The Epic Love Story Between the Perpetually Single and the Soulless Newsie: Looking at The Lizzie Bennet Diaries Ten Years Later
- Witty Dialogue
- Creative, modernized retelling of Pride and Prejudice
- Likable and captivating characters
- Lydia Bennet becomes a complex, lovable, and sympathetic character
- Casual slut-shaming
Ten years ago, Bernie Stu and John Green decided to write a modern day retelling of Pride and Prejudice. Thus, the Lizzie Bennet diaries were born, a vlog series where communications grad student Lizzie Bennet posts chronicles her adventures in work, love, and life.
So, where did I even hear of such a series? It all started when I read Pride and Prejudice back in high school. I simply fell in love with the story and wanted more Lizzie and Darcy. I love a good slow burn and stories about people who have preconceived notions about the other person at first but then fall in love with them. I did what any good Austen fan does and googled “Pride and Prejudice adaptations.” At first I thought there were only two, the one with Colin Firth and the 2005 movie with Kierra Knightley. Turns out there are many adaptations of Pride and Prejudice–fifteen in fact–and the Lizzie Bennet Diaries was one of them. And no, I still haven’t seen them all. But this one is pretty good.
Modern day Lizzie Bennet is the average millennial/older member of Gen Z. She interns and joins the job hunt, carries debt, and lives with her parents. She is also quirky and awkward and painfully relatable and she needs a job as badly as Austen’s Lizzie needs a husband to provide for her financially. Since the ten years that the show premiered, not much has changed for us twenty-somethings.
It has been more than ten years. I can’t believe it. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries aired on YouTube on April 9, 2012 and contains 100 episodes in its vast and interconnected universe. I’ll say now that I didn’t watch the show until about four years after it aired, but I still watched the entire thing in full. Lizzie isn’t the only character with a vlog either–Lydia Bennet, Charlotte’s sister Maria Lu, and Georgiana Darcy all post videos at some point. You can skip most of them if you’d like, they add to the story but don’t detract from the plot, but I would highly recommend watching Lydia’s videos.
This series expands Lydia’s storyline and develops her character far better than Austen did. I wasn’t a big fan of her videos at first. But you should still watch them, even the early ones. Lydia’s spirited personality and ending song “nannanananayea” might seem slightly tiring and elementary, but her vlogs tell a far darker, and frankly, more balanced story than Lizzie’s diaries tell us.
But before we dive into Lydia. You might wonder how this vlog series works. Essentially, Lizzie posts videos after events occur and then gives her opinion on them. Lizzie also does what she calls costume theater. She dramatizes people and events and uses exaggerated expressions to describe them. Her mother and William Darcy are the most exaggerated–and humorous–of the bunch. The episodes last 3-5 minutes each and a new episode was usually released every few days.
So, what are the The Lizzie Bennet Diaries about exactly? The story begins with 24-year-old Lizzie Bennet, who lives at home with her two sisters, Jane and Lydia. Her first video introduces herself and she says that this video series is her thesis project for a graduate degree in communications. She tells us that her mother, Mrs. Bennet, has begun to concoct a scheme after she discovers that wealthy newcomer Bing Lee is moving in next door with his best friend William Darcy. Bing Lee is the character Mr. Bingley in Pride and Prejudice, and he is studying to be a doctor. Mrs. Bennet insists that her husband introduce himself to them.
Such a wealthy man must be looking for a future wife and to Mrs. Bennet, there is nothing more logical than to set him up with her daughters. She even gives them these t-shirts.
In this story, the idea women should get married and settle down for material and financial comfort is only held by Mrs. Bennet and for everyone else, romantic relationships are a choice based on compatibility, falling in love, and affection rather than financial necessity. Most of the characters are more focused on their careers or having fun instead of finding their soulmate. This seems pretty refreshing. Lizzie wanted to marry for love in the books, and it wouldn’t make any sense for her to feel otherwise.
