Northern Mummy

General thoughts and wittering about all sorts of things

Austen in the Twenty-First Century?

on November 8, 2012

Those of you who’ve read some of my past posts will know of my great love of Jane Austen’s novels, and how in 2010 I enjoyed taking part in a challenge to read not only her own novels but also various tributes, sequels and prequels.  Recently, my attention was drawn to something new in this vein which on investigation turned out to be a lot of fun, so I thought I’d share it with you here.

It would appear that someone has had the idea to have a modern-day Elizabeth Bennet broadcast her experiences as a vlog on YouTube.  It’s called The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and apparently a new “episode” is added every Monday and Thursday, effectively making it a TV series (which is in fact how it’s listed on IMDB), although each broadcast lasts only about 5 minutes.  What’s interesting about it is that the vlog style first of all allows events to be reported by Lizzie, rather than appearing on screen themselves, making it inevitable that we see things through her eyes, as we do in Pride and Prejudice.  Secondly, the five minute, twice-weekly broadcasts give the action the appearance of happening almost in real time (and she refers to the time of year at some points, e.g. summer holidays – she’s a grad-school student – Hallowe’en, etc) which is a fascinating way of allowing the events to unfold.

So far there have been 61 episodes*, and you can watch them all in order by going to this page.  Although each vlog-post is very short, the whole lot runs to more than 4 hours in length so you might need to watch them over a period of time!  The broadcasts began in April and I think they must have got to about half way through the book, from the way the plot has unfolded so far.

Briefly, the premise is that Lizzie is studying Mass Communications at Grad School and her friend Charlotte Lu is studying Film and TV production, so together they’ve created the vlog to explore that aspect of film and communication.  She begins by introducing her family (just the two sisters in this, Jane and Lydia – Mary is now their (emo!) cousin and Kitty is Lydia’s cat!) and talking about her life.  Before long, events start to unfold in a similar way to the book (although obviously with some updating, which for the most part is clever and enjoyable) but the creators have done a good job of making the whole thing feel spontaneous and very fresh, rather than a planned, scripted performance.  An example is a recent episode which depicts a well-known Incident from the novel (which takes Lizzie by surprise) as something which happened just after she had finished filming the previous part and therefore got caught on camera by accident!

Throughout the course of the films so far the viewer gets to meets some of the other characters although at many points Lizzie, sometimes aided by Charlotte or one of her sisters, recounts conversations and scenarios which have taken place by using hats, props and particular voices to portray different characters – the same ones each time so that they soon become familiar to the viewer.  This has become a popular recurring feature of the shows and is particularly fun when someone else such as Lydia plays Lizzie whilst Lizzie plays someone else.

Over the last few months the idea has obviously really taken off and many of the characters (in addition to the show itself) now have Facebook pages and Twitter.  There’s a blog on tumblr, several Q&A videos have appeared as Saturday bonuses and two of the characters, Lydia and Maria, have vlogs of their own (I haven’t watched all of those but Lydia is shaping up to be a very entertaining character so her messages are bound to be interesting!)

All in all I feel this is turning out to be a very good reworking of Pride & Prejudice – there’s enough tweaks of the plot to make it believable as a modern-day scenario (although I did have slight trouble accepting that a mother would be quite so quick to start talking about marriage once her daughter had got a boyfriend – even the most marriage-obsessed usually wait a little longer!) whilst remaining faithful to the themes and ideas in the original novel.  Because most of it’s so easy to believe, it demonstrates once again how, whilst Austen’s world and culture might be long-gone, the themes she discusses are still pretty well applicable in the modern world and that some things don’t change, especially where relationships (of all kinds) are concerned.

Some of the comments underneath the clips are interesting, as viewers discuss why certain elements are portrayed in the way they are, almost like an online college seminar! (Word of warning though: don’t go to the comments unless you’ve read the book or are unconcerned about “spoilers” as there have been several complaints about the comments revealing what’s coming next!).  As with any TV dramatisation or updated classic, I don’t suppose we’ll ever know how many people, if any, are prompted to read the originals or explore the author or the genre, but it certainly goes to show that there’s always a market for classic literature, if you package it in the right way.

Give it a try, and don’t forget to let me know what you think!


*Another episode has been added as I’ve been typing this!


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