Interview: The Bennet Edit

The Bennet Edit combines two of our favourite things: pop-culture and podcasts. A new episode is released every fortnight, in which co-hosts Sophie Jackson and Eleanor Thomas read and discuss (almost) every adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. For the record, there are a lot of adaptations, from web-series through to Bollywood musicals. We caught up with them to chat about all-things-Austen and the series so far…

Hi both! Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? Tell us how the podcast came about…

S: As far as I remember, we were watching Downton Abbey. We’re terrible when we watch TV and films together. In our house at university, we were frequently told off for shouting loud enough to be heard upstairs because we get so excessively invested in what we’re watching! So, we were in Eleanor’s house watching Downton Abbey, shouting about Mary and Matthew, and I said (jokingly) that we should start a podcast about it. Eleanor replied that we should actually start a podcast about Pride and Prejudice, and I was super enthusiastic about the idea, so we did it! I’m pretty sure Eleanor didn’t realise I was serious when I said that we should do it.

E: I genuinely have no recollection of this incident, but I guarantee I was joking… and yet here we are!

S: I’m pretty offended that you don’t even remember the birth of our podcast.

E: I’m pretty offended that you just referred to it as being birthed!

Birthed or not, you’re clearly both fans of Pride and Prejudice, given that you’ve dedicated a podcast to it. Although… neither of you first encountered the story through the book, did you?

S: This is something we talked about a bit in the first episode; our initial experiences of Pride and Prejudice were quite different. My mum had me watching the 1995 BBC adaptation basically from birth, and that was more-or-less my only experience of the story! I had watched the 2005 film at some point but hated it, and tried picking up the original novel when I was a kid, but didn’t find quite the same joy; I eventually read it last year for the podcast! My mum definitely deserves the credit (or blame?) for my interest in Pride and Prejudice.

E: I hate how adorable your introduction to Pride and Prejudice was. Mine is incredibly embarrassing and Sophie never misses the chance to bring it up; when I was 14 I got into Twilight and in the first book, Bella and Edward love Pride and Prejudice. I’d had the book sitting on my shelf for a couple of years, so after reading Twilight I immediately picked it up and fell in love. So yes, thanks to Twilight, this podcast exists.

S: Thanks to my mum, also. I kind of want her to get more credit than Stephenie Meyer.

Do you think your initial experiences of the story influenced your first impressions the book? From Twilight to Pride and Prejudice – that’s quite a leap…

E: Twilight may have been the reason I arrived at Pride and Prejudice, but I think Lizzy and Darcy’s “enemies to lovers” story is pretty entrenched in a lot of popular culture, so it felt familiar. I guess my perception of the book was also influenced by a lot of people I knew loving the story. My mum’s favourite adaptation of Pride and Prejudice is the 1940s black and white version, so as a kid I always saw it as an old-timey romance.

S: I think always having watched the BBC adaptation, I didn’t realise how funny and passionate the story really was. As much as I love the BBC version, it definitely plays-up the slightly stiff and conservative nature of the period more than the humour and deep emotion.

E: I agree with Sophie, it was much funnier than I anticipated, and I think people talk about it in a way that implies the only story in it is the love between Elizabeth and Darcy, but it’s about so much more – the society, family, friendships. So I think I was always a little prejudiced about the story because of the false impressions people give of it.

I actually found my way into the book via the Bollywood-style adaptation, Bride & Prejudice. I loved The New York Times’ suggestion that it’s only bearable if you have a good ‘appetite for kitsch,’ since mine is enormous. How would you describe it?

E: I have to say my appetite for kitsch is insatiable, so I’m probably not the most objective person to be asking about Bride and Prejudice, but I think that it’s about so much more than just that. Bride and Prejudice is one of the most interesting and well-transferred adaptations. The class and race divide between Lalita (Lizzy) and Darcy makes what Austen was commenting on in the original very clear. The commentary about opening hotels in a country like India, yet not engaging at all with the culture, is so well done. It’s not just a musical (I’d argue no musical is just a musical, but that’s another interview altogether) or a love story. It’s Pride and Prejudice. Kitsch, yes, but it holds the ethos of the original better than many adaptations.

S: I absolutely loved Bride and Prejudice. I didn’t actually realise it was an adaptation until we started researching for the podcast, I thought the title was just a reference! I think the kitschy nature of the film is pretty typical for a musical (and for a Bollywood film, from the little I know about them) so I was prepared for that. I kind of think that if you’re really anti-kitschy/comedic adaptations of classic stories then you’re really just against making those stories more accessible to a wider audience. It’s totally okay to not enjoy a particular adaptation, but being against those adaptations as a rule is usually a sign that someone is a bit up themselves about loving classic lit, and that attitude is the kind of thing that put 13 year old me off reading Pride and Prejudice in the first place. Also, imagine Jennifer Ehle as Lizzy Bennet singing Take Me to Love.

