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Complexity, Slut Shaming, and Modern Adaptions: Exploring The Lizzie Bennet Diaries’ Lydia Bennet

March 27, 2013

Lydia Bennet: “Rule #1: Lizzie’s diaries are Lizzie’s diaries and she sees what she wants to see.”

I’ve written about The Lizzie Bennet Diaries—a modern vlog version of Pride and Prejudice before, but in honor of it’s  finale I wanted to touch base on the series evolving portrayal of commentary of young women and their sex lives and the consequences of that public commentary. LydiaBennetLizzie

When the series began, it received criticism from feminist blogger for its treatment of Lydia Bennet. Writers were rightly concerned that the show was presenting her from a slut shaming perspective. Over the past year, the writers have not only answered questions about a few early interactions amongst its main characters, but also called themselves and their fans on its treatment of Lydia Bennet through the series use of meta communication.

Since the retelling happens across many platforms; (Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, other vlogs, etc ) you’re able to understand more fully realized pictures of characters you don’t see as three dimensional in the novel and their (and the writers) reactions to viewers.

That view makes it much harder to forgive Lizzie’s at times judgmental personality, but it does give the audience a greater investment in other audiences. The line, “There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well,” from the original novel is truer here. That characterization is related to both how she sees the world around her and herself as well as the ways those views are changing—after being proved wrong time and time again.

In the novel Lydia Bennet marries George Wickham—after she runs away with him seemingly on a childish whim—and Darcy forces him into that marriage only after Mr. Benet meets the financial requirements that have been negotiated.

As a single camera adaptation the series took a step away from reporting Lizzie’s strict interpretation of events by allowing some characters—most notably Lydia—to share their own competing versions of history. By doing so they’re able to allow audiences to hear Lydia’s story from Lydia herself, allowing autonomy the novel and Lizzie’s channel simply couldn’t, because they’re from Lizzie’s perspective. If you only watched Lizzie’s vlog I suggest you give Lydia’s a look it provides a much more complex, and yes sympathetic, view of a character who makes large miscalculations about who to trust and has to deal with far larger consequences than anyone else in the series.

Instead of a hasty marriage after a thoughtless trip with Wickham, we see a devastatingly affecting Mary Kate Wiles as a party girl with a soft heart opening up to a manipulator. Lines likes, “He cooked me this ridiculous dinner at his place Saturday night—he wouldn’t let me help with anything! What guy does that, unless he really cares?”, sting not only because viewers know what’s to come, but also because this Lydia is given the space to showcase more depth.

It ends with a sex tape—that most viewers believed had been made in secret—being prepared for sale, for profit. Instead, it’s a sadder and more honest portrayal of what a situation like that might look like. Lydia was complicit in the making of the tape (though not it’s sale), and she didn’t do so for herself instead the reasons showcase the emotional, ultimately just as harming as the tape itself.

She believed him when he said she didn’t love him if she didn’t. She thought she wasn’t good enough. She thought she’d end up alone if she didn’t. So she made the tape to prove herself worthy of someone she thought would be there for her.

As a result the show takes on itself, its critics, and yes some it’s most reverent fans when dealing with the aftermath—what characters have said in the past was wrong, so were they. To examine this the show brings, Lydia to a publically dark place ‘liking ‘ the comments from fervent fans declaring her a slut and worse—then addressing the backlash in episode 87.

Endlessly Creating made a great point when she wrote on this topic.

It was so satisfying to see Lydia lash out at the slut shaming from the fandom, and to see Lizzie look the camera in the eye and tell them they’re wrong. … It’s a powerful testament to what the novel is really about – perception and judgment and learning to overcome first impressions.

Though it’s exploration has been satisfying I don’t believe the show is taking a stand against slut shaming as a narrative arc—which some people understandably find unforgivable instead of simply problematic—but they are taking the time to look at the ramifications of such behavior.

That may be giving the work more credit than it deserves, especially after an unfortunately inept explanation of the shows earliest writing where the controversy is equated to an incorrect assumption that the word slut has only recently become polarizing. Despite that failing, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries has been an interesting study of how audiences react in real time—and how far we have to go before victims aren’t seen as just as culpable as their attackers

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 27, 2013 3:40 PM

    I think it’s strange that Bernie said it was something they just “missed” during the writing process! When I was writing my post I came across this tumblr where Rachel Kiley said she “absolutely wrote it on purpose” and was surprised she didn’t get confronted about it sooner.

    • Brittani Haywood permalink*
      March 27, 2013 3:51 PM

      Hmm.. I hadn’t come across that comment. I wonder why they wavered in their official commentary on the issue. It paints it in a slightly different light.

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