by Kaitlyn Nicolai
It's amazing to think about the multitude of ways our favorite novels have been adapted. From radio, to motion picture, to television, the past century has been a testament to the many different ways we are able to capture the beauty and depth of great pieces of work.
Amazing...and repetitive. Although many of these media have brought out some truly wonderful productions, it can be tiresome to see the same work done again and again (Romeo and Juliet, anyone?). It seems that these vibrant, imaginative films - no matter what time period they are produced in - sometimes have a lack of variation
Until, that is, two and a half years ago, when two writers decided to change this pattern through the next prominent medium of our time: the Internet.
This production, called The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, changed the way a classical work of literature could be adapted. Using YouTube as its viewing medium, creators Bernie Su and Hank Green reimagined the classic Jane Austen novel Pride and Prejudice as a vlog from the perspective of its heroine, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Bennet. The “vlog” (video log) is set in modern times. Lizzie Bennet is recreated as a grad student working on her thesis, posting videos to YouTube as her venue to study from; Charlotte Lu, her best friend and a film major, helps Lizzie post her videos on the Internet. As the events of the novel unfold, viewers watch a stream of re imagined characters from the novel flit through Lizzie's oftentimes unreliable narrative - all in real-world time. While changing a few minor details about the novel itself, the modernized vlog is incredibly faithful to the book, taking its meaningful storylines and characters and placing them in realistic situations people could encounter in a modern day context.
The creators, however, did not stop here. Utilizing the increasingly-growing facets of the Internet, Su and Green fleshed out these characters even more so by giving them social media accounts. Almost every character - even if they hadn't been introduced on-screen yet - was given at least a Twitter account, voicing their thoughts and opinions as if they existed in real life. Depending on the individual characters' interests, other social media sites such as Tumblr, Pinterest, and Instagram were also featured. While the main events of the novel were played out on Lizzie's vlogs (and a viewer could watch the series alone without needing to access the other content), the social media aspect gave a new, refreshing voice to every character of the novel. Viewers could watch them through the videos and interact with them on these sites, allowing audience members to be just as integrated into this world as the characters themselves.
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries was a near-instant success. It attracted a variety of people, ranging from Jane Austen fanatics, to those who would never touch a book in their lives. As it grew in popularity, the writers created several spin-off vlogs capturing different perspectives one might never get from the original novel itself. Universally hated characters, such as Lydia Bennet, were fleshed out in ways to make them relatable- even likeable; characters relegated to the background in the novel were also pushed forward and given new depths. In their own spectacular way, the creators made an eighteenth-century novel come to life in a technology-infused world.
Since then, the literary vlog genre has exploded. Many creators with low budgets and high ideals have brought book after book to life on the Internet, putting their own unique spin on these dearly loved works. The usage of social media storytelling (also referred to as "transmedia storytelling") has also carried over to these web series, with each installment getting better and more creative with how they use it.
The most impressive thing about these vlogs, though, is how the creators find a way to make timeless themes so relevant to what we face today. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, for example, changes the estate where William Darcy resides in in the novel to a multimedia company called Pemberley Digital; this reflects the growing importance of technology in today's world. Lizzie Bennet and Charlotte Lu, both graduate students, come head-to-head with financial and employment challenges as they transition into adulthood. Lydia Bennet, a carefree party girl, slowly begins to face the consequences of living a reckless lifestyle in the often unforgiving world around her.
Less than three years after its inception, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries has inspired dozens of literary vlog adaptations. Each production - whether they have a zero to infinite budget - creates unique perspectives on these classic novels. Here are a few prominent ones:
Modernization, by any standard, is challenging – and while each of these productions have their individual flaws, there is no doubt that they have a tremendous amount of potential in today’s technology-obsessed world. And, as times goes on, these works will surely have an impact on how we adapt classic novels, at least until we find another medium to recreate them on.
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