The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (LBD) is a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice that has been unfolding across the internet over the last few months. It works because it doesn't try to be what it isn't. This is a video blog, and it follows the conventions of video blogging that you can see on a thousand other YouTube channels. The story is told through direct-to-camera vloging with only the Bennet sisters and Charlotte Lu (the series's name for Charlotte Lucas) appearing on camera. All other scenes are acted out (in delightfully campy, silly recreations) by these few actresses.
How do they modernize it, you ask? Good question:
Poor Lizzie Bennet! She’s in graduate school, stuck at home, and chafing under a mother who is all too eager to find a husband for Lizzie (and her sisters). You can follow all of Lizzie’s trials and triumphs on her YouTube channel, her Tumblr, her Twitter account, and so on (all of which can be accessed from here).
It can take an episode or two to warm to Lizzie herself, because she captures that blend of overwrought self-concern and casual proto-snark that were something of a hallmark of Jane Austen’s more popular characters.
The other part of what makes LBD work so well is that while the storytelling is thoroughly modern, the plot itself is remarkably faithful to the original novel. Even single lines are recognizable, if you know the book very well. (For example: "Only the deepest love will persuade me into matrimony which is why I shall end up an old maid" becomes "Only the deepest love should lead to marriage. Seriously, remember that. Which is probably why Jane will live in a mansion, and I will end up a spinster.”) This means that LBD works well for someone who has never read Pride and Prejudice, but works brilliantly for those who have, which is no small number.
Pride and Prejudice has held onto its relevancy with astonishing tenacity. Ten years ago a BBC poll found it to be the second most-loved book in Great Britain (after Lord of the Rings), and about 5 years ago an Australian poll put it at number one in a list of the best books ever written (the same place it holds in a 100 favorite books poll conducted among librarians). The story has inspired scores of romantic spinoffs as well as genre riffs in Bollywood (Bride and Prejudice), murder mystery (Death Comes To Pemberley), sci-fi (Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens), and horror (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). I happen to know that even the Senior Editor of Mindhut and one of the writers attended a Pride and Prejudice party after first reading the book in high school.
With a story that has maintained this kind of hold on modern readers it’s natural that a modern retelling of this sort should appear, but it is fortunate that it should be of such high quality. We have a pretty good idea how the story ends, but that’s not going to stop us from riding this vlog all the way to the last stop.
What do you think of modern retellings like LBDS and Sherlock? What other classic novels would you like to see vlog-ified?