Austen Adaptations in the Vlogosphere

By Katie Harling-Challis

In April 2012 I started revising for my GCSEs. A week later, I started watching The Lizzie Bennet Diaries — prime procrastination of the technically literary and academic sort. As a follower of the Vlogbrothers and a fellow Nerdfighter, I logged onto YouTube as soon as the first ever Lizzie Bennet episode was uploaded – I can still hear the theme tune now…

“My name is Lizzie Bennet, and this is my life”

Kitty may have been turned into an adorable cat, Mary shifted to the role of grumpy teenage cousin, ‘Totes Adorbs’ a regular in Lydia’s vocabulary, Darcy a hipster, and Mrs Bennet somehow born in the American South, but this was still Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice going strong.

In 2015 we see Laura Spencer (who played Jane Bennet) acting on The Big Bang Theory; one book, The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet, has been published; and another is on its way, this time fleshing out The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet. During The Lizzie Bennet Diaries series, Pemberley Digital was created as part of the plot. But this “innovative web video production company that specializes in the adaptation of classic works onto the new media format” meant that the vlogs didn’t end when Lizzie and Darcy finally kissed and Mrs Bennet finally made an appearance — the videos kept on coming, and still are, bringing to life numerous literary classics in the form of the weekly vlog.

While Welcome to Sanditon was a bit of a let-down from Pemberley Digital — an attempt to adapt Austen’s unfinished novel Sanditon, by expanding on the character of Gigi Darcy — their next full-length adaptation of Emma became Emma Approved, and they did as good as, if not better than, the Lizzie Bennet Diaries. First and foremost, they kept it fresh and different. While both Pride and Prejudice and Emma follow strong protagonists, Emma lends itself better to the vlogging lens, this adaptation following Emma Woodhouse as she documents her achievements. Or as Emma puts it, “Documenting my greatness for when I receive my future lifetime achievement award in lifestyle excellence.”

After Emma, Pemberley Digital acknowledged that other authors of classic literature did exist, and so Frankenstein, MD was born. But that’s not all, as other groups have been inspired by Pemberley Digital, with new Vlog adaptations entering the world of YouTube including The Autobiography of Jane Eyre, The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy, Green Gables Fables, and many more to come. Not only that, but the act of adaptation is being experimented with, as Vlog series like Classic Alice explore the world of meta-fiction by adapting a multitude of works, while A Tell Tale Vlog delves into the dark but comedic depths of the mysterious character of Edgar Allan Poe.

Due to the Vlog format, and the use of a variety of other social media (Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, LinkedIn, LOOKBOOK, etc), the adaptation also becomes interactive. Viewers can comment on the videos, discuss together, question what will happen next — because even though it’s an adaptation, you still don’t know quite what’s going to happen. That’s the beauty of adaptations of literary classics — you have to bring them into the 21st century, and by doing so, some things have to change. Whether for better or worse, well, that’s up to the viewers’ opinions.

By welcoming Jane Austen into the Vlogosphere, viewers begin to connect with characters in new ways not provided by the formats of the novel or film — they can comment, and the characters can reply. They can follow them on twitter, watch how the characters interact with each other in the world of social media, and then join in. The line between reality and fiction is blurred even further in the digital age, and reading comments on the videos you start to wonder if these viewers know they’re talking to fictional characters or not. Of course most do, but part of the fun is the experience of being in this new world — the world of social media and the Vlog brings the immersion of the reader into the world of literature to a whole new level.

Photograph: Timothy Krause via Flickr

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