Narrative revisions of King Lear in the twentieth century, unlike rewritings of other Shakespearian plays, are not numerous, but there are at least two novels that can claim a link with Shakespeare’s tragedy of filial ingratitude: Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres (1991) and Angela Carter’s Wise Children (1991). Smiley’s novel is a feminist adaptation in modern dress; Carter’s postmodern farce has its King Lear allegiances diluted in a richer broth of Shakespearian appropriation. Smiley adopts plot, characters and thematic content from King Lear, but alters the narrative’s point of view. Carter, rejecting a direct appropriation of plot and narrative thread, retains some Shakespearian characters and the themes of ingratitude and father–daughter relations.
Over a century before Smiley or Carter found inspiration in King Lear, a Romantic English novelist saw the advantages of rewriting the Shakespearian adaptation of a popular tale about a father and his three daughters. As a rewriting of King Lear, Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (1814) has more in common with Carter’s than with Smiley’s, since the author mostly rejects the storyline but retains themes and characters. Carter, however, rewrites the Shakespearian tragedy to produce a farce and Austen turns King Lear into a tragicomedy. In spite of their differences, they all decentre the Lear figure and rewrite Cordelia, divesting her of any trace of her nineteenth-century attributes, her meek, angelic and suffering nature and her heroic and virtuous disposition.