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Charlotte, Lizzie, Lydia and Jane. /

Lizzie Bennet Diaries is a modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice posted weekly on Youtube. The story is told primarily through vlogs posted by Lizzie, but over time the show has come to include vlogs posted by side characters, vlogs featuring the entire cast as well as several social media outlets such as Twitter. It's fascinating to watch the story be brought to light in a completely different way. For more basics about the story so far and how to get started, check out posts by Iris and Chachic, as well as Ana, before diving into the non-spoilery discussion Renay and Ana had about the series below.

Renay: It is a truth universally acknowledged that I despise classic literature outside of a classroom or group discussion setting, but I absolutely love this series. You're the exact opposite of me as a classical literature nerd, so we're going to start with your perspective on this adaptation and then mine, since I haven't read Pride & Prejudice or seen an adaptation outside of Bridget Jones's Diary. :D

Ana: First of all, I have many thoughts about the inaccessibility of classic literature: countless readers feel the same way as you, and until some 5 years ago I was one of them. There's a great quote in Nick Hornby's More Baths Less Talking that perfectly expresses why the way we as a culture tend to discuss the classics props up this inaccessibility:

The quickest way to kill all love for the classics, I see it now, is to tell young people that nothing else matters, because then all they can do is look around them in a museum of literature, through glass case. Don’t touch! And don’t think for a moment that they want to live in the same world as you! And so a lot of adult life – if your hunger and curiosity haven’t been squelched by your education – is learning to join up the dots that you didn’t even know were there.

I mention this because what The Lizzie Bennet Diaries does is completely destroy this "Don't touch!" attitude. The series gets its hand deep inside the story; it shows why it does want to live in the same world as us, and it does it all to marvelous effect. I could go on about how it makes Austen approachable and will probably introduce tons of new readers to Pride and Prejudice, but that isn't even the point. Sure, it makes me happy to think of people reading Austen, but I don't think the only value of adaptations of classic novels is to lead people to the original. It's nice that they do that, but they also mean something in themselves. The best ones manage to capture the heart of a story that has been around for a long time and reveal anew all the reasons why it's still relevant and widely beloved.

I think The Lizzie Bennet Diaries manages to do this perfectly. I was surprised to see how very faithful to the original it was, and yet how completely its own thing. Sure, many details were changed - there are three Bennet sisters instead of five, and the girls are twenty-somethings more concerned with education, jobs and student loans than with marriage necessarily. But what these things mean in the context of their 21st century lives amounts to pretty much the same as what securing a proposal meant to Austen's early 19th century heroines. And then there are complications having to do with personal ties and emotions, just as there were then. I don't know how much you know about the original, and obviously I don't want to spoil it for you, so I'll just say that the way the Lizzie/Charlotte/Mr Collins situation was translated into a modern context was absolutely brilliant: this is how I imagine Austen would have written it if she were around today.

Renay: Rest easy, every time something big happens on the series I immediately go spoil myself for the book to see how, exactly, they changed it to fit this century. I've loved all the updates so far and how well the storyline and the characters have translated to the format. It makes me happy that people might discover or rediscover their love of the classics through this series. I simply won't be one of them because I am a heathen who really, really doesn't understand novels written in this time period without someone to hold my hand and explicate it for me because half the time I have absolutely zero clue what the characters are even talking about. Give me an adaptation any day, because a) it's entertaining and b) it's fun (not hard, slogging work, which I find most literature before the 1920s to be) to play around with it in a 21st century context and not have to parse everything through a 100+ year cultural gap. Come on, Darcy with a Twitter account? It's gold.

I'm really interested in the updates they made. Money then and money now play out almost exactly the same. The context of a mother wanting a daughter to marry into money instead of earning it through her own means has a different impact on a family and those relationships. A mother wanting to marry her young daughters off takes on a lot of complicated weight given the strides we've made in feminism since the original novel was published. As we've seen from the development of the series (especially the update you cited about Mr. Collins), money and class are still driving forces in our culture, but they push from different directions now. I'm fascinated to see them finally delve into the class issue, because it's so complicated but also so relevant to our culture given how important intersectionality has become. I really have no idea how they're going to tackle it.