Overall, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries follow the plot of Pride and Prejudice with a few deviations. To seem more typical of 21st century birth rates–and to reduce the amount of required actors–there are only 3 Bennet sisters. Mary Bennet is their cousin, and Kitty Bennet is a literal cat. So, unfortunately, we don’t get to see a recreation of the scene where Kitty coughs and her mother scolds her for coughing for her own amusement.
The series itself is rooted in Lizzie’s desire to build a career in media. The diaries themselves are Lizzie’s graduate school thesis project. A life vlog sounds like a heavy project to handle. Thankfully, she also has the help of Charlotte Lu, a fellow grad student, to help her edit and offer moral support and sometimes tough love.
Lizzie’s decision to film her personal life for a school project and include friends and family in her videos raises some interesting questions about media ethics.
Bing Lee, for example, appears on camera in several episodes but is never told that videos of him are on the internet. He never consents to having himself put on YouTube, and Lizzie films him in his own house without his knowledge. Lizzie also talks about several characters behind their backs that do not know about the videos like Bing and Darcy. Lizzie talks badly of Darcy and Bing on video and posts several times. Bing finds out about the videos near the end of the show, but we never see his reaction. As a communications student, Lizzie studied media ethics, but she hardly hesitates to blur the ethical line in her videos. All I can say is that the series requires us to suspend our disbelief. Darcy is worth it.
But I have to say, I started the series for Lizzie and Darcy, but I stayed for Lydia. Well, I did stay for Darcy too. But I honestly didn’t expect to like Lydia as much as I did. In this rendering, almost all the characters remain the same except Lydia Bennet.
In the original Pride and Prejudice, Lydia loves parties, guys–particularly the officers–and socializing. She is very excited and young and bold. In this series, however, Lydia is excited, young, and a bold too, but we get to see so much of her. Lydia isn’t a favorite Bennet, and she knows it. While Jane is her mother’s favorite and Lizzie is her father’s, Lydia is the pesky younger sibling. Lizzie just finds Lydia annoying. But she, and the writers, refuse to let her story be sidelined.
Lydia says in an interview episode:
“You’re only a secondary character if you let yourself be one.”Lydia Bennet
Lydia is determined. She refuses to be reduced to Lizzie’s characterization of her and her story captures the hearts of the viewers. I would argue that she stole the show.
I wonder if Lydia became interested in parties and is more outgoing to have an identity that is different than her sisters. She feels like she cannot measure up to the perfect Jane and studious Lizzie and her parents compare her to them pretty often. Why can’t you be more like Jane or Lizzie, her mother once asked.
But out of the three sisters, Lydia feels the most human. She puts on a face even when she is unhappy and left out. She hides her insecurities and tries to be a better person and sister. And although she likes to party with people, she has few real friends. She has people to party with, but when they don’t want her around, they drop her. Lydia seeks Lizzie’s approval and tries to hang out with her, but Lizzie is very judgmental of Lydia and her life choices.
Lizzie’s prejudice towards others is clearly at the forefront of this novel. Lizzie mentions multiple times in her video diaries that they are based on her perspective on true events, and that she “remembers everything”. Lizzie a bit of a type 1 on the enneagram, a moralist who takes the high ground and holds people to high standards. This can be a good thing, like when she stops talking to George Wickham. It becomes a problem when she acts self-righteous. She never says it is my way or the high way, but she certainly implies it.
It isn’t that Lizzie’s POV is uncontested, in fact, it constantly is questioned and occasionally debunked. Multiple characters point out that Lizzie isn’t always right–Charlotte and Jane even hijack Lizzie’s videos to tell the audience about times where Lizzie’s is portraying other people and situations inaccurately.
