The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

Have you seen the Lizzie Bennet Diaries?

This show is AMAZING (and I don’t use caps lightly).

Now if I gave you the 30 second pitch normally ascribed to such projects, you may rightly balk:

a modern Pride and Prejudice adaptation told through video blogs and social media.

(The website is also quite hideous.)

But that doesn’t tell half of the story. And misses out all the good bits.

This is wonderful, blissful, fascinating stuff, whether you’re an Austen lover or not.

It is, I admit, yet another delightful reworking of an age old story, sure, but it is much, much more.

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lizzie bennet

The premise is relatively simple: Lizzie starts creating her own video blogs on YouTube as part of a grad school assignment on social media.

She mostly talks about her family. It’s low-fi, bedroom camera material, both simple and entertaining. The characters are rather well drawn. Her sisters are roped into the vids over time and it all is straightforward, webisode niceness.

The series really begins to shine as the clever modernisation creep in, however.  I’ll give you an example.

The drama of Charlotte’s impending spinsterhood and Lizzie’s willful convictions as painted in the original novel are practically moot in a contemporary context – it would be almost inconceivable that a modern American girl in her twenties would turn down a marriage proposal (to the woeful distress of her mother) and that the guy would end up engaged to her best friend the next day.

So here, the producers make Mr Collins’ proposal a job offer — one that is appealing, relevant, and prestigious (and timely given the family’s strained finances in a recession), but Lizzie’s academic sensibilities consider it a sell-out corporate schlock gig. When Charlotte ultimately takes the proffered job, and saves her family from foreclosing their mortgage, Lizzie and Charlotte have a huge falling out.

But the real star here is how the freshly pragmatic Charlotte handles an ungainly boss and carves a creative life from a soulless office. It lends pathos and a naturalism to the tenderhearted story of friends reunited.

New drama for new times.

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As the story progresses, it is series of goings and comings. Who is in town and who has left whom behind. Who is adventuring, and who they find there.

But the real brilliance of this series is reflecting this overlapping, multi-stranded narrative across a variety of online platforms. As things get more and more complicated, the narrative continues to branch, fleshing out interesting details and giving added depth through characters’ Twitter and Tumblr accounts (you can see what Jane wore the day she met Bing, for example); and through Q&A videos where characters address the viewer comments, there is a direct interaction unavailable in other consumptive models. It’s a multi-faceted hydra of postmodern narrative — and one you can engage with on any and all levels.

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We’re at 80 weekly episodes and counting, and I’ve only recently become engrossed in these sideline stories.

I am rather old fashioned in most of my media consumption and I consider a Twitter feed detailing Caroline’s dinner party plans a sideshow to the love story at hand.

When Bing Lee (get it?) leaves so suddenly after the party and never bothers to call or write Jane, sure,  it stings all the more when he’s actively posting pictures of parties and chatting merrily with other friends and acquaintances online. His lack of communication (and perceived interest) is all the more crushing; but it does not change my perception of events, or my interaction with the story in any great way, and more often than not I’ll leave these additional tidbits on the sidelines, unfussed.

But last week changed everything.

These extra narratives give an opportunity for other eyes and stories left out of the original, especially as this is a first-person account and told through Lizzie’s diary only.

Weeks ago, Lydia started making her own vlogs, initially insipid things from a silly party girl. But then she and Lizzie have a huge fight, and her story takes a turn of its own. This will become her sojourn in Brighton (aka Vegas) and her reunion with Wickham — but through her own eyes, not just the insinuations of letters sent by her caretakers and guardians.

In this rendition, not only do they attempt to tell Lydia’s story — how she meets Wickham again, and how they end up together — but ask why.

Why would a teenage girl suddenly attach herself to her sister’s exboyfriend? Why would said young man be so single-mindedly focused on this girl, after so long a time playing the field? What, if anything, are either of them getting out of this?

I want you to watch it so badly I won’t even tell you what happens, but the play between Wickham and Lydia (who are consciously on camera, sometimes flauntingly so, because of course it’s her videoblog, and we never forget we are explicit viewers and implicit witnesses to all their exchanges) changes everything.

It is meta-narrative for the uber-nerd.

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So, in case the last 700 words has yet to convince you, may I hereby pronounce that this series not only reimagines a favourite novel for a modern age — and fittingly so given this week’s 200th anniversary of its publication — it asks questions and probes the social in social media in ways both philosophical and complex.

If I was still in grad school, I’d probably be writing a paper on the audience interaction — those that fanfic ship all over the comments unaware of the plot twists ahead, those who write candidly to characters, toeing the line of reality and projection, and a million other things which I find fascinating on a grey Tuesday morning.

But instead, I’ll leave you with the ladies themselves.

To Lizzie and Jane, may you enjoy another two hundred years as charming, challenging  and enduring as the last.

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