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By WITH THE SECRET DIARY OF LIZZIE BENNET SET TO RELEASE NEXT WEEK, T2 TAKES A LOOK AT SOME RECENT JANE AUSTEN REINTERPRETATIONS Text: Chandreyee Chatterjee
  • Published 21.06.14
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Jane Austen has been reinterpreted over and over from films like Clueless (Emma) to books like Death Comes to Pemberley (Pride & Prejudice) but none has enjoyed the popularity of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a web series created by Hank Green (The Fault In Our Stars writer John Green’s brother) and Bernie Su that sees Elizabeth Bennet as a grad student who starts to keep a video blog documenting her life. But not all was told on camera. It seems that Lizzie also kept a diary. The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet (Touchstone), written by Bernie Su, the executive producer, co-creator, head writer and director of the series, and Kate Rorick, novelist, TV writer and consulting producer on the series, provides an in-depth look into characters, character dynamics and situations. The book’s journal-entry format and design are in keeping with the original web series and will be released on June 24. We take a look at some of the reinterpretations from naughty to nice of Austen’s books, more specifically Pride & Prejudice.

THE LIZZIE BENNET DIARIES

Based on Pride & Prejudice, this web series sees Lizzie Bennet (Elizabeth Bennet in the novel) as a graduate student living with her parents and two sisters — the timid and optimistic Jane and the wild, party-loving Lydia. A student of mass communication, Lizzie, with the help of best friend Charlotte Lu (Charlotte Lucas in the novel), sets up a vlog (video blog) series to document the trials and tribulations of her day-to-day life.

In comes wealthy medical student Bing Lee (Charles Bingley in the novel) and his wealthier friend William Darcy (Fitzwilliam Darcy in the novel) and the Bennet family is in a flutter thanks to Mrs Bingley who wants to match-make Bing with Jane, because, of course, “it’s a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

The Bennets meet Bing Lee and Darcy at a wedding but while Jane and Bing hit it off instantly, Darcy’s rudeness puts Lizzie off. The story then follows that of the novel — there is a George Wickham, a Mr Collins and a proposal or two — but with a difference. So while Mr Collins (of the book) becomes Lizzie’s childhood friend Ricky Collins, who runs a communications company with the help of patron Catherine de Bourgh, and proposes not marriage but a business partnership, Pemberley is not a housing estate but a digital company owned by the Darcy family. And, Lydia doesn’t run away with Wickham, she is forced to shoot a sex video by Wickham who later threatens to release it online. Of course Darcy rushes in to save the day all because of his love for Lizzie, and in the end gets the girl.

We are introduced to secondary characters like the posh and well-put-together Caroline Lee (Caroline Bingley in the novel), Bing’s sister and Gigi Darcy (Georgiana Darcy in the novel), Darcy’s sister.

The other two sisters from the novel Mary and Kitty also appear, but while Mary is Lizzie’s cousin, Kitty is Lydia’s cat.

The series premiered on YouTube on April 9, 2012 and concluded with the 100th episode on March 28, 2013.

Apart from LBD, yes, that is what it is popularly known as, other characters have also released their own videos giving a glimpse into the main storyline from different perspectives. So there is The Lydia Bennet that shows Lydia’s story arc — how she runs away to LA to meet Jane, her relationship with Wickham; Pemberley Digital is hosted by Darcy’s sister Gigi and posts demos of their new product Domino. This one allows us to see how Darcy and Gigi try to track down Wickham and stop the sex tape from being released.

PROM & PREJUDICE

In Elizabeth Eulberg’s Prom & Prejudice, the universally acknowledged truth is that single ladies are not looking for a groom but for a prom date. The setting of this young-adult fan-fiction book published by Point in 2011 is the prestigious Longbourn Academy, where Lizzie Bennet is a scholarship student. After winter break, everyone gets excited about the prom except Lizzie who isn’t into it. But her best friend and roommate Jane is, especially since Charles Bingley is back in town. Lizzie takes an instant dislike to Charles’s friend Will Darcy who is snooty and pretentious. Will doesn’t like Lizzie either and she thinks it is because she is not rich. Jane and Charles’s romance blossoms only to be disrupted by Charles’s sister Caroline. On the other hand, Lizzie has to deal with unwanted attention from a boy named Collin and Will’s sudden stalker-like tendency as he hangs around the coffee shop where she works. Lizzie finds herself attracted to Will despite her dislike for him and it takes a couple of long walks home together for her to realise he is not so bad after all.

