It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen adaptations have been very nearly done to death. It is a testament to its classic status that Pride and Prejudice has made it gracefully through such a broad gamut of re-envisionings and reinterpretations, from a Bollywood setting to a zombie mash-up to a modern-day vlog.
Marcia Williams’s Lizzy Bennet’s Diary (Candlewick, April 2014) is another installment of this tradition. The diary not only tells the familiar story of Austen’s novel — more digestible for young readers in this simplified first-person format — but embroiders the story with rich details of life in Regency England, without appearing didactic. Lines from the novel are woven smoothly into the diary entries, and letters are included as nice pop-out elements, complete with faux seals and addresses. Though “Lizzy’s” drawings are stylistically far from period-appropriate, they are true to the tongue-in-cheek humor of Austen’s original text. However, the inclusion of scanned period documents (like a playbill from Lizzy’s trip to London) or pressed flowers pulled me out of the flow of the story rather than adding to the experience.
Though this may stem from my bias as a veteran reader of the novel (and a lit student to boot), I found the Lizzy of Williams’s Diary a shallower and less mature girl than the Elizabeth of “not yet one-and-twenty” whom I have come to know and love. The publisher pins the target audience age for this rendition as 8–12 years, but does that mean the heroine should be dumbed down?
That aside, the book will easily serve young readers as a good stepping stone into the wonderful, wide world of Austenania — and when they’re ready the original Pride and Prejudice will be waiting for them.
P.S. I highly recommend checking out the “Lizzie Bennet Diaries,” if you missed them while they were airing. I warn you that the serial installments (like the near-daily entries of Williams’s Diary) can get pretty addicting. (I watched 35 in one day!)