why I like the Lizzie Bennet Diaries.

March 16, 2013

this title sounds like a primary school essay.

so this is The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. it’s a modern adaptation of Pride & Prejudice and if you haven’t seen it yet, you should. Look, I’ll even put the first vlog in here for you.

There’s a year’s worth of episodes there, and we’re coming to the end of the story, so- as we come to the end of an era, I thought I’d reflect a little on the storytelling experience that’s taken up a decent chunk of my waking hours.

Pride & Prejudice. I didn’t like it particularly much before I found The LBD, despite having tried to read it multiple times. I’ve never been a fan of Austen (I know, sacrilege) but P&P I found vaguely more tolerable than her other novels, perhaps because I’d tried to finish reading it so often over the years (I did manage to finish Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, but that was mostly because I read all the zombie bits and skipped the Austen sections. M’not sure if that counts).

Trying to stay open-minded about a novel people kept telling me I should like, I watched two adaptations and tried to figure out what people saw. Because the 1995 BBC version bored me completely. Completely and utterly. It just wouldn’t end. I found the 2005 version with Keira Knightley much more tolerable (purists will probably shoot me, if they haven’t already begun desecrating my corpse about my apathy towards Austen) although I still wasn’t wholly convinced. The movie itself was unexceptionable; the cinematography was truly lovely, as was the thematic use of the music and the fluid, somewhat unconventional directing (muddy hems? Regency without the frills? Frequent contrasts between noise and silence and a large babble of interruptions to portray family life and the occasional clever, theatrical detail to emphasise a storytelling point? Brilliant). But the story? Eh.

The thing that most people and these particular adaptations tend to focus on is the relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy, and I simply never understood the fuss (particularly in light of what seems to be worldwide and unanimous Darcy fangirling*). I’ve never been into the cult of the brooding, silent hero. I hated Heathcliff and Rochester (seriously? get over yourself, dudes-), and Colin Firth in a wet shirt continues to leave me singularly unmoved. On the whole, it was a giant load of squawking I simply wasn’t interested in identifying myself with. Austen’s Elizabeth as a character? Sure, fine. The existence of Darcy in her life? Sure, whatever. But Mr. Darcy as the Epitome of the Perfect Man and P&P as the Perfect Love Story? Seriously? Whatever.

It wasn’t until The LBD, however, that I actually began to understand P&P. And like it, a little. That’s largely because The LBD greatly expands on characters and relationships and makes them more emotionally complex and relatable. There are many other reasons I love The LBD, including the deep interactivity between the fandom and the creators, the transparency of the creators about and during the process, the sheer brilliance of transmedia and the incredible, incredible actors, not to mention the ease with which the format fits into my daily perambulations about the internet- but the main reason I like, and love, the LBD is the characters. The deeply expanded, given-multiple-dimensions, looked-at-with-complex-insight-and-understanding, characters.

I feel like I can identify with Charlotte and with Lydia. I love Charlotte’s sarcasm. I like how Jane has grown so much stronger. I love how careful Bing & Jane’s new relationship is because it needs to be that after the brokenness of the past. I really like how Ricky Collins is a person, not just a caricature to be ridiculed, and how we’ve seen Lydia grow and change so enormously throughout the series as a beautiful, broken and insecure young woman instead of remaining simply as a sketch of a spoiled brat. I love Fitz because he’s wonderful. I like Caroline because she’s awful and insecure and really does love her brother. I love to hate this poser Wickham who calls people ‘peach‘ and I love Lizzie as a complex and developing individual (although she was always more carefully drawn in the book than the others). I really like the expanded role of Gigi Darcy. I even like how they’ve slowly unwrapped Darcy from Lizzie’s point of view, but the key thing here is that the Darcy-Lizzie relationship is in no way the central overwhelming item of the whole series. Darcy doesn’t even show up until something like episode 59. The worship at the Mr. Darcy altar here is deeply minimal, if it’s even present (although the rabid fans in the comments were driving me somewhat murderous after the five billionth reiteration of WE WANT TO SEE DARCY. No. No you don’t get to see Darcy because it doesn’t make sense for him to be here right now. Because the story isn’t actually entirely about him. Stop being an idiot. Stop. Stop now. Where is my chainsaw).

Instead, it’s about Lizzie. And about the people in her life. One of whom, yes, is Darcy, but he’s just one person in the tangled mess of her relationships and the people she loves or doesn’t love as she grows in understanding of herself and of the people around her. It’s the Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Not the Darcy-and-Lizzie Lurve Show. It’s a story tracking the emotional and mental growth and development of one young woman. And that’s a good story.

And The LBD has done this for me. I am emotionally invested in these expanded, multi-dimensional characters as people and I am emotionally invested in their relationships in a way I never was with P&P. Emotional investment is what good stories create. And while The LBD is an adaptation of Pride & Prejudice, I think it is so much more than just an adaptation or a faithful retelling. I tried those. I got bored.

I still don’t like Austen, I’m still only vaguely appreciative of the novel, but LBD’s beautiful, clever work and investment in these characters makes it something better than Austen’s source material, in my opinion.

Sacriligeous? Probably. Whatever.



* (Some of this may be due to my own innate desire to Not Do Something Because Other People Do It, but certainly not all. Lots of people love the LBD, and here I still am. Hipster much?)

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