AUSTENLAND

Shannon Hale’s Austenland is the story of Jane Hayes, a regular 30-something New Yorker with just one major issue. Her unhealthy obsession with Colin Firth’s Mr Darcy in the BBC adaptation of Pride & Prejudice. But unlike most of the people bitten by Austenmania, or rather Darcymania, she gets a chance to live her fantasy. No, she doesn’t get Colin Firth but close enough.

Jane lets her secret spill to a wealthy great-aunt who dies shortly after and bequeaths Jane a three-week trip to a Jane Austen-themed resort called Pembrook Park — where guests dress and live like ladies in the Jane Austen period — hoping that this would cure Jane of her Darcy obsession. There, Jane feels drawn to the gruff and brooding Darcy-like Mr Nobley and is torn between him and the gardener Martin.

Twilight author Stephenie Meyer labelled the book “adorable” and even produced a movie adaptation in 2013 starring Keri Russell, J.J. Feild, Jennifer Coolidge, Bret McKenzie, Georgia King, Ricky Whittle, Richard Reid and Jane Seymour.

THE EROTIC TWIST TO P&P

With so many retellings of so many different kinds, it would have been odd if there weren’t any with an erotic twist. Two of the most popular ones seem to be Pride/Prejudice by Ann Herendeen and Pride & Prejudice: Hidden Lusts by Mitzi Szereto.

The content of the books will definitely give Austen purists a severe case of heartburn with energetic sexual romps not just between the main pairings in the novel but also between best friends. In Pride/Prejudice, Charles and Darcy have a sexual relationship, something that forces Darcy to put a spanner in the works between Charles and Jane. Elizabeth and Charlotte may also have more to their relationship than meets the eye.

In Pride & Prejudice: Hidden Lusts, both Charles and Caroline have designs on Darcy. Charlotte finds pleasure with female relations of hubby Mr Collin. And there is a little bit of domination too!

LOST IN AUSTEN

This four-part British television series aired in 2008 was a fantasy interpretation of Pride & Prejudice that involved parallel universes.

The show followed the story of Amanda Price, a modern-day Jane Austen fan, who spies Elizabeth Bennet in a nightgown in her modern-day bathroom! The second time Elizabeth appears in Amanda’s bathroom, they exchange places. So, Amanda arrives at

Longbourn towards the beginning of the novel and Elizabeth settles down in 21st century Hammersmith and becomes a nanny.

Amanda is accepted as Elizabeth’s friend and is welcomed at Longbourn. She tries to ensure that things unfold as they are meant to in the novel but keeps messing things up. For example, when Charles Bingley comes to visit he takes a shine to not Jane but Amanda. Wickham seems to be a much better character, exposing how one-sided Jane Austen’s view of him was in the novel. It was Bingley who ran away with Lydia, not Wickham. Jane marries Mr Collin. Darcy falls in love with Amanda and vice versa.

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES

Elizabeth Bennet is a martial arts expert, Fitzwilliam Darcy is a monster hunter and it is fighting zombies together that sparked the romance in the first place. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a 2009 mashup novel written by Seth Grahame-Smith and sees zombies introduced to the original storyline.

What the novel does is weave zombie attacks and zombie hunting into the text, changing the situations but never the storyline. For example, Mr Bennet teaches martial arts to his five daughters and when a certain Mr Bingley moves into Netherfields, match-making ensues. There is a zombie attack at the first ball where the Bennets meet the Bingleys and Mr Darcy, and the girls swing into action. Attraction sparks between Bingley and Jane. Elizabeth, however, clashes with Darcy who is, of course, haughty and a reputed monster slayer.

