Austen in August Review: Lizzy Bennet’s Diary, Marcia Williams

From the moment I saw this book, I wanted it. But it is tricky for a childless woman in her late twenties to justify purchasing herself a picture book so I had to set it down. Receiving it as a Christmas present in December 2014 was truly wonderful and I have read it all the way through every year since. It’s a really fun way of experiencing Pride and Prejudice in a different format and still manages to convey the energy and even much of the original’s humour.

Marcia Williams describes herself as ‘discoverer’ rather than author of the diary which takes up the perspective of Pride and Prejudice‘s famous heroine. The book is introduced as being a Christmas gift from Mr Bennet to his favourite daughter as an outlet for her ‘sharp observations and wit’ while avoiding upsetting her poor mother’s nerves. Still, Lizzy’s entries begin at the same point as the novel, in September 1811 when the momentous news arrives that Netherfield Park is let at last. Just hearing that phrase gives me goosebumps. From there, we gallop through the plot but with pictures, cartoon illustrations and pop-ups of the various letters to enliven proceedings.

If there is a criticism to be had, it is that Williams’ version of Lizzy is perhaps a little too high-spirited. Her diary entries generally centre around gossip and tend towards the frivolous. In fairness though, as Bridget Jones taught us, if you keep a diary in its truest sense, as in for your own eyes rather than the outside world, it is unlikely to reflect the self you would want the world to see. Just because Elizabeth was not as outwardly silly as her two youngest sisters does not mean that she never did anything daft. After all, she was the one who first had the crush on Wickham and she was forced to admit herself how she had allowed her prejudice against Mr Darcy to build up. I think we can allow this version of Lizzy to be a little more boisterous than Austen’s and appreciate her for her own merits.

The diary presents the cartoon illustrations as Elizabeth’s own doodles and then the pop-ups are items which she has stuck into the diary herself. These were some of my favourite features as items such as the dance card put some of the Regency social events into context for me in a much more visual way. I love this book now but I can imagine that ten year-old me, newly introduced to Austen-mania, would have done the bookish equivalent of swooning. The great thing too is that the book does follow the plot of Pride and Prejudice very closely and gives a clearer view of the timeline. Although Lizzy’s commentary is most suited to a younger audience, it never feels overly simplified. Also, the included letters do reuse most of the originals from the novel so it still remains fairly close to the text. All things considered, this book is really head and shoulders above your average ‘simplified retelling’.

Lizzy Bennet’s Diary is a great fun read no matter your age – I remember reading in an online forum, n American woman complained that she had two sons and one daughter which meant that she ‘only’ had one shot at sharing her love for Jane Austen. This nettled me since I do get quite cheesed off about books being designated as only blue or pink. I don’t know if I will be able to successfully share Lizzy Bennet’s Diary with my son. Right now he’s so small that I just try to keep any books that I own with any aesthetic value well away from his sticky fingers. I do have hopes though that one day he will enjoy Austen and I’m really glad that there are books like this out there to smooth his way. In essence, this is a perfect introduction for younger readers and a superb companion piece for those older devotees such as myself. Reading that sentence back makes me feel ancient and then I realise that it has been over twenty years since I first read Pride and Prejudice and that makes me want to go and lie down and have a nap.

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Lizzy Bennet's Diary by Marcia Williams
Published by Walker Books on 2013
Pages: 112
ISBN: 9781406346947

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