Any great novel or even one that has had relative success on the market will inspire numerous remakes—some good and others terrible, some flat and others that twist the original and give it a re-imagined life. The latter perfectly describes the new video series, or fake video blog (“vlog”), “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.” Created by writer Bernie Su and one-half of the YouTube “Vlogbrothers” duo Hank Green, the series got its start on April 9, 2012. And though it has only been two weeks and six episodes since its birth, its YouTube channel, “LizzieBennet,” has just over 45,000 subscribers and over 500,000 total views.
Clearly, they’re doing something right, as many online celebrities take far longer to achieve this level of viral fame. One notable aspect of the series is the writers’ ability to transport the characters into modernity while retaining more than a tenuous connection to the source material, unlike hits such as “Bridget Jones’s Diary.” Lizzie (Ashley Clements), who is in Jane Austere’s “Pride and Prejudice,” a woman who wants none of the socialite, husband-seeking life of the times, is now a communications major struggling with student loans. Jane (Laura Spencer), the “pretty girl” of the family, works in the fashion retail industry, and Lydia (Mary Kate Wiles) is a promiscuous college student who is “a bit of a slut,” much like her origins as the book’s young daughter who elopes with a good-for-nothing charmer. Charlotte (Julia Cho), an original character, studies film and works as the camerawomen for Lizzie’s vlog.
For a four women cast, not only do the actresses stay remarkably in character, but they also successfully take on the roles of other characters through humorous interpretations. In the pilot episode, Clements plays both Lizzie and Mrs. Bennet. (Or, rather, Lizzie plays Mrs. Bennet.) Clements brings out Lizzie’s sassiness through jabs at her mother’s outrageousness, putting on a posh accent and exaggerated mannerisms.
The strongest part of the series is how genuine it feels, a natural result of talented acting. The interactions the Bennet sisters share are so casual that they seem unrehearsed. Quite a few times, Lydia butts into Lizzie’s room to bother her while filming, which leads to typical sisterly squabbles. In the beginning of Episode five, Jane and Lizzie share a conversation that seems so impromptu, they ask Charlotte to cut it out from the video (clearly, she doesn’t).
Besides maintaining their roles onscreen, the actresses play their parts online, as well. LizzieBennet, the series’ Youtube Channel, replies to viewers as Lizzie, not as their true identity. The actresses also have their own Tumblr and Twitter accounts, in addition to the official LizzieBennet Diaries Tumblr. Lizzie’s Tumblr not only contains videos of the series, but also “candid” photos of the characters.
Green and Su have taken an incredibly innovative step in taking a book often relegated to English class to a fresh medium that fits its romance-drama plot like a proper lady’s glove, creating what is, in effect, a high-quality online television show. At the same time, it’s very different from conventional television. Episodes usually last three to three and a half minutes long, rather than thirty minutes or an hour, and new ones are released every four days. Having the series online not only allows fans to squeeze an episode or two into a quick procrastination break, but also makes it far easier for them to spread the word—reblogging on Tumblr, linking on Twitter, and sharing on Facebook are all just a click away, easily accessible in an era when we would rather watch a video or read a blog than curl up with a classic example of the written word.