And with the show’s characterization of Lydia Bennet, Lizzie has to recognize her opinions about others are not only incorrect, like her opinion on William Darcy, but downright harmful to the people she claims to care about. In Pride and Prejudice, Austen justifies Lizzie’s view of Lydia being an irresponsible and boy-crazy when Lydia ends up in a marriage to an officer and could care less that she almost ruined her family’s reputation. Nevermind that Lydia in the book was only fifteen-years-old and fell for a man who manipulated her and only pretended to care for her. Now she’s doomed to what will probably be an unhappy marriage. Luckily, the Lizzie Bennet Diaries ages its characters up. Lydia is a community college student. Lizzie is 24, and Jane is 26. Lydia gets a better ending and in this modern retelling, Lizzie is dead wrong about her sister.
I’m in a similar life stage to Lizzie. We’re both trying to figure out what the future looks like and feel anxiety about what comes next, but despite this, I can’t help but sympathize more with Lydia.
Lizzie seems harder to like. She is so certain about the people around her. I understand her position. The world she lives in is full of uncertainty. She holds onto judgements about people because it they paint a picture of the world that is stable and predictable. Her mother is always marriage-obsessed and outlandish, and Lydia is always energetic and happy, Charlotte is her best friend who never edits anything out of videos; Jane sweet, thoughtful, and never struggles; and Darcy is awkward and obnoxious.
Perhaps the issue is that Lizzie sees the world as full of characters rather than other humans with lives as complex as hers, her friends and family are archetypes that follow a particular path and never stray. That is why Lizzie is so shocked when Charlotte takes a job at Collins and Collins. Lizzie begs and uses her audience to convince Charlotte to stay, while Charlotte asks her to let her go. Charlotte explains to Lizzie why she took the job.
“Yes I do. Like you, my family’s in debt. Like you, I’m in debt, just more debilitating than yours.”
“No, you’re not.”
“We live in an apartment. We used to live in a house. My sister is going to college. There is no house to sell.”
Lizzie focuses so much on her passion and misses that Not everyone has the same financial opportunities, and while Lizzie’s family is struggling, they have a privlidge that not everyone does. She doesn’t try to understand Charlotte’s position until later.
In addition to finances, Charlotte’s decision also raises the question of practicality. She and Lizzie are good foils for each other in this way. It isn’t everyday that your old neighbor begs you to take a job with their company, and Mr. Collins made a good offer. Charlotte isn’t making the videos of her dreams, but she gets to be creative and edit and ends up leading an entire branch. Lizzie wants to do her own thing, but taking a job that sets her up for the future doesn’t sound too bad. Mr. Collins is talkative, but he is also nice and knows his work. I personally have to go with Charlotte on this one. But this is Lizzie’s house of cards, and she tells us where they stand.
Everyone has a role to play in the narrative of Lizzie’s life, but the tower starts shake when her expectations don’t come true. When Jane falls for Bing, and then Bing takes off. Charlotte moves away. Life doesn’t turn out how she wants it to. If other people just stayed the same and were comfortable, then maybe one day she too will settle someplace comfortable, instead of wandering into what feels like open emptiness.
It is also worth noting that though many of the characters value their careers, Lizzie’s series–and Pride and Prejudice as a whole–centers on romantic drama, particularly Jane’s relationship with Bing. The diaries are for a research project, yet whenever Lizzie tries to bring up her work or classes, she is shot down by those around her.
The show’s presentation of singleness isn’t simple, especially since the show is centered on romance. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries by nature follows the romance plot, but it is also pretty self-aware. Lizzie knows that she talks about Jane’s relationship with Bing all the time. She knows that she’s in a place in life where everything is uncertain. Romantic relationships offer a form of stability and validation that Lizzie doesn’t have.
Her graduate studies, while impressive, have yet to offer her anything substantive in terms of career options. The other option of success the series presents is a romantic relationship, and Lizzie isn’t too successful in that area. She doesn’t actively pursue guys and only begins seeing George Wickham when he shows interest in her. I’m not sure if the writers meant to echo the original Lizzie Bennet, who wanted marriage for love rather than for convenience. Maybe this Lizzie is waiting for her romantic happy ending, and in her mind, it just hasn’t happened yet. But it doesn’t matter what her perspective is, because society still judges her for not having found a relationship yet. Her sister Lydia has a list of “Reasons Lizzie Bennet is Perpetually Single.”
Not perpetually awkward, not nerdy, not unemployed, but single. Singleness is a status to change in this story. Obviously, Lizzie’s mother’s opinions affect her, much like the pressure and expectations of family, friends, and society put on women and people in general, to marry. Lizzie rarely personally complains about her lack of a relationship, but her mom and sister do. While some of their attitudes come from Pride and Prejudice, other attitudes come from American 21st century values that encourage those in their mid-twenties to move out of their parents house and move on. Relationships mean moving somewhere, they indicate that kids are moving forward with their lives and toward life with partner. When, Jane eventually moves out of her parents house to follow Bing, Lizzie is left alone.
She’s afraid of when Charlotte leaves for work and of being lost and aimless. Lizzie and Lydia are strange mirrors of each other in that way. Lizzie ends up getting her happy ending with Darcy, but they both face similar fears. Neither is entering a future with any certainty and it is notable that Lydia, the one who doesn’t do relationships, enters a relationship with George Wickham. But while the show praises and shows us cute moments between Jane and Bing and Lizzie and Darcy, we see the dark side of clinging to a romantic partner for happiness.
Lydia allows Wickham to convince her that she doesn’t need her family and that he will always be there for her. The idea of moving on with a partner means the total exclusion of the family unit. Wickham presents a dichotomy, choose your family or your partner. He takes her away from everyone. He isolates her and brings out her deepest insecurities. His words are cold and twisted and we see Lydia’s clothing getting more and more grey as he sucks the light out of her.
I’m not going to talk too much about the Wickham plotline. Wickham initially charms Lizzie, and I get why Lydia liked him at first. As a swim coach, he has a habit of showing up and disappearing everywhere. He is one of the most vile creatures in literature, and this series dives right in to his story. He is a master manipulator, and you can see signs of abuse in his videos with Lydia. I don’t know much about the subject, but I’m glad that the show raised awareness of abusive relationships. The topic isn’t talked about often, and it is painful to watch, but it is important. Their relationship continues to get worse as Lydia spirals and Wickham messes with her self esteem.
Wickham ends up manipulating her into filming a sex-tape and then almost releases it onto the internet. It never airs, thanks to William Darcy, but Lydia still faces judgement for the video being up in the first place. Lizzie assumes she was in on it and starts to blame Lydia. If there’s anything to criticize in this show, it is the slut-shaming and it gets worse than this part too.
Slut Shaming and The Writers’ Response
Attitudes about slut-shaming have changed over the past ten years, but that doesn’t mean slut-shaming was completely accepted during the run of LBD. I saw a few people in the comment section on YouTube complaining about Lizzie slut-shaming Lydia in 2012, so I did some more research into what the writers John Green and Bernie Stu were thinking.
On the Pemberley Digital Website, I found a form where fans can ask questions to the writers. In one Q&A, one viewer, who described herself as a “somewhat strong feminist” said that she expected Lizzie to hold similar feminist attitudes. The writers responded to this message while episodes of the show were airing. Bernie Stu said,
“The slut shaming critique is definitely something we’re aware of and honestly one of the few disappointments we have with the reception of the series. I’d like to clarify that we are not defending it. The critique is a fair one. It really is something we simply missed on.
