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Contemporary Retellings of Classic Stories: Background information when reading Beautiful Little Fools

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Beautiful Little Fools

A Novel

by Jillian Cantor

Beautiful Little Fools by Jillian Cantor X
Beautiful Little Fools by Jillian Cantor
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2022, 368 pages

    Paperback:
    Feb 2022, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jordan Lynch
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Contemporary Retellings of Classic Stories

This article relates to Beautiful Little Fools

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Beautiful Little Fools by Jillian Cantor is a feminist reimagining of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic American novel, The Great Gatsby (1925). Instead of retaining Nick Carraway as the narrator, Cantor retells the story from the viewpoints of the novel's women. Daisy Buchanan, Jordan Baker and Catherine McCoy were all secondary characters in the original book. Retellings such as Cantor's often allow the stories of secondary and minor characters to be brought to life, driven perhaps by the desires of authors and readers alike to expand upon the original version. While there are many retellings set in the modern day, the following take place in the same time period as the book they are reimagining.

Retellings Book Covers

Retellings have grown in popularity over the past two decades, especially as the copyrights of many classic novels have expired and the books have entered the public domain. This process allows authors to freely expand upon the original narrative and tell a story in a new and unique way. The Great Gatsby entered the public domain at the beginning of 2021, and several authors have already published books placing a spotlight on its secondary characters. Like Beautiful Little Fools, Nghi Vo's The Chosen and the Beautiful (2021) delves into the character of Jordan Baker. Vo rewrites Baker as a queer Vietnamese woman who is not only a golf star but a magician. Although Vo's debut novel retains much of the original plot, it is told from Jordan's point of view, and the addition of the supernatural helps the story stand on its own. The Chosen and the Beautiful is lauded as a fantastical retelling featuring a new perspective that allows readers to explore the sexism, racism and classism of the 1920s.

Other retellings have also reimagined classic literature from alternate points of view. The novel Jane Eyre (1847) has been retold by Jane's love interest in Mr. Rochester (2017) by Sarah Shoemaker. Fellow 19th-century classic Pride and Prejudice (1813) has been reimagined from many points of view. Among the most notable are three books written from the perspectives of other women in the Bennett household: middle sister Mary in both The Other Bennett Sister (2020) by Janice Hadlow and Jennifer Paynter's The Forgotten Sister (2014), and housemaid Sarah in Longbourn (2013) by Jo Baker. Like Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice has also been retold from the man's point of view; Mr. Darcy's Diary (2007) by Amanda Grange tells the enemies-to-lovers romance through the personal diary of Elizabeth Bennett's love interest. Grange has, in fact, retold several of Jane Austen's novels from the male lead's point of view, including Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility and Emma. The fact that these stories are retold from a male perspective is interesting, as many ancient tales originally told from a man's point of view have more recently been rewritten from the perspective of women (such as Circe (2018) by Madeline Miller and Ariadne (2021) by Jennifer Saint).

There have also been many retellings written for young adults; these books cover a wide range of genres and source material. Kierstan White's The Guinevere Deception (2019) is based on Arthurian legend, and Rachel Caine's Prince of Shadows (2014) retells Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Famous children's stories such as Peter Pan and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland have been rewritten from the points of view of the villains: Lost Boy (2017) by Christina Henry tells the story of Jamie, a young boy who grows up to become the infamous Captain Hook, while the terrifying Queen of Hearts is reintroduced as Catherine, a talented baker forced into an unwanted royal marriage in Marissa Meyer's Heartless (2016).

Although some readers may always prefer the original story, reimagined tales often breathe new life into classic literature. New versions of an old story can help the narrative find relevance in a culture that has typically changed since the initial publication. Alternate points of view, for example, allow readers to explore the story through the eyes of damsels in distress, over-the-top villains, and characters of different races, religions, and ethnicities. Because these characters were not the heroes in the original works, they were often underdeveloped despite often being important to the story. Retellings such as Beautiful Little Fools can provide a new perspective and satisfy a reader's desire to re-experience an old favorite as if for the first time.

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Article by Jordan Lynch

This article relates to Beautiful Little Fools. It first ran in the February 2, 2022 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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