This weekend, in between going to the ballet and watching Six Nations rugby, and going to church, and writing things, and cleaning the flat, I spent about eight hours mainlining the vast majority of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries on YouTube. And yes, I realise that I am, as a friend pointed out, about 10 months late to this particular party. Where has my head been?
But, anyway, what a party. If you’ve not watched any of it, I heartily recommend that you settle yourself down with the playlist and watch the story unfold. (Also, it turns out that there is no retelling of this story where I don't end up loving Darcy, but still thinking Fitzwilliam is better). Look - I’ll help you!
I think the thing that I’m really enjoying (the series isn’t finished yet…) is the way that the first person narration of the video blog format really allows you to get a different perspective on the characters. It’s really interesting. Given that Pride & Prejudice is written in the third person, it feels to the reader that you are getting a clear picture of all of the characters - who they are, what they’re like, and a fair judgement of what happens to them. Or you think you do. If it were written in the first person, in Elizabeth Bennet’s voice, generations of A-Level English students would be jumping up and down shouting, “UNREALIABLE NARRATOR, UNREALIABLE NARRATOR!”, just as they do with The Great Gatsby.
But what The LBD are making clear is that actually, somewhere between Austen and Elizabeth, Pride & Prejudice does have a bias - probably even beyond that predicated by its own cultural norms. For all Lizzie Bennet is presented as a ‘bit different’ with her sharp wit, her willingness to go toe-to-toe with the men, and her refusal to marry a man she cannot stands, she is more conventional and a better fit to her society than either studious, socially inept Mary, or flirtatious, social gadfly Lydia. And by making Lizzie talk direct to camera about people and describe them herself her tendency towards prejudice - which has got a bit lost in a haze of the Great Romance of Elizabeth and Darcy - comes out sharply once again. And it’s not just towards Darcy, but also towards Lydia.
Lydia Bennet, and her cousin Mary (for the purpose of The LBD there are only three Bennet sisters, their cousin Mary, and a cat - Kitty) are a revelation and a delight. Mary isn’t just bookish and awkward - she’s just an introvert who is awkward on camera. She’s smart and a bit geeky, she tutors Lydia and wants to help her do better in school, not just because ‘Lydia must do better’, but because for Mary, learning is fun and she shares it (and because she needs the cash). And she engages with Lydia honestly, and gets to know her, to like her, to pull her up when she needs it, and pick her up when she needs it. Mary, in short, is a great human being. She would be my BFF.
Lydia, meanwhile, is a much more complicated creature - a party animal of her culture, desperate to amuse and entertain, and be amused and entertained, uncertain of who she is beyond that, and hopelessly devoted to her older sisters, who treat her like a baffling and somewhat infuriating butterfly who can be, in Lizzie’s diaries, teased - somewhat cruelly - on YouTube. As you watch Lizzie’s diaries, jump out now and again and watch Lydia’s - as she gets to know and like Mary and work out how a friendship of equals might work, and then as George Wickham reappears on the scene. And as for Wickham - I’ve always known he was a cad, but how many readers of Pride & Prejudice have sneakily thought that, ok, it’s going be a terrible marriage, but really, Lydia should have known better and behaved better. I’ll admit, I have. And that’s a terrible approach to take to a teenage girl who just wants someone to pay attention. Watching Wickham with Lydia in her diaries, the fact that it is actually a terribly abusive relationship is suddenly just there. I quite genuinely have guilt for having thought badly of Lydia in the past, and I really really love that the The LBD make Lizzie face up to that and deal with it.
When I started watching I was enjoying the humour so much, I thought, I hope they do Emma next. Emma seems ripe for this kind of format. But actually, having got nearly to the end, I think maybe the team behind The LBD should turn their hand to Much Ado About Nothing or Taming of the Shrew - I’d love to see them portray Hero or Katarina. Please.