JK Rowling’s recent revelation about professor Albus Dumbledore’s off-the-page romance with fellow wizard Gellert Grindelwald has surely paved the way for a progressive update of other literary classics, starting with Jane Austen:
Pride and Prejudice
Of course, Harry Potter is relatively modern. It would be wrong to ignore the barriers broken down by previous authors writing in less progressive times. Jane Austen, for instance, did so by virtue of being a woman writer, but what is often missed is the exploration of financial domination portrayed in her work. “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife” is not so much a promotion of the nuclear family as it is a call for a pay pig. After all, the goal of each of the women in the story is to have a man on his knees in front of her and access to his cash at some point. You think all those corsets, knee-high boots, riding crops and footmen are there by coincidence? It would go some way to explaining why Darcy is perpetually apprehensive of Elizabeth, or why Mr Bennett is so keen to get as many of the girls out of his house as possible.
Lord of the Flies
A brutal portrayal of toxic masculinity, colonialism and, perhaps most inexcusably, fat-shaming, William Golding’s novel could almost have been the inspiration for every academic paper on gender studies ever written. Featuring a troupe of white boys marooned on an island, the characters set about taking over the spit of land, before murdering some of their number due to their regressive views on plus sized people and men who don’t conform to socially constructed heteronormative ideals.
The Merchant of Venice
Portia’s period as a chap demonstrates the privilege afforded to white men when she earns more respect as an unnamed male lawyer than when a wealthy heiress.
What exactly does Squealer get up to after he leaves the farm? Representing Leon Trotsky, it is assumed that his disappearance mirrors that of the revolutionary – an icepick to the back of the head somewhere in Latin America. But, frankly, who is to say it all ends badly for him? Out in the real world, one might assume he would face difficulties, what with being a pig, but if there’s one thing we know it is that modern Britain is an increasingly tolerant place, with opportunities available to all minorities. And, what with the modern trait of Marxists to end up in academia studying obscure nonsense, the progressive version of the story would see him rocking up at SOAS to do a gender studies degree (he was a fan of pigswill, after all), before testing the theory of the Labour party being able to put a donkey up for election in certain constituencies and still winning, by becoming an MP and immediately joining Jeremy Corbyn’s front bench as agriculture minister.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
A meditation on body positivity, this tale helps to express the benefits of eating your way through almost anything, so long as it meets certain criteria of how it is produced, and being happy in your skin. We are never told what happens after the caterpillar becomes a beautiful butterfly, but we can safely assume it could have made it big as an Instagram influencer. From there on in, it would probably secure itself a spot on a TV show like Ex On The Beach, grab itself a cosmetics line, and make regular appearances as a panelist on Loose Women.
Certainly, it’s a more progressive tale than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the story of a wealthy white male industrialist who bequeaths his slave-run diabetes-inducing health-and-safety-flouting empire to another white male, who is clearly not qualified for the job, but had the stones to apply for it anyway.