Ana: Yes, that's an excellent point: Lizzie and Charlotte dressed up and Lizzie's parents.Mrs Bennet wanting to marry off her daughters to rich men when no professions were open to women and they faced destitution should they remain unmarried meant one thing; Mrs Bennet being obsessed with marrying off her daughters when they have jobs and/or degrees means something else entirely. There have been several hints so far that the family is facing financial strain, but thankfully these days we don't really tend to look at marrying off daughters as an acceptable solution to financial woes. Of course, one of the things that makes Pride and Prejudice so interesting is exactly that it maps a shift in attitudes towards marriage. Still, the contexts are very different, so what does it mean that the contemporary Mrs Bennet is so keen to do it?

Like you, I can't wait to find out how the writers will handle this question, as well as her characterisation in the long-run. We've only seen Mrs Bennet through Lizzie's sarcastic eyes, and Jane has hinted that she doesn't always portray their mother fairly. Will we get to see Mrs Bennet's side of the matter? Is there more to her than meets the eye? Will she eventually be humanised? I'm particularly interested in this because if there's a place where The Lizzie Bennet diaries seems to depart from Austen, it's in the characterisation. Not that Austen's characterisation isn't excellent, but the series has had room to flesh out characters who aren't quite as three-dimensional in book - Lydia, Charlotte and Mr Collins, for example. I also think that the writers of the series are a little kinder than Austen was. Don't get me wrong, I love her, but Jane Austen is a writer who subtly expects us to take sides. Her irony is extremely enjoyable, but it tends to come at someone's expense. When you read her, you're invited to take her protagonists' side against them - whoever isn't part of her social world. Usually she gives us persuasive reasons to exclude certain people from our sympathy (they're arrogant, or unkind, or snobbish, or silly), but as much as I go along with her and enjoy the satire when I'm reading her, I can't help but think about those characters afterwards - especially if I start wondering, for example, how someone like George Eliot would have written them. Austen is only generous up to a point, and she shows no mercy to those she turns against. I don't think the world of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries works quite like this, which is why I'm so curious to see how they'll handle certain things.

Renay: Knowing what I know about the book from reading spoilers, I am interested to see how they'll manage to redeem some of the characters they really made us like and later changed our perspective of with additional information. The writers have been extremely fair in their portrayal of everyone on screen once they make it to the screen except in cases where they've done the reverse but still managed to make the reveals of information that changes our reading of a character not overly harsh. Everyone's human, not simply a character in a story. Lydia and Jane Bennet Everyone has hopes, flaws, and things that make them both real and three-dimensional. I'm not sure we're ready to dive into spoiler-land yet, but I feel like I can talk about Lydia in this context without ruining anything. So often when I was mainlining the show to catch up I read comments to the effect of, "Ugh, Lydia, you're so annoying I'll be glad when you get yours!" Of course, at the time I had no context for it, and I really liked Lydia a lot even in the early episodes, so I got to watch the tone change as she became a character independent of Lizzie, and people started rooting for her, and comments changed to the active hope for her downfall to "Oh no, what does this mean for Lydia??" :( :( :(" as fans of the books began to love this reading of the character the writers were creating. Since I haven't read the book, I am not sure what Austen wants us to think of Lydia and the choices she makes later in the book, but I just can't see the writers taking a cheap shortcut with all the effort they've made to create this loveable, creative girl. What do you think?

Ana: I'd never really read any of the comments on the videos, but that shift regarding Lydia is fascinating. We're now entering the part of the story where things all go to hell, so it will be interesting to see how people will continue to respond to her. So far, the problems between Lizzie and Lydia were portrayed with the same fairness you mention above: there are hurt feelings and people making mistakes, but you feel for them both and really want them to overcome their differences, instead of blaming one of them and taking the other's side. No cheap shortcuts so far, and definitely a lot more sympathy for Lydia than in the book, where she comes across as someone we're supposed to dismiss as frivolous and a bit silly without giving it a second thought. Then again the original does leave room for people to come to different conclusions, and that's something I appreciate.

Renay: Oh! You should definitely check out at least some of the comments if you have time. It's really different than comments elsewhere on Youtube, which can be vile and exhausting. Although I've run into that a few times, the comments tend to be great, and a wonderful illumination about a point you made earlier with regards to the accessibility of this story. It's an eclectic mix of old fans and new fans and interesting to watch them find a middle ground when discussing things. I've also found the comments to be fairly spoiler-safe (although you wouldn't be affected by that) as many people familiar with the book and other adaptations protect the experience of new fans and let them treat it like this awesome new thing. It's really refreshing. :)

I especially think this would be up your alley given the recent videos Lydia has been releasing and the change in her character. I think, instead of shortcuts, the writers have seriously gone all-in when it comes the the characterizations and motivations of the main characters (although I've had debates with other people about whether this is true).

One thing that came up in a discussion elsewhere that I wanted to ask you about: do you find Lizzie a likeable character as compared to Elizabeth? Since I am not familiar with the book, nor do I feel very close to Austen's characterizations, I wasn't bothered by Lizzie's behavior in the beginning of the show. Because it's based on Pride & Prejudice, and there's enough diffusion of this story into popular culture and ongoing tropes that I am mildly familiar that it's about misunderstanding, miscommunication, and ha ha, personal pride and prejudices (not just Elizabeth's, but other characters as well). I found Lizzie pretty abrasive, but around episode 20-25 I just started to root for her to learn to be better, which seems to happen in a "one step forward, five steps back" sort of way. We see that journey happen with Lydia, too, in a parallel way as she learns how to navigate relationships and communicate better. But what does that mean for Lizzie? Is the update of the story making her unlikeable to serve the story because of the three-dimensional nature of the other characters make her seem less fair than Elizabeth, whose story is hers alone, without additional perspectives of Lydia, Jane, or Charlotte? I'm curious what you think about a charge that Lizzie is one of the more unlikeable characters, considering she's the main character.

Ana: Oooh, great question! You know, Lizzie is actually my favourite character (Jane might beat her if we saw more of her, but as it is, I don't feel that I know her as well as the other sisters). I agree with you about how she comes off at the beginning, but to me that's just not very different from Elizabeth Bennet at all. As you say, this is a story about pride and personal prejudices, and knowing that Lizzie was about to embark on a journey that would change her kept her shortcomings from getting in the way of my connecting with her. Austen's novels have a big focus on romance, and while there's nothing whatsoever wrong with that (romance can be awesome), they're also coming of age stories focused on girls. I remember us having this same conversation about Northanger Abbey a few years ago, and Emma is another good example. This is, among other things, a story about Lizzie letting go of her prejudices and becoming more accepting of others, and knowing she would get there in the end endeared her to me from the beginning.

Your question about whether having access to the other characters' perspectives makes Lizzie less sympathetic is really interesting. Again, my experience with this series was not very different from my experience with the book, even though there's definitely more of a focus on Elizabeth in Austen's version. Charlotte Lu shaking hands with Lizzie Bennet who has has been given a drawn mustache and devil tail The thing is, I never really took Austen's shortcuts at face value, although I can see how it's possible to do so. We do mainly see things from Elizabeth's perspective, and sometimes that doesn't leave much room for anyone else's experiences, but the fact that their side of the story existed too was always implied, if that makes sense. When the novel told me Lydia was just silly and selfish, I didn't necessarily believe it. When Elizabeth judged Charlotte harshly for having accepted Mr Collins' proposal, I wondered what else there was to the story even before they have their famous conversation about marriage and money and women's lack of options. Of course, that won't have been every reader's experience, and what I love about this adaptation is exactly that it brings to the forefront aspects of the story that already existed in my imagination - which means that my relationship with the characters didn't change much at all.

Renay: That's a good perspective — it makes me wonder how my experience of the novel after seeing this adaptation might change the way I look at the choices the LBD writers made and enrich my understanding of the modern twists provided to make the story fit into this century. Challenge set, I suppose! Although I will definitely have to wait until the web series is over! I can't imagine having to deal with dual feelings about the new series and the book at the same time. Remember how impassioned I got about Catherine in Northanger Abbey when my classmates were all "Let's write off this entire character!"? SO MANY FEELINGS, I can't help it; I get invested.

Reflecting back, I think my favorite character is Lydia (although I love some later-introduced secondary characters who are taking on more roles, ahem), because she encapsulates so much about my early 20s where I was feeling the same way she's feeling in the series now about her family and the importance of relying on it and trusting that it can be there to break your various falls. It means that the longer the shows runs, the more I find Lizzie's earlier behavior unbearable. I rewatched some of the early episodes, for instance, when Lydia referenced something discussed early on regarding her personality and behavior and just — wow. That's one thing I'm happy to applaud the writers for — Lizzie's prejudices get in the way of deeper, richer relationships with one of her sisters, and it's a very young, childish viewpoint, and they communicated it beautifully.

Ana: Oooh, I should go back and re-watch some of the earlier videos. I can definitely imagine having that same reaction, but again, I think that's something you get in the novel too — it doesn't happen so much in regards to Lydia because her character is not as fleshed out, but Elizabeth's prejudices and know-it-all attitude do seem painfully obvious when you look back. I, too, love how the writers took that even further and created an adaptation that really illuminates Lizzie's growth.

It's been lots of fun chatting about the Lizzie Bennet Diaries with you — maybe we can have a moping party when they're over? And fingers crossed that the creative team decides to do another adaptation once this one's over - I've seen people on Twitter and Tumblr daydreaming about a modern day Persuasion, and I'd also LOVE to see that happen :D

Lydia Bennet

Date: 2013-02-06 06:40 pm (UTC)
renay: artist rendition of the center of a nebula (Default)
From: [personal profile] renay
One thing that happened — that's of course not present here in this iteration of our thoughts because we started this in December — is developments in Lydia's character arc.

I absolutely hate where they went. I just hate it. I get no enjoyment out of it, every new episode is the writers screwing up and engaging in tired, sexist tropes, I have no confidence they're going to be able to write themselves out of the hole they dug, and...ugh. SO disappointed. Maybe it's true to the book and maybe it isn't (since I haven't read it, I don't know) but in the end I find myself in the same position of loving a character for what she could have been, had the writers had the forethought to check their privileges and assumptions about women's sexuality. I'm tired of this position. I WANT A DIFFERENT POSITION.

Date: 2013-02-06 07:07 pm (UTC)
nymeth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nymeth
I feel differently about it, BUT it will of course all depend on how the whole thing plays out. Making her "downfall" about sexuality has the potential to be problematic, but... it's the same old question about there being a line between portrayal and endorsement that isn't always easy to identify. I keep coming back to this and I don't have any clear answers (remember that series of posts I started here at LB and never finished? Yep, there was a reason for that). Like, I want there to be stories about how sex tapes have the potential to mess up girls' lives because we live in an extremely sexist world. I want these stories to be told because this is a thing that happens and I don't want it to remain unacknowledged, and also because I don't want potentially difficult topics to become no-go areas as creators become more and more afraid to screw up. Having said that, it's all in the handling - are they going to make this a story about slut shaming and sexual double standards and how they suck, or are they going to keep pretending this is all about Lydia having screwed up, Buffy season two style? I mean, it's not impossible or even unlikely that they will, so I totally get your concerns, bur so far I remain hopeful. I guess we'll see! Maybe in a couple of weeks' time I'll come crying to you in disappointment, but then again, MAYBE NOT :P

Date: 2013-02-06 07:54 pm (UTC)
renay: artist rendition of the center of a nebula (Default)
From: [personal profile] renay
Yeah, I get that. But I wanted it to go somewhere that wasn't "young girl has sexual relationship, gets punished", you know? Because any time you bring in a story line where having sex, or having a relationship with another person results in something that can effectively be used to say "you shouldn't have sex, or trust your partners, because you will regret it and have to fight for your self-respect" I'm not sure there's any way to present the issue that subverts that trope. Lydia's being acted on, not acting herself. Where is her agency? :/

