Old Stories, New Tellers: How Modern Web Series Are Changing Classics

It all started with a girl looking into camera with a wry smile, and beginning, ‘My name is Lizzie Bennet’…

And so, a now iconic YouTube series was born, and the beginning of an entire new sub-genre of online content was created, slotting neatly beside the Netflix and Amazon-only productions of shows. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries was the first major production of the appropriately-monikered Pemberley Digital studios, a production company whose niche of taking classic works of literature and transforming them into readily-accessible, addictive chunks of storytelling for online viewers to binge on and enjoy, has become a revolution in the way that we view modern media vehicles such as YouTube and classics such as Pride & Prejudice, Emma, and even Frankenstein.

For long, YouTube has been seen as a place where people complain and do stupid Internet stunts. Recently, however, YouTube has moved beyond that, using the potential of an accessible, free platform, to rise on the global stage as a purveyor of quality entertainment. Rising YouTube stars such as Zoella, Sprinkle of Glitter, and PewDiePie have become superstars, dominating global stages and conferences. It only stands to reason that the platform would become a place for new TV shows to spread their creative wings.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, based off Jane Austen’s flawless classic, Pride & Prejudice, follows the journey of Lizzie Bennet, here transformed from a young woman in 19th century England into a spunky 24-year-old American grad student, struggling to find her place in the world. The adaptation provides more than a mere glossy shine; racial and sexual diversity are key here, with key roles played by actors of colour, and a new character Fitz Williams is black and gay and a welcome addition.

From the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, other adaptations have sprung forth, in notable new directions. Spin-off web-series Welcome to Sanditon follows the original adventures of Gigi Darcy (Georgiana Darcy, played by Allison Paige) as she heads to small-town America to test forth a revolutionary search engine and social media messenger tool, and finds much more. Sanditon is a step forward for the group, making it web-series fanfic in a way purer to original fiction, transforming a secondary character into someone with her own vehicle and her own narrative away from the original. In this way it echoes Death Comes to Pemberley which utilises characters and settings in Pride and Prejudice.

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