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12 Powerful Literary Classics We Need on the Small Screen

When it comes to stories, I’m all about old-fashioned storytelling. This is perhaps why period dramas have a longstanding invitation in my house, and why celebrating them on The Silver Petticoat Review is such a joy. The library of titles in the period drama genre is endless. From countless Jane Austen retellings to the Bronte sisters, and other underrated dramas, there’s many a story we can discover. Despite this, there are a few literary classics I’ve love to see adapted to the small screen as proper period dramas.

While this list mainly focuses on classics never to get the adaptation treatment, I also feature a few that have already been made because I believe they deserve a more definitive or modern remake. From romances to Gothic dramas, here’s a list of 12 literary classics I’d like to see on my TV screen! Maybe you do too.

12 Powerful Literary Classics We Need on the Small Screen

(Sorted by title, A-Z)


1: Agnes Grey

Written by Anne Brontë

Penned by one of the three Brontë sisters, this story centers on the titular character, Agnes; a woman who is employed as a governess among affluent families. Though I haven’t read the book, I suspect it’s similar to the works of her sisters. It’s time for Anne’s novels to come to the small screen!

2 & 3: An Old-Fashioned Girl and The Inheritance

Written by Louisa May Alcott

Despite An Old-Fashioned Girl being a serialized story, I have no doubt that the right storyteller could create a wonderful adaptation. It’s about a girl named Polly who is caught up in the life of her wealthy friend, Fanny.

Thomas Gibson and Cari Shayne co-star in a scene from The Inheritance. Photo: CBS

In the 90s, there was a 2-hour televised adaptation of The Inheritance, which is, in my book, one of the most underrated but charming stories available. Much as I still love the film (with Thomas Gibson and Meredith Baxter), I’d like to see someone like ITV or BBC adapt it as a story with maybe 3-5 parts.

4: The Blue Castle

Written by L.M. Montgomery

This is a novel I’ve seen praised time and again (and been told to read often). I own a copy but haven’t cracked its spine yet. Its promise of a swoony hero and intelligent heroine makes me curious, and it’s one that definitely needs a quality company to produce and a talented cast to tell its story.

5: The Buccaneers

Written by Edith Warton

Photo: BBC

If the adaptations are an indication, Edith Warton’s novels have one theme: bittersweet endings. BBC adapted this sorrowful novel in the early 90s. However, despite its sorrows, the novel is one I’d be first in line to see remade. It follows American heiresses in the midst of Dukes and Lords during an England season, which promises an excellent plot for a TV series. A less melodramatic approach would benefit Edith Wharton’s brilliant writing.

6: Martin Chuzzlewit

Written by Charles Dickens

12 Literary Stories We Need on the Small Screen
Photo: BBC

There are countless Dickens adaptations, but most seem to be for Oliver Twist or some version of A Christmas Carol. In 1994, the BBC did adapt Martin Chuzzlewit as a miniseries. The story centers on a wealthy man whose inheritance is coveted by more than one family member. While the BBC version is entertaining, it’s also dated and is a story that deserves to be retold for a modern audience. Nevertheless, while we hope for a new adaptation, the 1994 production is also well worth your time. Plus, Pride and Prejudice’s (A&E) Julia Sawalha stars!

7: Mary Barton

Written by Elizabeth Gaskell

Set in Manchester in 1848, the novel originally published anonymously. It follows the plight of its titular character and the impoverished industrial world in which she lives. About Mary Barton, Gaskell is quoted as saying:

How deep might be the romance in the lives of some of those who elbowed me daily in the busy streets of the town in which I resided. I had always felt a deep sympathy with the careworn men, who looked as if doomed to struggle through their lives in strange alternations between work and want.’

This one has similar themes to Gaskell’s North and South, adapted into one of the best period dramas of all time. Furthermore, she also pens the underrated novel Wives and Daughters. So, why not give Mary Barton the same period drama treatment?

8: Our Mutual Friend

Our Mutual Friend - 12 Powerful Literary Classics We Need on the Small Screen
Lizzie and Eugene in “Our Mutual Friend”

Written by Charles Dickens

Much as I do enjoy the 90s version of this starring Keeley Hawes, once again, I’d really like to see ITV or even BBC take this one on again. While the 90s cast is phenomenal, I definitely believe it’s time for an updated adaptation of Dickens’ story.

9: Pat of Silver Brush and Mistress Pat

Written by L.M. Montgomery

This one sounds bittersweet and as if it’d have notes of Persuasion, but it’s also L.M. Montgomery, and with the right team, I think it could indeed be a sight to behold. There are just so many of  L.M. Montgomery’s literary stories that truly deserve just as much attention as Anne of Green Gables.

