Review: The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet

Look, I enjoyed this fine, I’m just not sure why it exists.

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet is a spin-off of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, the ultra-popular YouTube series that retells Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice as a vlog. Purporting to be Lizzie’s private diary (as opposed to her very public vlog), it retells the events of the series.

Sort of. Actually I think there’s very little new material, so as a companion to the series it’s redundant; but its frequent callbacks to the content of the videos mean it doesn’t particularly work as a standalone either.

What writers Bernie Su and Kate Rorick seem to have been going for is an extension to the show’s multi-platform immersiveness. You can find Lizzie Bennet in the comments on her videos, on Twitter, on Facebook – and now, read her diary! But, I don’t know. What made those platforms work was their interactivity: it was exciting because the social media responses of Lizzie and her friends appeared genuine and spontaneous, because here was the fictional world changing in response to the real one in a way that no-one had seen before in the mainstream. A cheap-looking paperback doesn’t have quite the same immediacy – and nor does the prose offer anything feeling like unmediated access to Lizzie’s thoughts. Instead, “her” writing is affected in a way it wouldn’t be if she were writing for herself – it’s performatively sarcastic most of the time, and can’t achieve any profundity when it needs to. Given that the whole project depends on authenticity, this doesn’t really cut it. Even making the book more of an objet d’art (like, for instance, the various maps of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld) might have worked better.

The obvious and boring reason for why this exists is, of course, Late Capitalism: enough people loved the series enough to buy the book anyway, and that alone made it worth doing. But that’s why all (commercially published) books exist: because someone thinks people are going to buy them. It’s not an excuse for a book to be downright pointless. The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet is a wasted opportunity – I’ll stick with Pride and Prejudice for now.

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