At the recent, and very wonderful Youth Libraries Group conference, a new and beautiful book by Marcia Williams caught my eye; the story of Pride and Prejudice, but told through Lizzy Bennet’s secret diary.
Lizzy Bennet’s Diary is a lovingly detailed and novel take on one of the best-loved stories in English literature. It is packed with Lizzy’s drawings, pressed flowers, ribbons from her bonnet, hand-written notes to fold out and read, dance cards, invitations, and even a letter from Mr Darcy!
So taken was I with the book that I asked Marcia Williams if she would tell us a little bit about the book, what inspired her, and why she chose to write a diary. Here’s what she had to say:
“Why a diary?
I have little doubt that if Lizzy Bennet were alive today she would be blogging, tweeting, facebooking and generally sharing her thoughts online. But Lizzy and her creator, Jane Austen, came from a very different era. In 1810, when the story of Pride and Prejudice begins, women were often trapped within their homes or small local communities with little chance of finding an outlet for their creative or intellectual talents. It must have been unbearable if, like Lizzy, you also felt emotionally and intellectually alienated from the other members of your close family. Under such circumstances how welcoming the blank pages of a diary must have seemed. A diary is uncritical, always at hand and never too busy or too tired to listen – a paper friend to whom you can tell your most personal thoughts without a blush or a stutter. So, what better way to explore Pride and Prejudice than through the diary of its best-loved character?
Creating Lizzy’s diary was a joy. Not only because she is such a funny, intelligent and feisty character, but also because of the fascinating social history that surrounds her story: the terrible suffering caused by females not being able to inherit; the overwhelming need to marry, for fear of living in poverty or being a burden to other members of your family; the importance of etiquette, even when calling on your neighbours or sitting down to breakfast; the excitement a ball could create!
Although I was writing for younger readers than those for whom Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice, I still felt able to be true to Lizzy Bennet’s voice. Of course, everyone who has read the novel will have their own imagined Lizzy, and I am very aware that my Lizzy is just one of millions. Yet I hope that those who have already met her might recognize her and enjoy her diary, and that new readers will want to know more about her. Besides which, I am prepared to swear that my Lizzy is the true one – like many a reader before me, I am convinced that I was Lizzy in another life!
I took special pleasure in Lizzy’s visits to London – it was fascinating to discover what shops and theatres she might have visited and to create mementos like the receipt for shoe roses. In Lizzy’s words, I was “in a fever of delight” when it came to creating the flaps, letters and extra bits that adorn the pages of her diary. I hope that my enthusiasm for Lizzy’s world will be shared, and that Lizzy Bennet’s Diary will bring a new young readership to the delights of Pride and Prejudice.”