Thoughts on P&P and The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet

Once upon a time, there was a book called Pride and Prejudice. Then there were approximately 52 movie adaptations, and then there was a webseries adaptation called The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. That adaptation became pretty popular, so the novelization, The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet, was written. Next week, that novelization gets a sequel called The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet.

Let me recap: the book version of an adaptation (that mentions Bridget Jones, another adaptation, in Episode 4) of a really old and popular book is going to get a sequel book next week.

In celebration of this new book, I’m going to spend the next two weeks preparing for the excitement of reading about Lydia’s life post-Wickham. This week, we’re going to talk about the first LBD novelization. Next week, we’ll talk about how LBD adapted Lydia in the best way possible. The week after, we’ll talk about the new Lydia book.

When I first started reading The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet, I’ll admit that I was a bit disappointed by the writing style. It all felt a bit…. casual. While I read some relatively recent books like Harry Potter, the majority of what I read was written before 1900. I consume Austen and Dickens and Gaskell because their ebooks are free, and I can decide if I like a book enough to buy a paper copy at a real book store. Shifting from 19th to 21st century literature requires a big mental adjustment.

I think we watch and read modern adaptations of classic literature when we want to be able to relate to a story in the same way that the original readers could. A girl who read Pride and Prejudice in 1813 would understand the burdens of a middle class family with five daughters and no sons. Her mother would probably pressure her to find a rich husband so she’d have someone to take care of her when her dad died. She’d understand the importance of courtship and reputations, knowing that she could end up with an abusive husband if she accepted the wrong guy. P&P isn’t just a romance book with hot guys and pretty dresses, but a story about a family maneuvering through a variety of socioeconomic factors. The LBD and The Secret Diary make these kinds of socioeconomic factors relevant again.

The LBD experience is incomplete without The Secret Diary. Sure, I probably wouldn’t choose the novel over the webseries, because I think the acting is the main reason why it’s so good, but Lizzie introduces her family’s money issues pretty early in her “diary” in a way that frames the rest of the story really well. Take this quote from the April 24th entry:

It makes me wonder what would happen if we were not forced to live at home… If we were able to be as adult in reality as we are in age… maybe Jane wouldn’t be taking the prospect of Bing so seriously. Maybe she’d be able to keep it casual with him, without the constant reminder of our mother’s expectations.

As a recent college grad working in retail until I can get a “real job” that uses my degree, I understand Lizzie, Jane, and Lydia’s pain of student loans and moving home because you don’t make enough money to pay your own rent and utilities. I get why Lizzie would turn down Ricky Collins’s job offer and why Charlotte would accept it. Eloping with Wickham 19th century England’s equivalent of Las Vegas didn’t seem that bad in P&P (except that the entire town suddenly knew Lydia was having sex before marriage with a guy who didn’t care about her reputation), but the updated scandal was such a painful violation of trust…

I bought The Secret Diary because I wanted to read The Letter that Darcy gave Lizzie after she rejected him, but it’s worth so much more than that. Lizzie is obviously more vulnerable in her diary than in her video blog, and we read the conversations that Lizzie decides to not recreate on camera. It’s not a substitute for the P&P novel, but I appreciate the flood of thoughts and changing opinions that we start to see once she begins to realize that she was wrong about Darcy. The story’s the same as it’s always been, but this newer version presents it in a different light.

I might have said this in a previous post, but I love when a modern adaptation reframes a well-known story and somehow makes it a little less “done.” I love Pride and Prejudice, but it’s become such a stereotype that I’m willing to give any story that isn’t “a girl and guy hate each other until they realize they’re really just prideful and prejudiced and are actually soulmates” 12 gold stars from the very start. Austen is brilliant, but stereotypes are not. This isn’t a book review as much as it is an 1000 word essay on the way a book version of an adaptation of a book makes me look at the original source material differently, but I also never actually called this a book review.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet made the Bennet sisters’ money and marriage/job struggles far more relatable than many of the other adaptations that I’ve seen. Next week, I’ll talk about how much I loved Lydia’s character development in this adaptation. That means that this is the perfect time for an LBD marathon!

I’ll leave you with a few links if you want to catch up or order the books:

  • Here’s a link to the complete LBD playlist.
  • Here are links to The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iTunes.
  • And here are the links to The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet on Amazon, B&N, and iTunes. (It comes out on September 29, but I think my copy’s coming in the mail on October 3, so I’m reading it a few days after it’s available)
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