Date: 2013-02-06 08:42 pm (UTC)
nymeth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nymeth
I don't know; I don't think these stories necessarily HAVE to be cautionary tales. I guess one thing that might have really helped would be to have some of the other female characters have positive sexual relationships that existed alongside Lydia's, which unfortunately the show hasn't done. For example, I always thought it was a bit odd that Jane emphatically denied she and Bing had ever slept together, considering they're both in their mid to late twenties. Not that people HAVE to have sex, but the "good girl" implications behind it kind of worried me (obviously this would be completely different if she'd been identified as a romantic asexual). But anyway, I'm wary of saying there's absolutely no way to tell a story like this without propping up sexism, because if we do that we run the risk of silencing and erasing women who actually have had that kind of horrible experience. Would a book about, say, a girl like Amanda Todd be sexist by definition? On the other hand, there's a compelling case to be made about these not being the ONLY stories we tell about female sexuality, so once again we return to my favourite mantra of "all the stories, please" :P

As for the matter of agency, I'll be disappointed if they follow a "Darcy saves the day and Lydia just goes along with his plans" path that's too close to the original and never take her will into account; but telling a story where a woman is victimised doesn't bother me in itself. Again, people (and especially women) are placed in situations where they're robbed of agency every day, and to have fiction not acknowledge that would erase something that I think is important. This is actually a kind of story I'm personally very drawn to, and it's the reason why I love books like Tender Morsels, The Brides of Rollrock Island, Thank Heaven Fasting and Consequences by E.M. Delafield, etc. The female characters in those stories are robbed of their choice and they're definitely acted on, but the books do a really job of showing that this is the result of a seriously messed up social system and NOT of individual weakness (whatever that means). They're all creepy books, and they're supposed to be. As long as the story doesn't take any sort of horrifying victim-blaming turn (which we're still not sure about here - time will tell) I don't mind lack of agency so much.

Date: 2013-02-06 09:49 pm (UTC)
renay: artist rendition of the center of a nebula (Default)
From: [personal profile] renay
No, they don't have to be cautionary, but I fear that's where this is going unless they really do something drastic to flip the storyline so Lydia takes back control over her life — both from people who mean well and want to protect her (Lizzie, Jane, her family) and those who want to manipulate and hurt her to cause pain to other people (George). I don't know enough about the book, but from what I'm gathering this is where Darcy swoops in to save the day. I don't want her to be an object acted on, in other words, I want her to do the acting. The only way I see this working is if Darcy goes to Lydia and offers his help. If he goes to Lizzie and does so and Lizzie goes to Lydia like "do this for your own good", or goes behind Lydia and does so, it's going to have all the problems inherent in using the trope (woman victimized; woman stays victimized until men/wiser people help her).

It's not that I have problems with story about victimization (FREX you know how I feel about Tender Morsels). The problem I'm seeing with how the LBD is doing this is that they're modernizing it. It still happens, yes, but where is the modernization of how women can choose to stand up for themselves that wasn't present 200 years ago? I mean, I might cry in my room if this happened to me, but the next step would be scary, scary lawyers. I also get the feeling (from reading wikipedia) that Lydia runs off with George in the book of her own volition , with full knowledge of what it's going to do to her reputation and her family's standing in society. In this, yes, she "runs off" with George (consent, knowledge her family may judge her, but no social repercussions) but the sexual and social coercion of the tape she clearly did not consent to. I don't know how this parallels the book. It may be I'm reacting to a lack of knowledge. I'm just seriously worried that they're not going to be able to swerve fast enough to avoid the giant victim-blaming tree they're driving toward, thereby making Lydia complicit in her own emotional abuse.

