As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 4
AKA My plan for a new webseries of ‘Northanger Abbey’
Friends and fans of my Facebook page will know that I am just a little bit obsessed with Pemberley Digital’s modern vlog-based adaptations of well-loved Jane Austen classics. ‘The Lizzie Bennet Diaries’ came onto YouTube and into my heart last April, ‘Welcome to Sanditon’ (based on Austen’s unfinished novel) ended in September, and the new series, ‘Emma Approved’ has just started much to the excitement of both me, and the thousands of fans the shows have garnered. If you haven’t already, watch them. Not only do the protagonists have vlogs, there are spin-offs, Q&As, twitter accounts for each character… You will get obsessed, trust me.
But this, and the success of #AustenProject series (Joanna Trollope’s updating of ‘Sense and Sensibility’) got me thinking… How would I update one of my favourites, ‘Northanger Abbey‘, as a YouTube vlog-series?
So, whilst I should have been working, reading, being sociable, I instead formulated my very own master-plan for Northanger Abbey: the web series.
Pemberley Digital, you are welcome.
Yeah, it’s a long one, but I feel this title sums up my premise pretty well. My first thought was about Catherine’s motive; why does she make these vlogs at all? Maybe this is something to d with personal experience, but my immediate reaction is: She’s on a gap year. According to Shmoop (my favourite revision site): “Northanger Abbey is essentially about pitfalls and perils of growing up, being in strange new places, and forging relationships with new people.” Sounds exactly like a gap year to me! So I think Catherine’s started these vlogs as a way of letting her family and friends know what she’s up to on her year off, like the now crazy-famous ‘JacksGap’ channel.
The second element in the title is the reference to classic thriller ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?’ Catherine in the books is a huge fan of Ann Radcliffe’s ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’. Although I suspect the modern version of this is more ‘Twilight’ than anything else, considering how controversial that particular book is, I think my Catherine would be a major fan of the whole horror/thriller genre. Being a huge wimp personally, I don’t know exactly what her favourite movie or book would be, but it’d probably be one of those really cheesy, innocent teenagers in a cabin in the forest type deal, and she’d reference this a lot in her videos. So that’s the other thing I wanted to update and bring in.
A final point about this: although I know a common way to modernize characters is to shorten their names (Elizabeth to Lizzie, for example), I think that, as a girl desperate to become “an heroine”, Catherine would think her full name was more sophisticated and more grown-up. Perhaps her family would still refer to her as ‘Cat’ or ‘Katie’ or ‘Cathy’, but this is something she finds extremely irritating; she’s trying to shake off her younger, tomboy-ish self, and put on this new persona of an elegant, adult, refined woman, and re-claiming her name is the first way she does this.
So now, moving onto the characters and main events of the story. If you haven’t yet read the amazing original and plan to, I would advise not reading too much more for fear of spoilers!
• Catherine goes to Bath – Catherine gets invited to Bath by the Allens, who I think are family friends, with a particular liking for her. From the description of Bath in the book, I picture a modern-day version of it as a ski resort. A place where wealthy, middle and upper class people go to for a specific ‘season’, where it’s easy to pick get to know people very quickly, where there are frequent parties and beautiful surroundings, where many are there to see and be seen, and where romance can blossom in the blink of an eye. The Allens want Catherine there to accompany Mrs Allen on the easier slopes and chat to her in the cafes and restaurants while her husband explores more adventurous runs.
• Isabella and John Thorpe – These two are your typical wannabee ‘Made In Chelsea’ types – though definitely nowhere near as rich as you have to be to get on that show. Their characters would be much the same as Austen wrote them; Isabella as great fun, flirty and very funny, but also manipulative and untrustworthy (a bit like Regina George), and John as loud, overbearing, dimwitted and rude – but in a comical way. Whereas in the book, all John talks about is horses and carriages, in the web series he’d obviously be obsessed with cars. These two would be so much fun to have in a vlog series – despite all their faults, or because of them in fact, they are some of the most amusing and entertaining characters in the novel.
• Henry Tilney – Mr Tilney is possibly my favourite Austen hero of all. In fact, he’s one of my favourite heroes of all time. He’s witty, ironic, charming and intelligent, and likeable – much more fun than most heroes. Naturally, he too has his flaws; a touch of arrogance at times and completely inscrutable for most of the book, but overall *sigh* perfection. He and Catherine would meet at a party where she knows no one, as in the novel, and we’d all get to hear about it the morning after, as Catherine tried not to get over-excited about her HUGE GINORMOUS CRUSH ON HIM. (Note for future producers: I would have to be quite heavily involved in casting this one. Just so you know.)
• Isabella and James – This is probably the biggest change I would make – a shot-gun engagement is possible but highly unlikely imho, so I think Isabella would instead agree to go off travelling with James (possible side series here!) Then, whilst they were slumming it somewhere having run out of money as students do, Captain Freddy Tilney would turn up in his private jet and whisk Isabella away for a romantic weekend in Europe together, leaving James heart-broken and forlorn. Then, of course, Isabella would get her comeuppance after Freddy ditches her back in Bath and takes another girl out the following weekend.
• Northanger – I think Northanger would probably be a massive, antique chalet in the middle of the woods, so Catherine’s ‘horror genre alarm bell’ (yes, I’m patenting that) would flash on, as in the novel.
• The Tilney Family – Freddy, Henry’s older brother, is your typical rich play-boy who flies all over the world, wears designer sunglasses and seduces beautiful women before quickly dumping them. A bad-boy who starts to make us feel sympathetic towards Isabella. Eleanor, his sister, is the opposite; caring, good and a great friend. I’d spice her up a bit though, and perhaps make her an enterprising businesswoman, eager to take over the family firm. General Tilney is an ex-soldier who now runs a hugely successful business firm, but acts as if his family is a miniature army. He wants his children to marry into other big business families, which is why he’s not all that pleased after he finds out Catherine’s suburban, middle-class background.
• Catherine goes home alone – This bit needs to have the shock factor a woman going home alone had in the 1800s. I think Catherine would have to make the extremely long journey back to her family by bus. Overnight. All by herself. If that doesn’t make her grow up a bit, I don’t know what will. (Side note: I know I haven’t covered the important Northanger part so much, but that’s because I don’t think much of it needs updating! Catherine and Henry slowing growing together, Catherine thinking something spooky is going in at Northanger and being terribly embarrassed when Henry discovers her naivety, etc. could all stay basically the same.)
• General ‘forgives’ her – Again, Henry and Catherine’s getting together is sufficiently covered in the novel: he’d pursue her, they’d admit their feelings to each other, Henry would enounce his father for her, they’d kiss, thousands of viewers would spontaneously combust in front of their computers, blahblahblah.
The real question is why does General Tilney take them back? I think it would be partly Eleanor pulling off a huge business deal (side-series?!) and partly him realizing the potential of Catherine’s vlogs and twitter – since I assume they’d be hugely popular by this time 😉 She suddenly becomes a credible businesswoman and investment in his eyes, and so he condones the relationship.
• Everyone gets what they deserve and we all finish the series happy and fulfilled – well that’s the plan, anyway…