10: Persuasion

Written by Jane Austen

Persuasion (2007): Photo: ITV

This is more of a personal choice since there is more than one adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel and a sort of recent one at that. Still, I’m including Persuasion because I don’t think I’ve seen the definitive version just yet.

11: Sanditon

Written by Jane Austen

This one actually does have an in-the-works adaptation, so adding it to the list might be cheating. Still, I’m so excited to see Austen’s unfinished novel brought alive by the talented Andrew Davies (A&E’s Pride and Prejudice). Somehow, it seemed like it earned a spot. Who is super excited for a new Jane Austen story to hit the small screen?

12: Villette

Written by Charlotte Brontë

Villette is one Brontë story I’m very unfamiliar with. It’s said to follow a heroine named Lucy who travels from England to France where, as a teacher, she’s “drawn into adventure and romance.” Plus, Virginia Woolf even called Villette Charlotte’s “finest novel,” so why do we still not have a proper adaptation of this Bronte classic?

“It is with a description of a storm that Charlotte ends her finest novel Villette.” – Virginia Woolf

This is only a brief overview list of literary classics I’d like to as a visionary masterpiece. Of course, there are also many others from authors like Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Dodie Smith (I Capture the Castle), Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen (The Watsons), L.M. Montgomery, and more. These are the current literary stories on my mind.

Tell me, which of these 12 literary stories, or any classic piece of literature, would you like to see adapted to screen? Sound off with all of your thoughts below.

Top Photo: Our Mutual Friend (Photo: BBC)

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By on May 8th, 2019

About Rissi JC

Rissi is a self-diagnosed Bookaholic and TV fandom addict. She’s currently an avid blogger and reader who enjoys interacting with readers, and often dreams about finishing her first novel. When not writing or reading, she can be found working as an INSPYs advisory board member or contributing to e-zines. Her scribbles are housed on her blog Finding Wonderland (https://www.rissiwrites.com).

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12 thoughts on “12 Powerful Literary Classics We Need on the Small Screen”

  1. I agree with you that L.M. Montgomery has gotten short shrift compared to other authors in having her work adapted for the screen. I’m not sure why, since Anne of Green Gables is such a classic. I finally read The Blue Castle last year and the heroine is one of my favorites ever. Montgomery’s Emily series would also be a great choice for the screen.

    I would also love to see Anne Bronte’s novel adapted along with Charlotte’s masterpiece Villette and Gaskill’s Mary Barton.

    One of the things I love about this list is all the choices feature such strong female characters.

    • I haven’t even read anything by L.M. Montgomery (I KNOW!!), but feel like more of her works should make it to the small screen. I wonder if British companies don’t because she’s not a British author….? Must prioritize “The Blue Castle.”

      I’ve heard amazing things about Villette, and am always glad for more from Elizabeth Gaskell.

      Gotta love these feisty heroines from classic literature. I think these authors knew how to write them best. 🙂

      Thanks for sharing your informed thoughts, Brittaney; always glad to chat with you!

  2. Top of my list is Rainbow Valley and Rilla of Ingleside, proving L. M. Montgomery’s works do indeed deserve more attention from the adaptation community than they currently have. Persuasion, Our Mutual Friend and The Blue Castle are also ones I’d be first in line to watch new versions of.

    Lastly, I could not agree more with your choice to place The Inheritance on the list. The only adaptation we have to watch, while sweet, dosen’t resemble the story it’s based on much at all; I would LOVE to see it brought to life much more accurately.

    • L .M. Montgomery for the win! I absolutely adore all her books, and The Blue Castle just might be my favorite. It’s a must read, and I have been hoping/wishing for a screen adaptation for years. The Pat books are also excellent, as are the Emily books – I would love to see adaptations of all of them!

    • OK, so who do we write to make all these adaptations HAPPEN!? 😉

      I haven’t read about “Rainbow Valley” (at least not that I remember), but love the sound of it. While I do like the newer Persuasion, I haven’t seen an adaptation that really captures me. Sad since I adore the story!

      …I also adore “The Inheritance” (despite its outdated film-making quality), and must confess, I don’t remember loving the novel. Still, I’d re-read it it, especially if there were rumors of a re-make!! 🙂 Thanks for the comment, Kristy.

  3. Do read The Blue Castle, it’s a delight. And I didn’t realize how much I would really like to see new adaptations of Our Mutual Friend or The Inheritance until you pointed it out. And I would add The Witch of Blackbird Pond to this list. It would make such a riveting thing to watch!!

    • I’m so glad you also enjoyed “The Blue Castle,” Amanda! So many people have told me it’s a must-read, I just haven’t made the time. Maybe this summer I will. 🙂

      Ooo! Your pick is a new-to-me title. I like the sound of it though; makes me want to look it up and read its synopsis!! 🙂

      Thanks for the comment.


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