Finding Truth in Fiction

I was thinking about what to write about and I decided to devote this post to my interest obsession with the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a vlog-style adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  Since that’s pretty much what I’m thinking about most of the time anyway.

The interesting thing about the Lizzie Bennet Diaries (LBD) is that it is taking a story that I’ve known and loved for a long time and reinterpreting it in a lot of ways.  There’s the obvious ways, like the fact that it’s on the internet and the characters are all modern people using iPhones and cameras and tweeting about stuff and it is a very interactive way to tell a story.  But down on another level, it allows us all to engage in interaction and interpretation, re-imagination and re-understanding of a 200 year old story.

I’ve been not only watching the videos but also reading a lot of commentary on LBD, comparing LBD to Pride and Prejudice, spin-offs, and even fanfiction (something I never thought I’d be into before, but as it turns out it’s really interesting—not that it’s all well-written—because it allows people to take beloved characters and imagine their own stories for them, which is something I often do anyway). Generally I’ve been garnering others’ thoughts on it and it has made me see the characters as well as my own understanding of people and life and love in a different way.  Also it has shown me that when I get pulled into something like this I get pulled in pretty completely.

For instance, LBD fleshes out certain characters, like Lydia (Elizabeth/Lizzie’s youngest sister), Charlotte (Lizzie’s best friend), and Caroline (Bingley/Bing Lee’s sister) and gives them a lot of complexity.  They have their own motivations, their own insecurities, their own stories and their own agency.  This is complicated, though, by the very format of the storytelling: it is Lizzie’s vlog, and so as many characters point out, she is prone to tell only her side of the story and show her interpretations of events.  Of course, this is a key plot point in the original book, that both Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are kind of limited by their own ways of doing things and through each other learn a lot about judgment.  This story and all the fans’ reactions to it have made me understand the ideas of agency, of our own limited viewpoints, the power of labels and listening, growing and changing and becoming stronger, even listening to younger siblings, and of self-reflection, because the video format on the internet means that the characters can theoretically go back and watch their former selves.

In sum, it’s complicated.  And it’s really cool.  What I really like, though, is how it’s making me rethink things—everything from how I read and understood Pride and Prejudice to all the messages that people can get from a book to how I value and treat my own sisters.  I think there are a lot of truths in fiction and the format of following someone else’s choices and story highlights the ways that we can be and live and make our own choices.  These are things that I could have kind of known, but in reflecting on a retelling of a story they become much more clear and conscious than ever before.

So thank you Jane Austen and LBD for inspiring this bit of introspection—as well as an excellent reason to read more fiction.

In case you want to jump on the bandwagon: