From the desk of Virginia Claire Tharrington
Last week I wrote about my passion for the web vlog The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and introduced you to the concept of this new Pride and Prejudice adaptation and its main characters. This week I will cover Episodes 1 – 16.
What I love so much about these first episodes is that they really are all about the heroine Lizzie Bennet. We see her family, her friends, her thoughts, and her life, quirks and all. These episodes are really about her expressing who she is as a person in that moment, and it is delightful to watch.
So often with Pride and Prejudice adaptations the focus goes right to the hero Mr. Darcy (1995 version) and I am not saying that is all bad; it is just a different view than I have of the novel. While we hear about Darcy in the early episodes, we do not see him, which gives us purely Lizzie and her friend’s viewpoints. I see Pride and Prejudice as a story about Lizzie’s self-awareness. In the LBD we are left to focus on Lizzie, which I think is Jane Austen’s whole point. Yes, Darcy is fine and dandy, BUT Lizzie Bennet is the greatest character to grace the pages of a novel (or grace a computer screen). Immediately in the vlogs we see Lizzie’s wit, charm, and personality, which is key to her character. We also see her ability to laugh and not take her self too seriously. Lizzie tells us in the second video that she loves rain, classic novels and Colin Firth movies (This tells me that we are really meant to be best friends, so move over Charlotte Lu!).
In the first few episodes we meet the Bennet sisters Lizzie, Jane and Lydia and Lizzie’s best friend Charlotte. Each is a delightful modernization of their counterpart from the novel, but they also stand alone as characters for the series even if you have never read Pride and Prejudice or seen one its many film adaptations before. The transformation from Regency-era to the 21st-century is so well done that I have very little to critique about them.
Laure Spencer plays Jane Bennet. She is the oldest Bennet sister and just as adorable as I ever could imagine the character in the novel to be. Jane is excessively sweet, but she doesn’t come off as fake. She is totally genuine, if a slight space cadet, and she is a wonderful sister to Lizzie and Lydia. She sees the best in everyone just like in the novel. Jane does come off as a bit naïve, but she sticks up for herself and her sisters when she needs to which I admire. She is also funnier than the Jane in the book, which is refreshing. In episode 15 she does a great impression of Darcy, and it is simply irresistible.
Julia Cho plays Charlotte Lu, Lizzie’s best friend and the video editor of Lizzie’s vlog project. She is a fairly dramatic departure from her character in the novel. We can see why she and Lizzie are drawn together. They are both smart, funny young women who obviously enjoy each other’s company and goofing off. Charlotte also pranks Lizzie several times in the editing of her videos, which is a cute detail. Charlotte is more pragmatic than Lizzie about the real world and her chances after grad school. Charlotte doesn’t have the “soon to be old maid” anxiety that she does in the book. Instead, her worries come from school loans and family financial problems. This is a pertinent modernization because it gives Charlotte the same urgency to find “stability and success.” In the novel she finds it through marriage to the odious Mr. Collins while in the LBD she finds it through her job. It is also very relatable for students today who are struggling to find security in their financial situations
Lydia… Lydia… Lydia. Where to begin with Lydia? First off Mary Kate Wiles is the most engaging Lydia I have ever seen. We see her party girl ways in these early episodes but we also see how open she and how that could/will lead to conflict down the road. She loves life and seems to be enjoying every minute of it. Her bantering interactions with Lizzie are brilliant. They have a sisterly affection that has been lacking in many other adaptions. Elizabeth (in other adaptations) sometimes seems very aloof and judgmental of Lydia, yet they are sisters and spend huge amounts of time together, so they have to get along to some degree. While in the LBD, Lizzie and Lydia might not appreciate each other fully, they clearly care for one another and have a good time together.
They also are pretty hard on each other. Lydia is constantly getting on Lizzie for being “lame” or a “nerd” and Lizzie calls Lydia a “slut” several times and voices her opinion about Lydia’s poor life choices. I think these are some of Lizzie’s weaker moments because she is not seeing Lydia’s vulnerability. My favorite moment with Lydia is when she is hung over from a night drinking at “Carter’s Bar” and sleeping in Lizzie’s bed. Lizzie wakes Lydia up to help her with a video by blasting music in headphones. Lydia is a wild 20 year-old who is looking for a goodtime everywhere she goes. She just does not seem to see long term consequences of any of her actions. We also see her infatuation with Lizzie’s vlogs because she is always barging in and trying to give the camera her best angle. She seems to be seeking attention everywhere she goes. In the Q&A videos we learn that Lydia’s fake ID say “Mary Crawford” and that she is 26. This is a great little detail for Janeites who know the worldly and wild Mary Crawford from Mansfield Park.
