’ve been unable to find any in French – if you are aware of any do let me know in the comments. What about in other languages?
Some other examples of parallel novels:
- The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood (based on Homer’s Odyssey)
- Jack Maggs by Peter Carey (based on Dickens’ Great Expectations)
- Foe by JM Coetzee (based on Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe)
- Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton (based on Beowulf)
- The Hours by Michael Cunningham (based on Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway)
- Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard (based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet)
- Gertrude and Claudius by John Updike (based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet)
- List of fictional works using settings created by other artists (Wikipedia)
- List of/article about parallel novels (West Milford Township Library, New Jersey, USA)