How The Lizzie Bennet Diaries Brought Jane Austen into the 21st Century

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This post contains minor spoilers for Pride and Prejudice and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.

Today was the first Monday that a new episode of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries was not uploaded to YouTube.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries – the popular web series that transplants Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice right into the 21st century – ended its run on Thursday, wrapping up a revolutionary take on a universally loved story.

Before discovering The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, I had been hesitant to dive into the world of new media. It’s so vast and ever-changing, and I was worried that I would get sucked into a black hole. I had sampled web series with Felicia Day’s The Guild and StarKid’s Little White Lie. But The Lizzie Bennet Diaries opened my eyes to the power of this new method of storytelling.

In this imagining, Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet is now a 24 year old master’s student of mass communications who decides to start a vlog about her life. Her best friend Charlotte Lu helps her edit and even appears on camera sometimes, as do Lizzie sisters Jane and Lydia. As the story progresses, we meet the likes of Ricky Collins, Bing and Caroline Lee, George Wickham, Fitz Williams, and Gigi and William Darcy.  Not only the names have been changed – for example, the Pemberley estate of Pride and Prejudice has become the company Pemberley Digital.

The story is told entirely in vlog style, though, in order for certain events to be on camera, characters will often spontaneously walk in on Lizzie recording her videos. Lizzie does costume theater to fill the viewer in on some events to which he was not privy, including all the scenes with her parents. There are even spinoff video channels – including The Lydia Bennet – to explain events that happen outside Lizzie’s realm of knowledge. Each character is also on Twitter, and some are on Tumblr and Pinterest, making the story unfold across multiple social media platforms.

But the brilliance of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is not just in its form – it’s how it has made the story of Pride and Prejudice fit into the modern world.

I don’t want to give away many spoilers, but I must say that the spins the story took on the book’s Mr. Collins/Charlotte marriage and the whole Mr. Wickham/Lydia affair feel fresh and surprisingly realistic in today’s media-saturated environment.  It treats the Wickham debacle in a more overt way than would have been possible for Jane Austen.  It is a testament to to creative powers of the producers that fans of the book were willing to embrace big changes to Austen’s original story.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries shows us that the great stories are indeed timeless.  Pride and Prejudice does not need nineteenth century England to be a great story.  It does not necessarily need Austen’s witty prose (not to discount her writing in any way, of course).  A good story is a good story – no matter how, when, where, why, or through what medium it is told.

It seems as though the people behind The Lizzie Bennet Diaries are tackling Jane Austen’s unfinished manuscript Sanditon next in a project entitled Welcome to Sanditon.  I haven’t read it (I actually haven’t finished any Austen novel besides Pride and Prejudice…shh…), but I’m curious to see how the series will play out.  Maybe I’ll have a glance at Sanditon before it starts.

Have you watched The Lizzie Bennet Diaries? What did you find make of the changes to the story? More broadly, how do you feel about storytelling through new media?

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8 thoughts on “How The Lizzie Bennet Diaries Brought Jane Austen into the 21st Century

  1. I love the whole premise of adapting classic novels to the modern world and telling those stories through media that is accessible to tech-obsessed teens/young adults (plot changes and all!), but I wasn’t impressed by The Lizzie Bennett Diaries. The actors weren’t believable enough, and the whole thing felt artificial and contrived to me as a result. I still watched most of the episodes anyway out of love for P&P, and I do look forward to seeing where things go with this storytelling technique, but I definitely expected more out of LBD.

    • I get where you’re coming from. There were also times when I felt the story was a bit contrived (like the Domino part), and they probably used “someone accidentally walking in on Lizzie recording” a few too many times. But I think they did the best they could given the limits of the vlog style. I’m also curious to see how the technique changes over time, and maybe people will find a way to work out some of these problems. I do find it exciting that we’re in the beginning of the evolution of a new medium of storytelling.

  2. Although I’m usually rather suspicious about all the “modernized” adaptations (they especially like to do it with Shakespeare :)), I immediately fell in love with LBD. I liked the format, the cast, and how they interpreted the story. I was really waiting to see how they would render such-and-such situation, and wasn’t disappointed! It’s a pity they are finished, although it’s good they are not overstretched) And I’m glad that the team continues working, I’m looking forward to their new projects!

    • Modernizatons can be hit-or-miss, but I think that as far as adapting the story is concerned, the LBD was a hit. I too was always looking forward to how they would handle each twist once I realized that they were going to make major departures, and I also found the changes to be relatively in-line with the original story. Good point about them not overstretching themselves – they definitely stopped while they were still on top.

  3. I loved the LBD. It was so creative how they modernized the story, and the use of different social media platforms made it so interactive. I thought at times the story dragged a little, but overall I thoroughly enjoyed it! I’m actually kind of sad not to have the next installment to look forward to. Well reviewed!

    • Thanks! I almost found the social media stuff to be the most creative element. I see what you mean about the story dragging a bit – I remember thinking some episodes felt like filler – but, hopefully, pacing will be ironed out in the future projects. It is a bit sad that the show is done, but I’m really curious to see how the Sanditon project turns out and what (if anything) will come after that.

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