I think that’s spot on. Accessibility is key! Which brings me to the 2012 webseries, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.

S: Yes! The Lizzie Bennet Diaries managed to take a story that’s very set in its time and make it modern in a really believable way. In terms of the medium, LBD was also incredibly original and accessible to a much wider audience. I think Bernie and Hank (the creators) can be credited with the explosion of narrative webseries over the last few years. Young people have watched this series and realised how hilarious, heart-warming, and enjoyable classic literature can be. I think decoding classic lit for new and younger audiences is a great thing, and few adaptations accomplish that without talking down to their audience. LBD is unique in that way.

E: I think it’s definitely original in its medium, a webseries classic just hadn’t been done before! Or not to quite the same popularity, at least. I think it was an amazing way to engage a new audience with the story, and I love any adaptation that can draw new audiences to classic books.

You interviewed the co-creator, Bernie Su… how did that come about?  

S: Honestly, we just tweeted him. That’s how we’ve got a lot of our interviews!

E: Amazingly he responded! We were very shocked, but so excited. We then emailed back and forth a few times, set up a date and voila! It was really nerve wracking to interview him, actually. We weren’t sure what to expect, and it’s a pretty big deal to interview an Emmy Award Winner! But really the interview was a lot of fun; we laughed a lot, and Bernie had so much to say! The interview was almost 2 hours long and we just couldn’t cut it down because we enjoyed talking to him so much.

How do you think LBD differs in its perspective to other adaptations of Pride and Prejudice?

S: Like Bernie Su said in our interview with him, LBD highlights the significance of the female friendships in a way that most adaptations don’t! Charlotte and the Bennet sisters take much more of a role in LBD than in, say, the 2005 adaptation. I think LBD really succeeds in retelling Pride and Prejudice in a way that’s true to the core of the story, but it’s also fun and watchable for someone who’s never engaged with the original in any way.

E: I think it’s original in the sense that they focussed on the female friendships, and Darcy was a very minor part of the series. Bernie actually told us in our interview that they weren’t sure they would cover the whole book, and the first part they filmed had no cast apart from the 3 Bennet sisters and Charlotte. That’s such an amazing idea to me, because the women in Austen’s novels were always at the forefront of the stories, and their story isn’t just about finding love. A lot of the characters find themselves, too, and learn how to navigate the society they’re in.

It’s interesting to think that Pride and Prejudice provided a feminocentric narrative for the nineteenth-century woman… it translates so well into our pop-culture! You often delve into discussions of feminism (and heteronormativity) in the podcast. Why is that so important to your approach?

S: Being a feminist and being queer, those are things that I naturally consider. I think about pop culture through a sort of feminist critical lens all the time, because I’m so used to that. When we started the podcast I actually talked about really specifically branding it as a feminist podcast. I was super aware that talking about Pride and Prejudice, we would likely be assumed to be straight, and listeners would make certain assumptions about our politics. I wanted to combat that, but when we discussed it I realised it had to be something that was natural, that was integrated into our discussion, rather than us sort of shouting that we were feminist with nothing to back it up.

We try to think about how heteronormative and how white every adaptation is, and make sure our guests have diverse perspectives, too. Personally, I think any critical analysis that ignores gender/race/sexuality is an incomplete one! Certainly in discourse about classic lit, I think it’s worth talking about how it holds up against modern standards.

E: I think a discussion of feminism, politics and sexuality is always pertinent in classic literature, especially as so much of art has always been political and queer. I’m not saying Jane Austen’s characters were intended to be as queer as we like to say they are, but it’s certainly political, albeit from a privileged perspective.

But aside from that, it’s just important to me. I wouldn’t consider it a complete analysis of a book/tv show/film if someone else didn’t discuss these things, so I think it’s important to hold ourselves to the same standard, especially as two white people talking about what is not a very diverse subject.

What are your future plans for the podcast?

S: I think our future plans are just to try and keep up what we’ve got going so far! Maybe we’ll introduce another fun mini-series like Clueless, which we’ve only done a couple of episodes of so far.

E: The podcast is finite though, so it’ll just be more of the same until we’re done! We’ve got a few more interviews coming up, more adaptations. Of course, we haven’t done the Big Ones yet (ie. the 1995 mini-series, LBD, the 2005 film), which we will get to soon, and then some fun ones that I don’t think everyone has heard of. But unless loads of people start popping out hundreds of new adaptations, there’s only so long that we can talk about it. Who knows though, maybe after all of this we’ll write our own adaptation…

S: There’s absolutely no way I’ll be writing an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice after this. I’m going to struggle to ever watch it again I think! Check back in with Eleanor in a couple of years though, she’s an amazing writer and I bet you she’ll have found a way to work some Pride and Prejudice references into something she’s working on.  

Follow The Bennet Edit on Twitter @thebennetedit and download their podcast for free on iTunes.

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