The Lizzie Bennet Diaries AKA How To Do A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice
I’ve written about the Lizzie Bennet Diaries before, but I can’t seem to quit it. As a Jane Austen fangirl and just a general addict of the series, I feel the need to sing its praises again and again.
Perhaps it should be no surprise that The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, as an independent Youtube film project, does a better job at being feminist than most modern adaptations of classic novels… or than most films, period. It isn’t constrained by industry “truths” like a white cast sells, female interaction doesn’t sell, and romance is all female viewers want to see. But I feel like the series does a particularly good job of retaining the heart of Jane Austen’s original story, while making it feel realistic and powerful in a modern context. Other series, take note.
It has actual racial diversity
The people Lizzie interacts with actually seem to represent America. Charlotte Lu, Bing and Caroline Lee, Fitz… my goodness, these Californians actually kind of look like Californians!
And close female friendships
Handily, these were already in the source material. But it would be easy for a Pride and Prejudice adaptation to lose these elements, focusing on the “main” relationship between Lizzie and Mr Darcy. Charlotte’s alliance with Mr Collins could be presented as a betrayal, but instead, we see a realistic fight between friends, where Lizzie actually appears in the wrong. Georgiana Darcy, as a sickly shy young thing in the books, could have been portrayed as weak… and instead, she’s introduced as a really fun, really kind and friendly person. Everyone doesn’t get on together all the time, and not everyone is completely likeable, but considering we only get them in 5 minute glimpses, all the friendships seem real and compelling.
Romance is not the be-all and end-all
Not that it’s the be-all and end-all in Pride and Prejudice either, but a superficial reading could see all the concern about marriage and interpret it that way. Instead, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries give the feeling that you could lift Darcy out of the story, and still have plenty to emotionally invest in. The early 19th century concerns of women in their late teens/early twenties — aka marriage, and the security that comes with it — have been replaced by early 21st century concerns: dealing with your family, surviving school, keeping up friendships through moves and changes, and figuring out what the hell you’re going to do with your life.
The “slut” is a likeable character
Thanks in part to the addition of Lydia Bennet’s own video diaries, she isn’t just the scandalous younger sister, but a compelling character in her own right, stuck at home, lonely, and feeling that her sister has turned against her. Lizzie judges her for her actions, but Lizzie is, by definition, an incredibly judgemental character, and her plot arc is partly about learning to be less judgemental about others. We don’t see a contrast between the wonderful Lizzie and the terrible Lydia — in the current disagreement between the two sisters, I’m coming down on Lydia’s side.
Lizzie is not always likeable
Out of the main cast, she’s actually the character that I like the least. And that’s OK. In fact, that’s great! Lizzie Bennet in Pride and Prejudice is often remembered as a kind of independent women ahead of her time… but she’s also very quick to judge, holds a serious grudge, is dismissive of her family (except Jane), and finds it difficult to understand perspectives outside her own. And this version of Lizzie keeps those elements. She’s not a perfect literary heroine, a wish-fulfilment character for the reader/viewer who we see as right in all things. She’s compelling and interesting, and likeable on the whole, but we don’t have to like everything that she says or does. And that’s a powerful choice. It shows that leading ladies don’t have to be always likeable, or have superficial flaws. They can, at times, be rather unfair… even rather horrible… and still win the reader or viewer’s sympathy and interest.