Yesterday, Mr. Darcy blew up the Internet.
Since the modern-day Lizzie Bennett uploaded her first video diary on YouTube six months ago, tens of thousands of Austen fans have been holding their figurative breaths in anticipation of seeing the one, the only, the Darcy. Dubbed “Darcy Day” (as if it needed any more hype!) it was, despite my worries, not a disappointment.
So…time for a review of the entire show up to this point!
(The show is a creation of Bernie Su and Hank Green. Read more about them here.)
Let’s start with the limitations and end with the best parts!
Limitations of Vlogging.
Most of the 21st-century Pride & Prejudice adaptation takes place through Lizzie’s video diaries, and through off-shoots with other characters. This means only the parts of the story Lizzie rants about, or parts her sisters and friends mention while bursting into the room, are going to make it on screen. So:
- We don’t see all the characters. The first episodes introduce us to a core cast of Lizzie, Jane, Lydia and Charlotte. Added characters have brought it up to about a dozen now, and we meet the rest through Lizzie’s hilarious costumed dramatizations. But Lizzie’s father is rarely even mentioned, and I miss him. Though this does illustrate his laziness as a father, his closeness to Lizzie and his eventually letting her down are important points too. But writer Bernie Su aptly noted that, as people rarely rant about the stable things in their lives, Lizzie’s not likely to talk about him in her videos…yet.
- We get a slanted view. Because the video diary format lends itself chiefly to ranting, we see lots of the “I hate Darcy” Lizzie but little of the cool and composed wit Lizzie is when she’s meeting people in daily life. Fortunately, the other characters’ differing personalities and opinions—and the brilliantly-written hypocrisy of Lizzie’s prejudice—give us a fuller understanding of the truth.
Limitations of Modern Society.
Morals, prudence and good breeding, all major themes in the novel, don’t carry the weight today they did then, which makes parts of the story difficult to adapt:
- Mr. Collin’s proposal and the entailing of the Bennett estate to him don’t apply in today’s world, and the writers’ solution SPOILER ALERT to change the marriage proposal into a job offer only has about 50% of the moral/emotional conflict as the original—choosing a business partner and choosing a life partner are two very different things, whether or not dropping out of college is a factor.
- Wickham’s sin of stealing Lydia’s maidenhood means little to a society that largely accepts sex outside of marriage, with a Lydia who obviously lost her virginity long ago. One must assume his racket is more on the level of pornography, prostitution, and/or sex trafficking, but we have yet to find out.
- The trickiest adaptation is Lizzie herself. Book Lizzie is a mixture of morals, prudence and spunk. How is that transposed for 2012? Vlog Lizzie occasionally uses language and expresses views that I don’t think even a modern Lizzie would. But I am more conservative than most people—and considered through the worldview of the writers, they have created quite an accurate picture of Lizzie Bennett.
Why Lizzie Bennett Diaries is so much fun
A million reasons! I’ll restrict myself to seven.
- It’s a story I have loved for years, but it’s like I get to experience it all for the first time again.
- I love seeing how closely even some of the dialogue matches the book.
- I love trying to guess how they’ll adapt the next plot twist.
- I love following the story across multiple mediums (media?): not just on YouTube, but through the characters’ Tumblrs and Twitter pages.
- I love seeing new depth in secondary characters:
- Lydia – the first adaptation I’ve seen that explores why Lydia acts the way she does. It doesn’t make her behavior excusable, but makes it understandable. We can feel for her, and even like her.
- Mary – cousin instead of sister, is cool and together and becomes more of a positive influence on Lydia than Book Mary ever was. She’s probably the least faithful adaptation of all the characters, but we like her tremendously.
- Maria – Charlotte’s sister—remember her?—has a brief but memorable role in her own short vlog series. She’s a refreshingly normal Doctor Who-loving nerd, and we get the feeling she’s just as excited by the story going on around her as we are. She’s the one we can relate to when Jane is too perfect, Lydia is too crazy, and Lizzie too angry—and all of them too iconic. Maria is us.
- Jane imitating Darcy. Priceless.
- I love connecting to a community that’s even crazier about it all than I am.
In short, Lizzie Bennett Diaries is a smart, moving, and funny adaptation, and a fascinatingly clever use of modern technology to tell an old story in a new way. I don’t believe the traditional novel will ever go out of style, but heads up: there are new outlets for storytelling. Don’t tie yourself down to traditional. Think outside the book.