By Ashley Huggins
People often like to think themselves more creative than they actually are; all too often, the same themes and storylines seem to appear in various forms, be it film, television, literature, art, even social media. Despite similar themes being echoed in all of these formats, people keep finding more unique, unexpected places to create. Classic literature, for example, manages to continue asserting its relevance decades and centuries after its original inception by inspiring individuals to revamp the stories for a modern audience. Sometimes, as evidenced by innumerable cinematic adaptations of famous novels, the influence is direct, purposefully following a predetermined storyline while putting some sort of artistic spin on the material. Other times, the influence is subtler, as the material simply shares common themes that allow the audience to draw parallels between the two sources.
One such case of intentional adaptation is that of “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,” a web series launched on YouTube and modeled after Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The series is setup as Elizabeth Bennet’s personal vlog; each new video is essentially a public video diary entry. Clearly, this story does not take place in 19th century England. However, the characters and events remain, for the most part, the same, simply taken less literally and presented as something that could feasibly exist in modern times. For example, Darcy is no longer a wealthy gentleman, but rather an arrogant hipster, and Bing Lee (known as Charles Bingley in the novel) throws house parties rather than elaborate balls.
Perhaps the most compelling adapted storyline in the series, though, revolves around the relationship between Lizzie and her best friend, Charlotte. Charlotte seems to have a larger role in this series than in the novel, appearing in almost every episode instead of only the occasional page or two in the book. This relationship, in and of itself, reflects modern relationship dynamics more than those of Austen-era society; while Lizzie in the novel was constantly preoccupied with family affairs, this Lizzie, though still preoccupied with family affairs, is more independent and thus is not obligated to center her life around her family. This lets Charlotte take a more central role in the video blogs.
This spirit of independence dominates the tone of “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.” Of course, as anyone who has read Pride and Prejudice can attest, Elizabeth Bennet has always been fiercely independent. She defies her mother’s attempts to marry her and her sisters off to the next wealthy suitor to come to town and does not generally act the way a well-mannered young woman should. Lizzie’s mother is just as obsessed with marriage in the YouTube vlogs as in the novel, however, not everyone else shares this obsession. Charlotte is the prime example of the shift away from a matrimonial focus. In the book, much to her mother’s distress, Elizabeth Bennet rejects a marriage proposal from the well-off, but senseless, Mr. Collins. After this rejection, Mr. Collins turns to Charlotte, who accepts his proposal for marriage out of desperation. Such a scenario doesn’t exactly translate to today’s society, as it is no longer necessary for a woman to marry. What is often more important – especially in the current economy – is having a job. Just like that, Mr. Collins is no longer a potential husband; he is a potential boss. While Lizzie naturally views the job offer as offensive, hating even the idea of working with Mr. Collins, Charlotte seizes upon the practicality of the offer, desiring a stable job for paying off student loans (in contrast to wanting a husband to prevent her from becoming a family burden). The choice surely resonates with many people who have had to give up on their dreams in the face of reality, and switching the marriage proposal with a job offer maintains the novel’s theme of holding out for true love/passion, only for a career, not a man.
“The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” is easily compared to its source material; there is not always such a direct comparison. However, the video diary format is unexpected and innovative, allowing viewers to experience Pride and Prejudice as it could exist in modern times.