Lizzie’s line early in episode 2 when she casually refers to Lydia as a “wh***y – s***t” is especially one I really really wish I had caught and taken back. :/”
The later episodes don’t repeat these comments as often, but overall, they make it harder to like and sympathize with Lizzie,. But it also makes the ending more impactful. When Lydia throws Lizzie’s words back at her, “because I was being a stupid, wh***y s**t again?” She asks her sister honestly. It hurts to watch Lizzie realize that she doesn’t know Lydia, but she realizes the harm in her words. She apologizes and wants to get to know her sister better and be there for her. It is a heartbreaking redemption arc for Lizzie. Lizzie and Lydia make up only after Lydia has been hurt, but we do see Lizzie making effort to do better and you can tell she’s hurt and wants to do better. I like how the sisters make up. The series focuses on the relationships between the Bennet family just as much, if not more than they focus on romantic relationships. Family is first, and extremely important.
On a second watch, I found it harder to care about Darcy and Lizzie’s romance. During my first watch, I was so excited to see Darcy for the first time and to watch him and Lizzie fall in love. I analyzed and rewatched every interaction and read the comment sections. I looked up Lizzie and Darcy quotes on Pinterest (yes, I’m that much of a fangirl). I got excited with them. I was thrilled when they got together. I still love both of them, and Darcy is still adorably awkward, but on a second watch, my attention went to Lydia. I noticed how Lizzie treated her, and how she left Lydia out. Lizzie struck me as cold and superior. It is hard to feel excited about her and Darcy as I watch Lydia fall apart again.
Lydia ends the show single and slowly rebuilding, closer to her sisters than ever. It is a beautiful ending, and I feel horrible that Lydia had to go through all this pain to get there. There is a book on Lydia Bennet’s adventures in the aftermath, just like there is for Lizzie. I’m not sure if I’ll read either of them or not.
In lighter news, I do have a few other observations on the show.
One question I can’t help going back to in this series is perhaps an unimportant one. When did Lizzie start to have feelings for Darcy? From the beginning, she never hesitates to talk about him, usually to call him out on his rudeness. We learn later that Darcy had a crush on Lizzie early on, when he told Caroline that Lizzie had fine eyes and then abruptly started fake texting about something “super important” to avoid Lizzie all night.
Of course, Lizzie doubts that Darcy likes her because he doesn’t like people, except maybe Bing and his sister Georgiana. Darcy has an entire list of qualities that make up the accomplished woman and, frankly, it feels like he is reaching for someone unattainable. I’m theorizing that she did like him, and that is why she felt so annoyed with him all the time.
We also can’t blame Darcy here completely. Part of his behavior is pride, which he works on later, but he is also just socially awkward. That makes him relatable. I get not wanting to smile all the time. And being told to smile when you’re not actually happy is pretty annoying. Darcy has a point. He doesn’t like parties or big gatherings, and that is fine. If you’ve ever had a crush or just spent time with someone you want to impress, you’ll relate, who hasn’t been awkward? I’m already a fan of these two, and honestly their awkwardness makes me like them together more.
The platonic relationships are pretty great in this series too. I loved Mary Bennet and her friendship with Lydia. They are polar opposites, and I always liked watching them interact. Charlotte and Lizzie’s friendship is pretty sweet too, even if Lizzie doesn’t quite get her friend at first.
My favorite relationship was probably Darcy and Lizzie. They are adorable. Darcy doesn’t appear on screen for a while, but once he does, he and Lizzie have great chemistry. He is awkward and oddly formal in the modern retelling, and he is just perfect. He and Lizzie play off of each other really well, and we get some hilarious lines. Which brings me to quotes.
There are many quotable lines in the diaries, but these are some of my favorites. I found some of them on TV Tropes.
“This party is preposterous. I hate dancing. It’s a waste of time, like saying nice things to people. Many of these people seem to be enjoying popular music un-ironically.”Lizzie dressed as Darcy
“Are you fake texting?”
“It’s super important”Caroline and Darcy
“The guy doesn’t always make the best first impression, and he’s got the social skills of an anthropomorphic lobster”Fitzwilliam about Darcy
And my favorite:
“Everyone deserves tea.”Jane Bennet
Have you read the Lizzie Bennet Diaries? Let me know what you think down in the comments below!