Why I Love “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries”

The-Lizzie-Bennet-DiariesA few months ago I discovered a fabulous little web series, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. As many of you can probably tell by the name, it’s a modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice where Lizzie tells her story in the form of a video diary. Her sisters and other characters pop in and out of the videos and it’s absolutely delightful.

I found it after it had finished updating, which meant I had 100 episodes, as well as Q&As and related videos, to watch without having to wait for new ones. I basically spent the entire weekend watching the whole thing (it’s amazing how easy that is to do when each episode is only 4-7 minutes long. It feels like you haven’t been watching that much, and then suddenly you’re on episode 38 and you forgot to eat lunch).

I rewatched the whole series over the past few days and loved it just as much as the first time. It does some really great things with a very well-known story and really captures the themes of the original, in my opinion. And while I love Lizzie and Jane’s relationship and the way Lizzie talks about Darcy and “the illustrious Bing Lee,” I think my favorite part is actually the richness that is given to Lydia’s story line.

Lydia is probably one of the most unpopular characters in Pride and Prejudice. In the book, and therefore, in most adaptations, she has no redeeming qualities. She is the annoying, overly-flirtatious, silly little sister who obliviously causes trouble and makes everyone else’s lives harder. While I thoroughly enjoy Jane Austen’s female protagonists for the most part, her female supporting characters are generally treated rather unsympathetically, and Lydia may be the best example of that.

When you move the story to a more modern setting though, it frees up the character for a much more interesting arc, and the creators of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries take full advantage of that opportunity. In this version, Lydia not only plays an important role in Lizzie’s development, but she has her own growth (and her own videos) as well. And it is a character arc that I believe excellently highlights something that is a rather timely issue in our current culture – slut-shaming.

Pardon my language, but that’s what it’s generally called, so that’s the term I’ll use. According to this blog, slut-shaming is “the idea of shaming and/or attacking a woman or a girl for being sexual, having one or more sexual partners, acknowledging sexual feelings, and/or acting on sexual feelings. Furthermore, it’s “about the implication that if a woman has sex that traditional society disapproves of, she should feel guilty and inferior” (Alon Levy, Slut Shaming).” It’s basically a sign of the double standard we all know exists in our culture when it comes to men, women, and sexuality – men with multiple sexual partners are revered for their prowess, where women who engage in the same activity are shamed and condemned.

Now, anyone who knows me knows I’m not all “women are equal – sexual promiscuity for everyone!” But when even a rumor of promiscuity can destroy a girl’s reputation (and I teach teenagers – I’ve seen it happen), there are issues in our society that need to be addressed.

What does this have to do with Pride and Prejudice and YouTube videos? Well, those who know the story know the fate of Lydia – she is (somewhat willingly) seduced by George Wickham and her reputation is besmirched, which also puts her sisters at risk while having no effect whatsoever on Wickham’s future prospects (he has other reputation issues, but shacking up with a girl he’s not married to isn’t really one of them). By putting the story in a modern context, however, it allows the creators of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries to paint a much more sympathetic portrait of not only Lydia, but Lizzie and Jane as well.

In the books, the sisters are mostly concerned with the effect Lydia’s indiscretion will have on their own prospects. In the videos, the sisters are concerned with the effect the situation has on Lydia. She has her own agency and her own feelings and the consequences of what happens are much more nuanced than just, “oh no, what if Lizzie and Jane can never get married now?” This makes the relationships between the sisters much stronger and adds to Lizzie’s character arc in a much more compelling way than I’ve ever really seen before.

One of the most powerful episodes in the series is episode 87, where Lizzie and Lydia discuss the situation and who is truly in the wrong. It actually had me in tears last night, and I’d seen it before. The episode has more weight if you’ve seen everything that comes before (including Lydia’s videos), but knowing that not everyone is on summer break (silly non-teachers), I think it is still really worthwhile viewing, particularly what Lizzie says around the 6:10 mark.

Now, that episode is obviously not indicative of the more playful and fun tone that exists through most of the rest of the series, but it’s also one of the things that makes this not just another example of Pride and Prejudice fanfiction. In the end, the series is much more about the Bennet sisters than it is about Lizzie and Darcy, and I was surprised to find that that’s what makes it my favorite reinterpretation of one of my favorite stories.

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  • A collection of ramblings and musings on Jesus, life, education, family, and anything else that pops into my head.

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