Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Three years in Melbourne.

It still feels new, you know. Perhaps not new enough to write the rhapsody of a first anniversary, or a favourite-things list of a second, but new enough that calling this city my own still seems an act of temerity, even though I chose it.

It's new enough that I still don't know the suburbs. That's a big-city thing, or perhaps an inner-city thing; I know the suburbs I play cricket in and the ones that friends have retreated to as they start to nest. In the meantime I nod wisely when people tell me where they're from, and hope they don't expect me to comment on the commute, or to point in meaningful directions. 

New enough to be home and the heterotopia, the other-place, all at once. New enough to dig and prune and hack, and home enough to plant and water and feed. To take up running, to spread out the word-magnets on my fridge, to plan on cooking Christmas lunch, to ask the landlord if I can hang paintings*. To purge my cupboards and rearrange my lounge and my car lease, which seemed so permanent three years ago. 

Home enough and long enough to start a blog, get some readers, have a hiatus, try again. Long enough to be cross that my city felt unsafe. Long enough to understand most of this, even. Long enough to miss Melbourne friends who have gone or nested or all those things friends do, and all on top of missing my Perth friends and beaches and family. Heck, long enough to have some Perth friends move here, and Melbourne friends move back. Long enough to see London in summer again, and miss that, too - really, there are too many cities and not enough time. 

In the meantime, in the absence of holes through the earth, I choose Melbourne. I still don't really know how to express the way I fit here, but I do.

Happy third anniversary, Melbourne. 

*this will probably mean my house will be sold within the year.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Lydia and Lizzie Bennet: shadows and light between birches.

Denise Levertov wrote several poems about her sister, Olga. In one of them she says:
As through a wood, shadows and light between birches,
gliding a moment in open glades, hidden by thickets of holly
your life winds in me.
I am reminded of this as I watch the Lizzie Bennet Diaries explore the relationship between Lydia and Elizabeth Bennet. If you've not heard of the LBD, they're an on-going and interactive verson of Pride and Prejudice. Dreamt up by Hank Green and Bernie Su, they're told via YouTube, Twitter et al. While certain essentials of the plot are maintained - boy meets girl, boy appears to despise girl, boy tells girl he likes her despite the fact that she's completely unsuitable and has a terrible family - the dilemmas and crises of the original plot are translated into current day USA. If you're a fan of P&P, and have a spare day or so, I highly recommend catching up on the archives.

This is one of the deftest adaptations of a well-known story to a modern setting that I've seen, well, ever. It's presented not so much on as through the internet - it manages to be multi-dimensional and interactive without losing its integrity as a story. The characters' interaction with followers does not occur through self-conscious fourth-wall breaking, but is instead woven in.* There are various challenges here - how do you keep characters in ignorance of one another's actions when they follow each other on Twitter? - but the way in which the writers meet those challenges could well turn up in textbooks some day, and is no doubt being used in classrooms and lecture theatres as I blog.

What I really like - possibly love, even - is the way LBD explores unfamiliar angles of these familiar characters and this story I've read countless times. Lydia Bennett is, I think, the best example of this. Lydia's never seemed much more than a shallow, pleasure-seeking creature who is eventually punished by the gods of narrative for her addiction to instant gratification. Previously I thought of her as a minor character, written to add light and shade to Elizabeth Bennett's story. This is the first version I've seen portray Lydia with more depth, but they do so without betraying the character presented in the novel. Lydia is Lizzie's light and shade, but what LBD brings out is that Lizzie is also Lydia's - it is painfully, heartbreakingly clear how much she is reacting against Lizzie's story in an attempt to create her own, and how oblivious Lizzie is to this, or to how much influence she could have on Lydia.

While much is due to the writing, Mary Kate Wiles is also to blame. She suggests Lydia's vulnerabilities and insecurities without overacting, and allows us to see Lydia's pain even when Lizzie can't. Lizzie's prejudices have always been clear in relation to Darcy, but what the LBD bring into relief is the impact of Lizzie's prejudices on Lydia.

This may be P&P heresy, but I'm currently more interested in the exploration of Lydia's sad (tragic?) ending than Lizzie's happy one. I and the rest of the internet know that Lydia is heading for a fall, but thanks to the modernisation, we don't know how that will manifest.  It could be anything from leaving college to falling pregnant to (according to some fanfic) Wickham leaving Lydia with a mysterious corpse. It could also be what happens in the original; Lydia is committed to an imperfect relationship. I've never minded that much in the novel and in fact have often felt sorrier for Wickham than for Lydia.** I might not be sure what will happen in this version of the story, but now that the LBD have made me care about Lydia, I am sure that I'm going to mind what happens to her a lot more in all of the versions, including the novel.

*Blending good story-telling with a marketing strategy; these folks are good.
**This may be the influence of the BBC version.