Book of the Month Club: The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick

Screenshot from the web series, Screenshot from the web series, "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries". Left to right: Julia Cho (Charlotte), Ashley Clements (Lizzie), Mary Kate Wiles (Lydia), and Laura Spencer (Jane). Photo credit: YouTube.

It was so odd just being in the same room as Darcy again. He looked…different. Not like he had a new haircut or a mustache or anything ridiculous like that, but he seemed to carry himself differently. Or perhaps I was just seeing him that way. After all, this was the first time we’d seen each other since I read his letter and found out just how wrong I was about almost everything.

People look different when you know their secrets. And they look differently at you.

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet is a standalone novel, based heavily on the webseries on YouTube. So does that make it a tie-in, in addition to being a standalone novel?

I followed the webseries, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, towards the end, preferring to wait for the series to close before watching them all. I thought the webseries was quite well done and adapted for a modern time period. It is another adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a staple of the Western literary canon.

Some things that I liked were that this book expanded on Lizzie’s family. In the webseries, various characters do impressions of the Bennet parents, but the book gave us the parents as they are. Mrs. Bennet is wonderfully annoying and blind to what goes on in her household, and Mr. Bennet, when he shows up, is kind and considerate. An incident with Jane, the eldest of the Bennet sisters (reduced to Lizzie, Jane, and Lydia in the webseries, with Mary becoming a cousin and Kitty, well, Lydia’s cat), is recorded with compassion and showcases a responsible decision by Lizzie as to what to include in her weblog and what to leave out. Some of Lizzie’s other decisions, however, leave much to be desired, but this is what makes it an interesting coming of age novel.

Despite the good points, this book has its shortcomings. Lizzie is a grad student studying Communications and is trying to figure out what to do in life, but there is strangely not a lot regarding theses and schoolwork worries in comparison to the main story. I would have liked more correspondence with Lizzie’s thesis advisor, Dr. Gardner, or more musings about what she would be doing in the future. Lizzie also claims to have a very good memory, thus having the talent on an almost superpower level to remember conversations word-by-word, including entire telephone messages (complete with every single hestitation in her speech process), which I found a little hard to believe. Two important scenes from the series are transcribed verbatim from the web series, whereas I would have liked to read about Lizzie’s reactions rather than going back behind a camera watching the action from a distance.

What was interesting about the book most was its medium and comparing it with the webseries. The webseries had bi-weekly installments, short segments of an edited video broadcasting Lizzie’s “life” to the Internet community, whereas a diary would have retrospections. The diary format, being by its nature a witness after the fact (unless you’re the type that goes around with a diary recording things as they happen), has its limitation of missing the immediate action. It loses its spontaneity, whereas the webseries, while edited (in-world by Lizzie’s best friend, Charlotte), retained the freshness of the events that happen to Lizzie and her family on the camera as it happens simultaneously in her life.

Despite the shortcomings, it is entertaining and worth a look. Recommended for Lizzie Bennet Diaries fans, but for the rest of us, it’s probably better to get started with the webseries first (or follow along the webseries along with the book). Or, alternatively, just read Pride and Prejudice.