Turning what’s old into new: Pride and Prejudice for the next generation

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

“It’s a truth universally acknowledged that…” Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is a timeless classic. Internet giant Hank Green came up with the idea to turn classic novels into a medium that today’s generation would understand and enjoy, a video blog. Green along with a trans-media team lead by Bernie Su, now called Pemberley Digital, created The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. What makes this adaptation unique is that it crossed all realms of social media  and interaction. To create a full story they utilized YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, and more. The success of this adaptation has even spawned a book version, the irony is not lost that it was originally based off a book. It has even won an Emmy Award!

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries created over 150 video episodes over 5 YouTube channels, or over 9.5 hours of video, and has over 40 million views on these videos. They also created 35 corresponding social media accounts. The most important product that was created is the bond between audience and characters. This has led to over 200,000 subscribers and over 800 Lizzie-inspired fan fiction stories and fan art.

Why is it Worth Saving?

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries first and foremost created a wide community. This community, and fan-base, can interact and experience Pride and Prejudice in a way they couldn’t before. Some classics have an interactive quality to them, for instance, Romeo and Juliet can be viewed as a play or movie. Pride and Prejudice always had a “stuffy” quality to it, an immoveable quality. Using contemporary actors makes the characters seem more relatable, also by having them go through similar modern-day struggles. It is important to note that the adult characters, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, are never seen on camera. This brings in the young audience even more.

What makes this version superior to other adaptations is how it makes all of the characters accessible. It was always intended for each character to have at least 2 social media accounts, however, some have more than others. Each character had a perfectly crafted Internet presence for their character. Because social media is inherently social, it allows the characters in the actual story to interact with its audience. Even if someone doesn’t follow the videos they are able to completely follow along the story through Twitter, Tumblr, etc.

During the original airing of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, there was such a strong response from viewers that the 4th wall between audience and video had to be broken. There were several Q&A videos, not necessarily related to the story, and allowed the viewers to submit questions on Twitter and the comment section of the YouTube videos. The “characters” selected questions and comments to respond to in the video, and even went so far as to interacting with the community within the comment section itself. Also on the Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook pages there was interaction between the community and the characters.

Because this is the most modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, it has more of an impact on those it is targeted for. More than entertainment, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries has become an educational tool. Pride and Prejudice is taught in most high schools and colleges, teachers can use this web series to get students involved and interested in what they are learning.

Community

The community that founded because of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is a dedicated and passionate one. What makes this group special is that some are familiar with Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, some are diehard fans of the original, and many of whom have no idea what Pride and Prejudice or who Jane Austen is! The creators of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries took this into account so while the majority of the storyline is predictable, they also threw in modern-day twists to keep everyone engaged. The fervor around individual characters led the creators to create 4 spin-off, simultaneous YouTube channels and storylines.

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This fandom for The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, despite originally airing in 2012-2013, has not died down. Views on all of the videos continue to go up, as well as subscriber numbers. At the time of investigating this, the most recent comment on the first video, “My Name is Lizzie Bennet,” is from 1 week ago. The attention and love for this series has not died down one bit. All of the social media pages are still live, however, not active. While there are no more updates from the characters, viewers still feel a connection and need to interact with them. Attention has also been steady due to the Emmy nomination and win for Best Web Series, the related book release, and DVD release of the YouTube videos.

Pemberley Digital has also taken the success of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and used to create similar series for other classics, such as Emma Approved (Jane Austen’s Emma), Welcome to Sanditon (Jane Austen’s unfinished novel Sanditon), The March Family Letters (Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women), and Frankenstein M.D. (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein). People who like one of these series often discover another and so another fan is made.

My Thoughts

Personally, I am a fan of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. I found out about it because I am a fan of Pride and Prejudice since I was young. However, through watching it I too learned the timelessness of the story. There have been many adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, but this by far is the best interpretation. Each aspect of this version is important, from the various Twitter feeds to the YouTube videos themselves, even down to the comment section on each video. Every aspect contains pertinent information to the characters and thereby the story. What’s more important is how in a time when the Internet can be a dark and damaging place, a community came together and continues to encourage more from each other. As kids we all loved those “choose your own adventure stories,” and today kids can have the same treasure hunt on the Internet with a classic.

2 Replies to “Turning what’s old into new: Pride and Prejudice for the next generation”

  1. That “stuffy” quality jibes perfectly with what the novel was about: restraint, judgement (both decision-making and judge-y-ness), when social mores do and don’t work. It would be really interesting to document how the adaptation builds upon and updates the tone of the book to reflect that value-related conflicts look somewhat different now — or do they?! Also, great example of preservation through reuse.

  2. You do a great job establishing why the Lizzie Bennet Diaries is significant (it has attracted a wide audience, and represents a significant moment in the development of transmedia storytelling). Given your focus on the interactivity with the audience and the breakdown of the 4th wall, it seems like you are likely going to need to think about how to document that interaction. So the social media accounts are important, but it is likely not just the postings from the characters but the whole of the dialog between them and other accounts. In the same vein, the significance you establish for the comments and the way the videos function as part of YouTube opens up a challenging set of issues to think through when you get to preservation intent. It will become critical to think through what aspects of the experience of YouTube are critical here. That is, is it enough to simply scrape the text off the pages for each video? Or is more of the interactivity of the site necessary to understand this aspect?

    There is also going to be a good bit of work to be done on the rights associated with this. That is, I would assume that the company which produced this retains copyright and so for preservation planning it would be valuable to think through either the potential fair use case an archive or library could make for preserving this or how one would ultimately want to explore an agreement with the creators around preserving and providing access to the content.

    Going forward into the preservation intent aspect of your project I see one of the biggest challenges being how to scope this. You have the original videos, the comments and discussion on their pages, all the social media accounts, and then when you get into the Fandom that ends up spilling out into all sorts of other kinds of places too. To that end, I could almost imagine thinking about an approach where one might do web archiving (with something like Archive-IT) to collect and preserve many of the different sites related to this, do social media archiving (with something like Social Feed Manager) to archive content from various social media sites, and then do something more custom for acquiring the actual videos themselves and the comments and discussion on each of their YouTube pages.

    So those are some additional things to think about. You’ve done a great job establishing the significance of the work and thinking through the aspects of what makes it significant. I’m looking forward to seeing how this develops into your preservation intent statement.

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