While these are the only characters we actually see in the early episodes we hear about many more thought Lizzie’s “costume theater” where she dons hats and uses props to portray of characters important to the story. Through her we learn that her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, are an oddly matched couple, but I wish the LBD had more about their relationship. We hear a lot about Mrs. Bennet desire for her daughters to get married (this does seem slightly dated for todays world but I see why they had to do it) and Mr. Bennet’s ability to aggravate his wife. But I miss seeing these memorable characters in the flesh.
While I love all of Lizzie other impersonations, her take on her mother does bother me because she has a southern accent. As a young Southern woman (who has a fairly strong accent and a mother who has never tried her hand at matchmaking or stalking) I can tell you I don’t like the fact that Mrs. Bennet seems to be a “traditional Southern lady” and desperate for her daughters to get married (I keep thinking she is going to say she wants to go home to Tara but she never does). I do see the humor is Mrs. Bennet; I just hate that she has to be a “traditional Southern lady” stereotype because she sounds like a husband-hunting, match-making, coupon-cutting lunatic and most Southern women I know are nothing like that.
Mr. Bennet is also lacking because we never get to see him, hear his cutting wit, or see his flaws as a father. Mr. Bennet is a wonderful and witty character in the novel, but in the LBD we just hear that he is cloistered away all day reading, enjoying his bonsai trees, or playing with trains instead of seeing him. Lizzie does tell us that he enjoys winding his wife up which sounds exactly like Mr. Bennet from the novel. In LBD, he seems like a jolly, slightly eccentric, model train loving man rather than the caustic, witty and negligence father that he is in the novel. Throughout the series there are no “adults” shown in the vlogs. Lizzie explains that since her parents are openly discussed in the vlogs, she would rather they not know about it. However, I really do miss Mr. and Mrs. Bennet.
Lizzie also tells us about Bing Lee his sister Caroline and their friend William Darcy. The Bennet’s meet them at a wedding, the modern interpretation of the assembly dance in the novel. In many respects the early encounters with Bing and Darcy parallel the book. One interesting thing is how similar Lizzie and Darcy sound in their personalities when she is describing the wedding events. Both are described as standing back from the crowd observing others rather than taking part in the festivities themselves. It is interesting that even from the beginning we can see how similar they really are even though our heroine can’t. Lizzie and Darcy are forced to dance together because Lizzie catches the bouquet, and Darcy catches the garter. Lizzie says that her dance with Darcy was the most awkward dance EVER, and she hates him even more after he slights her by saying, “Lizzie Bennet is decent enough.” She describes him as obnoxious, rude, snobby, and a douchebag. Really I can’t do Lizzie justice in this area so just go re-watch the video because it is hilarious.
Even though we hear a lot about Darcy and Bing in these early episodes, critics could say that they consume too many episodes, I think these vlogs are still much more focused on Lizzie than any other adaptation because we only get these commentaries from Lizzie’s perspective (and once from Charlotte and Jane who step in because they feel Lizzie isn’t telling the whole story). Of course Lizzie isn’t telling the whole story because it is her story with her bias of it. She is out narrative voice in the vlogs which I will talk a lot more about this in a later blog. We only have her as our guide, though I would argue she is a story teller and would follow her anywhere!
I will talk more about Darcy, Caroline, and Bing in later articles so don’t worry, we aren’t done yet. Next week I am watching episodes 17-26 where we meet WICKHAM and COLLINS!
Favorite Quotes: Episodes 1-16
- “What if he is a gay serial killer?” (when Lizzie is thinking about Bing Lee)
- “And what makes you think he has 500 teenage prostitutes?” (Lizzie talking to her mother)
- “Are there any hot chicks that you want to slip your man banana into, Darcy, my homie?” (Lydia trying to reenact how Bing Lee might talk to Darcy – perhaps a cute nod to the fact that Jane Austen never had two men talking alone together in her novels because she didn’t know what they would say)
- “Lizzie Bennet decent enough” (Lizzie telling us about Darcy’s slight of her at the wedding)
- “There is still a Bennet sister with a longer track record of bad decision making” (Lizzie talking about Lydia)
- “And the people in this town — enjoying top 40 radio, laughter and non-organic produce — so uncivilized” (Charlotte pretending to be Caroline)
- “Mary Crawford… 26!!!” (Lydia’s fake ID)
© 2013 Virginia Claire Tharrington, Austenprose