Chelsea Wilson

YouTube: The Modern-Day SparkNotes

Chelsea Wilson

I was introduced to gothic literature late in life, but it wasn’t until I read Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla that I really fell in love with the genre. Published about 25 years before Dracula, Carmilla is the story of Laura, a young girl who lives in an ancient castle in Styria. After Laura learns an expected visitor, Bertha Rheinfeldt, has fallen mysteriously ill and died, she and her father witness a carriage accident, after which the injured young woman, Carmilla, is invited to stay at the castle. What follows is an intriguing tale of a vampire—a story that is believed to have inspired many that followed in the gothic genre.

In 2015 I heard there was a modern retelling of Carmilla on YouTube, so naturally I had to watch it. In the series, Silas University freshman Laura Hollis’s (Elise Bauman) roommate Betty goes missing one night after a party and Carmilla Karnstein (Natasha Negovanlis) moves right on in. Carmilla is told as a vlog where Laura records her search for Betty and viewers discover that Silas University isn’t a normal college. (Laura did, after all, download the consciousness of a student from 1874 onto a USB drive from the library.)

It’s fitting that Carmilla was my introduction to both gothic literature and YouTube adaptations of classic literature, even though I showed up at least three years late.

In 2012, Pemberley Digital produced The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which is based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and which the production company describes as a vlog “filmed in the bedroom of a 24-year-old grad student, living at home and burdened with a mountain of student debt.” In 2013, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries was the first YouTube series to win a Primetime Emmy (for Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media-Original Interactive Program). The second YouTube-Emmy-win went to another show from Pemberley Digital, Emma Approved, based on Jane Austen’s Emma.

If the adaptations above don’t interest you, there’s always The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy (Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie), Nothing Much to Do (Much Ado About Nothing, William Shakespeare) and A Tell Tale Vlog (“The Tell-Tale Heart,” Edgar Allan Poe). Each adaptation has its own unique spin; for instance, the latter is described as, “Poe attempts to keep a writing vlog while Lenore the Lady Ghost haunts his study.” There are also series that cover multiple works, such as Classic Alice, which covers several classical works including Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and The Odyssey by Homer. The quality of these adaptations can vary from the work of high-quality professionals to YouTube beginners, but with the number of adaptations available, there almost certainly will be something for everyone.

Did You Know?

Pemberley Digital has also adapted Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (The March Family Letters), Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (Frankenstein, M.D. featuring Dr. Victoria Frankenstein) and Jane Austen’s unfinished novel Sanditon (Welcome to Sanditon).

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