The Modern Miss Bennet

Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth as Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy in the 1995 BBC adaptation.

One may argue that since the release of the iconic Bridget Jones’ Diary, there has been an over abundance of Pride and Prejudice adaptations. To those people, I say “Yes, you’re probably right, BUT GIVE ME MORE.”

My Austen insanity aside, let’s have a quick look at a few of the more recent adaptations:

Bride and Prejudice (2004) – A surprisingly charming Bollywood retelling.

Pride and Prejudice (2005) – A feature film staring Keira Knightley. It’s still too soon for me to talk about this. Just… I can’t.

Lost in Austen (2008) – An Austen obsessed fan gets sucked into the world of Pride and Prejudice, and whilst trying to maintain the story manages to destroy it in every way possible. I thought this was going to be horrible, but it’s actually incredibly clever and hilarious.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009)Pride and Prejudice. With Zombies. This has been adapted into a game, a graphic novel and there have been talks of a feature film. There has also been a prequel, a sequel and various other spin offs.

Austenland (2007)– Yet another Austen obsessed woman travels to a Jane Austen theme park in an attempt to find her real life Mr. Darcy. There is a film adaptation coming out this year.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries: breathing new life into an Austen classic.

Last year, Pride and Prejudice made its Vlog debut in the form of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries – a modern story where the protagonist, Lizzie Bennet, shares her life with the internet as part of a grad school project.

The show calls itself an “innovative, original episodic video and social media series produced for the web.” In reality, it’s an addictive bi-weekly retelling of Jane Austen’s most iconic tale, in which Darcy is a hipster, Lizzie is a beleaguered grad student and her mother is an aging Southern Belle just as desperate to marry off her daughters as she was in 1813. Oh, and Kitty is an actual cat. LBD is Clueless for the web generation, and viewers experience the story in real time as Lizzie’s videos get interrupted by her sisters, friends – and a certain brooding hero.

In theory, this adaptation should be terrible. In practice, it’s pure genius and has been like crack to both myself, my friends, and a large chunk of the internet population. Luckily for me, I only discovered it several weeks ago and smashed through 80+ episodes in a single day. (Shut up, I know I have a problem.) Now that I have to actually wait for episodes, I spend far too much time on Tuesday and Friday mornings impatiently glaring at my RSS Feed.

My crazy addiction to the latest Jane Austen phenomena may seem perplexing to those who are yet to be exposed. I and other fans know the basic story, so why are we obsessively waiting for each new episode to drop, and cheering wildly (or is that only my house mate and I?) when certain characters are being cute together? Maybe because it’s interesting to see how the show modernizes the characters and situations, and therefore we don’t know exactly how things are going to pan out. This is true. However, it’s also because of the brilliant way in which the show is presented.

As previously mentioned, each episode is presented like it’s happening in real time. This is further emphasised by Q&A episodes, the creation websites for both Pemberley Digital and Collins & Collins, and the characters’ having various social media accounts, such as Twitter, Tumblr and Look Book. These are all utilised to drop titbits of information that allude to events in future episodes, and are incredibly successful at getting viewers excited about what might happen next. Some characters, such as Lydia and Charlotte, also get occasional spin off episodes that depict what’s happening when Lizzie isn’t around.

It’s not all light heartedness and romance though.

Freed from the usual trappings of Regency etiquette, LBD creators Hank Green and Bernie Su are not afraid of exploring the darker side of Pride and Prejudice. At one point in the series, Lizzie is offered the chance to step straight into a well-paying, though dull and demanding job at Collins & Collins. However, she turns it down in favour of finishing her Masters Degree. The secure financial future she is rejecting is real and immediate, just as it was when the original Lizzie refused to marry Mr Collins.

Another constant theme in the show is that of Mrs Bennet being eager to get her daughters out of the house. Initially, we are led to believe that this is because she just wants to see them married. However, we eventually learn that there may be more to it than that, and that there might not be a nest from which her daughters can fly for much longer.

Most disturbing of all is the modernised version of Wickham, who is more than just a charming cad in this retelling. His hold over the increasingly vulnerable Lydia tightens as the episodes progress, and it happens in such a subtle fashion that, to borrow a phrase from Austen herself, “we were in the middle of it before we knew it had begun.”
This storyline in particular greatly highlights the way in which the real-time format of the show, and the relatable nature of its characters, effects the audience. As Lydia and Wickham’s story progressed, comments on Lydia’s videos drastically changed from accolades over his hot abs to links to articles about abusive relationships.

Despite the opinion of high school boys everywhere, Jane Austen wasn’t a mere romance novelist. She was focused primarily on social commentary through parody and characterisation. I think The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is successfully continuing this trend through its more serious storylines and by showing the negative consequences of becoming an internet celebrity.

All in all, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is faithful to the original without being slavish or full of in-jokes – except for maybe when Georgiana suggests that Darcy take a refreshing dip in the Pemberley Digital pool…

LBD is a sharp and clever re-imagining of Austen’s classic that brings social divide, class distinction, and even love into the digital age. Considering that it won Streamy Awards for Best Writing in a Comedy and Best Interactive Program, it seems that the lessons taught by Austen 200 years ago are still relevant today. Furthermore, the cast are so charismatic and charming that one can’t help but fall in love with them immediately.

With that in mind, I implore all Jane Austen fans to start watching it immediately. Feel free to blame me when you marathon it in less than 24 hours.



Filed under Buttons & Screens, Pageturning, Square Eyes

7 responses to “The Modern Miss Bennet

  1. Katie

    I’m not ready for The Lizzie Bennet Diaries to wrap up – it’s far too addictive. And while there’ll never be another Colin, Daniel Gordh is one of my favourite Darcys yet.

  2. And I’ve officially watched far too many episodes before going to work…I feel work is just getting in the way of my watching now.

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