Date: 2013-02-06 11:35 pm (UTC)
nymeth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nymeth
Yeah, in the book Darcy basically bribes Wickham to marry Lydia as a form of damage control to her reputation (and, by extension, her sisters' reputations, which prevents his family being tainted by association), and I absolutely agree that there's no way to do a modern version of that without extreme ickyness. Also, yeah, they can't modernise certain aspects of it and pretend that contemporary women don't have more options than they did 200 years ago. But I guess I remain cautiously hopeful that this is not what they're going to do.

Date: 2015-12-29 04:01 am (UTC)
author_by_night: (Default)
From: [personal profile] author_by_night
Found this years later while googling, and I'm curious - what DID you think of how they ended up handling it?

Date: 2013-02-06 09:30 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] phoebenorth
I was going to ask what you guys thought about this, because I've hated it, too. And I think they've done a good job complexifying (it's a word!) Lydia, but there's really no feminist way to do a "her sexual reputation was ruined until she was saved by this guy's money" plotline and I think it would be better if they'd just drastically changed it.

Date: 2013-02-06 10:09 pm (UTC)
renay: artist rendition of the center of a nebula (Default)
From: [personal profile] renay
Well, as you can see, I have a lot of feelings on the subject. XD

Date: 2013-02-06 11:37 pm (UTC)
nymeth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nymeth
There's really no feminist way to do a "her sexual reputation was ruined until she was saved by this guy's money" plotline.

Oh, I absolutely agree, but I do think there are feminist ways to do "her sexual reputation was ruined because of ridiculous double standards" plotlines. I absolutely understand why you and Renay are suspicious, but part of me still hopes that's not where they're going.

Date: 2013-02-07 12:46 am (UTC)
renay: artist rendition of the center of a nebula (Default)
From: [personal profile] renay
I HAVE HOPE. I have 65% hope in my space-time pocket with my disguise pen.

Date: 2013-02-06 11:17 pm (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
'always thought it was a bit odd that Jane emphatically denied she and Bing had ever slept together'

I have been really confused whenever they have Lizzie or Jane talk about 'proper' behaviour and behave rather coyly about sex, even though it fits with the original novel. I just assumed it was part of a particular kind of American culture, because I've seen US shows where upper class young woman, usually in sororities keep to what to me looks like rather old fashioned, 'proper' behaviour and dress codes... Maybe that's what they're showing? But to me the sexless passion of the older sisters and their dedication to a version of modesty which sometimes seems less self-crafted and more a taken for granted idea, passed on to them by society, has always seemed the one part of the novel they haven't successfully adapted.

For me they haven't found a convincing way to integrate it into typical modern life and they've held a bit too rigidly to the novel's base instead of really adapating. But perhaps that's just my particular background talking and there are a lot of other ladies waiting until they get married who can identify with this particular way of talking about sex? Or maybe I'm being harsh and comparing it to the way 'Clueless' manages to keep Cher a virgin (tying in with the society of the original novel) and made that feel right for her and her world.

PS. Awesome Lydia gif - holla :P
Edited Date: 2013-02-06 11:20 pm (UTC)

Date: 2013-02-06 11:42 pm (UTC)
nymeth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nymeth
Yeah, Clueless definitely handled it a lot better - though maybe it helped that she was younger? I've wondered if that aspect of the series was something I hadn't understood because of cultural differences, too, but you're right that it just might be a less than successful transition.

Renay/Academia Hateships

Date: 2013-02-07 12:47 am (UTC)
renay: artist rendition of the center of a nebula (Default)
From: [personal profile] renay
Okay, I want someone to do a class on the LBD from a feminist perspective and I want to attend it. ;____; I ALWAYS END UP BACK IN YOUR ARMS, ACADEMIA.

Date: 2013-03-11 08:40 pm (UTC)
nymeth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nymeth
So this is where I come back with my metaphorical tail between my legs. With 5 episodes left there's just no way out of this mess. SAD FACE. One more for the long things I love with lots of "buts" attached.

Date: 2013-03-12 03:23 am (UTC)
renay: artist rendition of the center of a nebula (Default)
From: [personal profile] renay
I had hope, too. But the end of this series just fell apart. :(


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