Darcy breaks up the blossoming romance between Jane and Bingley not because he thinks Jane is after his money only and doesn’t love him, but because he suspects that Jane is turning into a zombie. Charlotte Lucas marries Mr Collins but is bitten by a zombie and is beheaded by Catherine de Borough after she turns.

The first proposal doesn’t just end with harsh words from Elizabeth but a proper physical battle where Darcy ends up wounded and eventually escapes with his life. After Elizabeth finally accepts Darcy’s proposal, the two have their first zombie-slaying feast as a couple.

A movie adaptation of the novel has been in the works since 2009 and in 2013 actress Lily Collins (Mortal Instruments: City of Bones and Mirror, Mirror) confirmed that she would play a leading role in it. Rowan Atkinson and Jennifer Aniston have also been linked with the film.

EVER, JANE

If you want to live in a Jane Austen world then this Austen-themed MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) is the perfect thing for you. The game is still in the prototype phase and received funding in December 2013.

It is a role-playing virtual game set in Regency-era England where you have to advance your character through experience, undergo quests and bring down your enemies not with swords or magic but with lies and gossip.

Like other MMORPGs, each player has different statistics but unlike traditional MMORPG stats like intelligence, dexterity or strength, Ever, Jane players have personality traits that match with different Jane Austen heroines. So, you can choose happiness over duty or status over either happiness or duty. The personality traits can rise and fall depending on your daily activities. What people are saying about you on the gossip system affects your status and reputation.

It also has events such as balls and formal dinners that you can invite people to or be invited to and in turn improve your status. There are mini-games like dancing, piano, fishing and card games.

DEATH COMES TO PEMBERLEY

When one of the best crime fiction writers tries her hand at writing a murder mystery sequel to Pride & Prejudice, it becomes a must-read. Death Comes To Pemberley is set six years after the events of Pride & Prejudice and sees Elizabeth and Darcy settled at Pemberley with their two sons Fitzwilliam and Charles. Everything is perfect, like it should be. Jane and her husband Bingley live close by and Mr Bennet visits often and there are plans afoot for Georgiana’s wedding.

But the idyllic setting is shattered on the eve of the annual autumn ball when Lydia, Elizabeth’s sister, arrives at Pemberley (she and her husband Wickham have been banned from the estate) screaming that her husband has been murdered. What follows is a suspense-ridden crime story that weaves in many of the characters from the old book, gives a glimpse into what married life was like for one of the most popular couples in literature and keeps you on the edge of your seat.

The book was adapted into a mini-series by BBC with three 60-minute episodes and was aired in December 2013 as a part of BBC’s Christmas schedule. It starred Anna Maxwell Martin as Elizabeth, Matthew Rhys as Mr Darcy, Jenna Coleman as Lydia and Matthew Goode as Mr Wickham.

THE AUSTEN PROJECT

Harper Collins’s Austen Project pairs six bestselling authors with six of Jane Austen’s complete works — Sense & Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Pride & Prejudice, Emma, Persuasion and Mansfield Park — for a modern retelling.

Sense & Sensibility: Joanna Trollope, author of books like Other People’s Children and The Rector’s Wife, has rewritten a modern version of the novel where Elinor Dashwood is an architecture student and her impulsive sister Marianne is interested in going to art school. When they are forced out of their family home, their values are severely tested. Losing the man you love to another, falling for the hottest guy in the county, the role of social media, Joanna Trollope combines all of it to bring alive a poignant coming-of-age story.

Northanger Abbey: Penned by crime-fiction writer Val McDermid, the retelling sees Catherine ‘Cat’ Morland as a sheltered teenager from rural Dorset who gets invited by the neighbours to the Edinburgh Festival where she meets the handsome Henry Tilney as well as Belle Thorpe and her obnoxious brother John. She gets invited to stay at Northanger Abbey, the beautiful and forbidding family home of Henry, where reality seems to be stranger than the supernatural novels Cat loves.
Out of the other four novels, Pride & Prejudice will be written by Curtis Sittenfeld and Emma will be written by No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency author Alexander McCall Smith. According to the author, in Emma Mr Woodhouse will be obsessed with vitamin pills, Jane Fairfax will play the tenor saxophone and Frank Churchill has been living in Australia.