An Elizabeth Bennet for the Modern Day (spoilers)

February 4, 2013

I have been reminded lately that great quality drama – both writing and acting – is no longer limited to the silver screen, TV and stage. I am an avid follower of Bernie Su’s and Hank Green’s The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. The “LBD” is a transmedia modernisation/adaption of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and is another great example of quality writing and acting. It is well worth viewing if you have not yet seen it.

The main content is based around twenty-something grad student Lizzie Bennet’s YouTube blog in which she discusses her daily life with her parents and sisters Jane and Lydia. The Mary Bennet of the original becomes a cousin, and Kitty is Mary’s cat. Lizzie’s vlogs are supplemented by in character tweets and also vlogs by younger sister Lydia. Her best friend and blog editor is Charlotte Lu, and she has a volatile relationship with one William Darcy.

Speaking of Twitter, one of the real challenges the writers of the LBD had not faced by Jane Austen was to keep the in world characters ignorant of events in our world dominated by cell phones, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. The main characters all have Twitter accounts. The writers got around this by having characters follow/unfollow each other at strategic points and having Lizzie’s cellphone die on her in the lead up to Lydiagate.

There have been other very clever updates. Pemberley, Darcy’s grand estate which also captures Lizzie’s heart, becomes Pemberley Digital, Darcy’s modern, high-tech company. Darn it, I want to work there! This allows for Lizzie’s being able to see how much Darcy is admired and respected by his staff, melting her prejudice as in the original.

The quality of the writing and acting are incredible. The writers have succeeded in holding to the main themes of the original novel while bringing the details into the modern age. The world in which Jane Austen published her novel almost exactly 200 years ago seems very different from today’s world; the beauty of the LBD is in showing that, although in many ways things have changed over the last two centuries, in others they remain the same.

A perfect example of this is in the Lizzie/Collins/Charlotte storyline. In the original, Mr Collins makes Lizzie an offer of marriage, which she rejects in favour of waiting for a more passionate union. Charlotte, desperate for financial security, marries Mr Collins in her place. In our time, women have far more options available to them than marriage. The Collins of the LBD makes Lizzie an offer of employment, which she rejects in order to pursue her studies about which she is passionate. Charlotte Lu accepts the offer in Lizzie’s place and, in a particularly poignant episode, justifies her decision to a horrified Lizzie, explaining that, faced with crippling student debt and a family in financial difficulties, she could not afford to pass up this secure income. So perhaps things haven’t changed as much as they seem.

The updating of Lydia’s storyline has also been very skillfully done. Clearly, in today’s age there is nothing shocking about Lydia’s running off alone with a man. Fans speculated on how this would be updated. The writers teased us with a few possibilities. Would it be drugs? An abusive relationship? The answer was revealed just a few days ago when the site Lydia Bennet tape (NB, not safe for work…) was launched. The writers have chosen to stick with the sex theme and have Lydia embroiled in a sex tape scandal. For me, at least, this comes close to evoking the feelings of shock and horror that Jane Austen’s original readership must have felt at Lydia’s running off with Wickham. It also shows that whether in Regency England or modern day America a blighted reputation can have serious repercussions on your future.

Although the main vlog is from Lizzie’s perspective, the expansion of the story via Twitter and Lydia’s vlog allows for the development of the secondary characters. This is most notable in the case of Lydia. If memory serves me correctly, the Lydia of the original Pride and Prejudice was a fairly two-dimensional character, with little more development than being a young, immature airhead. The Lydia of the LBD starts of in a similar way, but through Lizzie’s vlog and her own vlog we see there are so many more layers to our Lydia. Kudos both to the writers and talented actress Mary Kate Wiles. For this reason, and also the fact that I can relate more easily to the impact of the modern day scandal than the Regency one has really made me root for Lydia. At this point I have plans to tie up George Wickham between my cat and her food so that he dies a painful, toothy death, even more so having just watched Lydia’s reaction to learning about the video.

The heart of the novel and the adaptation remains though Lizzie’s relationship with Darcy and how it is impacted by his pride and her prejudice. This adaptation has kept most faithfully to this aspect of the novel, even having Darcy’s initial declaration of love to Lizzie be almost word for word from the book. And I just have to say it, our Lizzie (Ashley Clements) and Darcy (Daniel Gordh) are just so darned CUTE together! Watching their relationship unfold onscreen gives far more immediacy than reading Lizzie’s later account of it in the original. It is clear how much the viewers were invested in the characters when the Twitterverse went crazy after Darcy’s first appearance.

One thing that has changed for me is my feelings on the Jane/Bing(ley) relationship. As in the original, the LBD Jane and Bing are both incredibly sweet and seem a good match for each other. However, as a modern woman, our Jane has far more options to take her life into her own hands and when last seen was happy making a new life for herself. It was also highlighted for me just how significantly Bing’s allowing himself to be so easily influenced by Darcy has affected my impression of him. At this point, I’d be quite happy if Jane and Bing don’t end up together. At the very least, Bing has to do some serious grovelling to Jane and standing up to Darcy before Jane should allow him back into her life.

So in summary, I thoroughly recommend watching The Lizzie Bennet Diaries for some excellent writing and acting. A must for Jane Austen fans, and fans of quality drama.

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