The summer before my junior year of high school I was given a reading list for AP English. The task was to choose two books and have them read by the first day of class. I couldn’t tell you what other book I chose, but this is the reason I read Pride and Prejudice the first time.
I consumed the book in one sitting, taking a short break to have a nap. Pride and Prejudice has been my favorite book ever since.
My friend Kim Kuether also picked Jane Austen’s delightful masterpiece from the reading list and later that year, the book became the main focal point of our school choir trip to England and Scotland. One of our stops was a tour of a giant manor house that I don’t remember the name of because we refused to call it anything other than Pemberley. We also bought copies of every Jane Austen novel we could find (one store had them all for just 99p each!) and pointed to every sheep grazing along the English countryside and shouted “Ewe!” (actually, I guess that part wasn’t related). Kim Kuether later gave me one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. She’d picked up a cross stitch pattern of the manor house in the gift shop and gave me the finished piece as a gift. She had even stitched “Pemberley” at the bottom!
The next year, the book saved the day — or days — when it came time to take the two AP English tests. I think we were just kidding when Kim Kuether and I promised each other we would use Pride and Prejudice as the basis for all the essays for the AP tests, no matter what the question was. Armed with my No. 2 Dixon Ticonderoga, I entered the first test and found the book was actually perfect for the subject of the essay. The following day, for the next test, I tried really hard to write about another book. Time was dwindling quickly and there I was, completely stuck. I suddenly wondered why I had even dared try to break that sacred oath. I put a big X through the essay I’d toiled away at and, with something ridiculous like 10 or 15 minutes left, I wrote some nonsense about the Bennet sisters, Mr. Darcy and the downfall of the vices that are ego and judgement (doesn’t have the same ring, does it?). I passed both tests (even got a 4 on one of them!) so that was a success. I can’t remember if Kimberly kept the promise …
I read the book once every year or two and I’ve checked out many of the adaptations. Like most fans, I love the BBC miniseries with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle almost as much as I love the book. I haven’t seen the Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier version since that summer in high school, but I remember thinking it wasn’t long enough. I hated the Keira Knightley movie and I have yet to see the earlier BBC miniseries, though it often tempts me on Netflix. And though I’ve avoided them to date, I have to admit I will probably check out the books depicting the Darcys as zombies and vampires at some point.
With all this said, I LOVE The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. My viewing of it was reminiscent of that summer day-into-night-into-morning reading marathon all those years ago. It took two sittings — with a nap and a trip to work interrupting — but I finished the 100th and final episode of the modernized YouTube adaptation of Pride and Prejudice within 30 hours of watching the first installment. I just kept clicking next episode, the whole time chasing my favorite plot lines. Within a few episodes, I became insanely curious about how each twist of the story was going to be handled and was totally hooked.
For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, the series is presented as a vlog that communications major Lizzie Bennet is undertaking as a part of her final year of grad school. The majority of the action takes place off screen with Lizzie, her sisters and her best friend Charlotte either describing what happened or using costume theater to reenact the events they witnessed. At first I wondered how sustainable this method would be, but 30 hours later I was cheering its success. I thought it was especially clever how other characters — Bing Lee and his sister Caroline, George Wickham, Fitz Williams, Gigi Darcy and, of course, William Darcy — ended up in Lizzie’s online video diary.
The ways they modernized the highlights of the plot were wonderful. I laughed out loud at the reason for Wickham’s presence in their town and cheered when Darcy finally appeared on screen. I thought the “incident” with Lydia was updated in a way that brought a poignant depth to a current social issue without moralizing the entertainment out of the series — lending characterization to social mores of our time much the same way Austen so artfully did during hers. I admit, I was somewhat surprised to see Lydia became a sympathetic character, but it worked really well. I won’t say any more, though I’m dying to profess dozens of other parts that I thought were hilarious. Instead, you should watch it and then comment below on what your favorite parts were.
Though I’m sure many Austen devotees probably sneer at the thought of a vlog adaptation of this precious piece of literature, I think this series is fun and I’m thrilled to see their recent Kickstarter did so well. After the success of the series, they turned to the public to raise funds to produce DVDs and finance a new series, Welcome to Sanditon, which began this week and stars Gigi Darcy. (I’ve subscribed!) One of the things series co-creator Hank Green (of Vlogbrothers and Nerdfighter fame) mentions in the Kickstarter video is that the remainder of what was raised will go toward paying the people who put so much time and love into these endeavors. Apparently the world of making YouTube videos isn’t terribly lucrative and even with millions of views, no one really got paid. They raised $402,405 more than their $60,000 goal, so I hope everyone gets to pay some bills, have a couple nice dinners and keep projects like these financed for a while.
Things I’m watching right now: Since my time is almost entirely taken up watching web videos now, I decided to return to Geek & Sundry to catch up on Space Janitors, which is one of the funniest things I’ve seen ever. I knew I would love it within the first few minutes when the janitors were interrupted while cleaning a spaceship hallway because a laser gun fight/chase broke out between rebels and white-armor-clad soldiers that are not called Storm Troopers. Even now, recalling the image of the janitors standing against the spaceship wall with their janitorial cart while intergalactic battles take place makes me chuckle.
Things I’m reading right now: Still on T.A. Barron’s The Great Tree of Avalon Child of the Dark Prophesy. It’s slow going so far, mostly because TV has been so brilliant lately with the season finales happening all over the place! (More on that later in the week.)
Things I’m trying not to watch right now: I just read something that made me want to catch up on Defiance, but I’ve got to get some things done first. And I have such a long list of things I’m trying not to watch. I’m unsuccessfully trying not to watch as many videos as I can find of writers talking about writing. I tell myself this is productive, but you know what would be even more productive? Actually writing.
Things I’m trying not to read right now: I almost picked up Pride and Prejudice today. I picked up my current copy on a trip to New York in fall of 2010 and I know I’ve read it twice since, but I don’t remember how long ago the last time was. Maybe I’ll just read over my favorite parts for a minute … or a couple hours.