Stray thoughts on "revisionist" fictional treatments... TLDR: Strongly agree with author. Remixing is what humans do, and it's good.

If we're complete sticklers for authenticity then we'd have to take all fairy stories and dramatic conventions back, back, back in time to some lost, irrecoverable Ur-narrative. Which, ironically, would probably seem rather alien to us.

The Cinderella story as we know it probably started in Greece; but it was a C17 Italian who dressed it up in the costume and language of his time (Cenerentola) for literate people; sixty years later, a French writer turned it into Cendrillon and introduced the pumpkin and glass slippers... one revision or remix after another! The Brothers Grimm picked it up and turned it into Aschenputtel -- adding some signature "Grimm" and gory twists. And so it goes; Rogers and Hammerstein turned it into a Broadway musical in the 50's; Sondheim wove the (Grimm version) story into his hit musical "Into the Woods," adding a 20th century ironic sensibility.

And in 1997... there was an ambitious multi-racial TV version of the R&H stage hit, starring Whitney Houston as the fairy godmother, Brandy as Cinderella, and Whoopi Goldberg as the Queen. I think of that show as the seed or ancestor of Bridgerton. I think it was the first mainstream Cinderella with a multiracial cast.

So, which of these versions is "authentic"? Is one more authentic than another? Do we have to go back to ancient Greece before we can certify its authenticity? Even that probably wasn't the first version of the story, because it's a universal dream (that the meek will actually inherit the earth, and mean-ness will get its come-uppance). We must have been telling ourselves that story long before we starting writing things down.

We need that story, because life so often is mean and grievous and unfair. And so it gets dressed in the clothes and manners and dreams of whatever generation and culture discovers it and tells it over again.

And that's just fine, because as the author here elegantly points out, "art is often a conversation between the present and the past"... that's how storytelling and music and dance work: we inherit them, and we change them, and we pass them on.

What we now call "remixing" is nothing new, it's just what people have always done... like taking the sturdy armature of a timeless tale and filling it out into a shape we recognise, so that we can see ourselves more clearly in its fun-house mirror. Was Cinderella French? For Perrault she was. But for the author of Cenerentola she was Italian. Why shouldn't she be American and Black?

The Regency Romance is not a deadly serious Historical Novel; it's another kind of fairy tale, a variation on Cinderella. We know how it goes: the unlikely woman in a shallow and competitive social milieu, by her virtue or her spirit and wit triumphs over more powerful competitors, claims the marital and social prize, confounds those who scorned her, finds true love and lives happily ever after. Since it was invented (I would guess by Jane Austen) and refined (mostly by Georgette Heyer), it's become a cultural artefact just as familiar as any Grimm's or Andersen's fairy tale.

Like detective stories, there are cheesy mass-production "Regencies" and more skillfully crafted ones, but we always know what they are and what to expect (like fairy tales): the narrative convention is now set in concrete. (If you change the way a fairy tale works, most kids will correct you: "That's not how it's supposed to go! He doesn't marry the mean girl!") The Regency Romance has dug itself into the collective subconscious. It belongs to us all.

There's an art and a pleasure to accurate historical reconstruction; a meticulously accurate adaptation of Jane Austen can be delightful, like Beethoven played on authentic period instruments by an ensemble typical of the composer's time (much sprightlier than the gargantuan orchestras of C19 that we usually think of). But there's an art and a pleasure no less valid or valuable: creative revisioning, utopian dreaming, sheer exuberant playfulness with the cultural lego blocks all around us. Remixing. It's a good thing. And when it comes to inclusivity, we could do with more of it.

Retired; ex-software engineer. Paleo-feminist. Sailor. Arduino tinkerer. Enviro. Libertarian Socialist (Anarcho-Syndicalist, kinda). Writer. Altermondialiste.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store