Pride and Prejudice is a timeless classic, and the basis for many of today’s romcoms. Boy meets girl, boy offends girl, girl hates boy, girl inspires boy to become a better man, boy and girl live happily ever after. There have been countless updated retellings. Countless. You Got Mail is by far one of the more popular ones. The Mormons have their version in Pride & Prejudice: A Latter-Day Comedy. There’s Bride & Prejudice (a Bollywood version), a version where Lizzy and Darcy take on Zombies, and the murder mystery Death Comes to Pemberly. Most of the Hallmark Movies are reminiscent of this trope. I’m won’t mention all the novels flooding the market. I love a new spin on an old classic… but let’s not beat a dead horse. Austen is a genius and considering all the romcoms and remakes and retellings, the recycled Pride and Prejudice formula can feel worn out. Or worse, cheapened.
One afternoon, I noticed my sister looking at her phone, earbuds in, laughing aloud. “Veronica, you have got to watch it!” she insisted, when she finished watching. “It’s a new, updated Pride and Prejudice on YouTube called The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. It’s hilarious!”
I nodded, but wasn’t too enthused at the idea. I’ve had my fill of knockoffs. Often the actors fell short in their portrayals of the characters. Or the 19th century manners, customs, and plotlines didn’t translate well to the 21st century. Example—Lydia running off with Wickham, living out of wedlock in London, and having to marry to save her from complete ruin. While it wasn’t fair, it made sense to have Lydia and Wickham marry in the book, but in the 21st century, reputations aren’t “ruined” if people live together. Also, in this modern era, women have more rights, freedoms, education, and money, which doesn’t make it imperative for them to marry.
A few weeks later, I tuned into the first episode. Then the second, third… and so on. There were a hundred episodes in all and of an evening before turning in, I watched a handful. Lizzie Bennet, a grad student who lives at home and is up to her eyeballs in debt, is intent on having a lucrative career and decides to do a vlog series for a class. The audience gradually meets the large cast of characters in Lizzie’s life… her sisters sweet Jane and wild Lydia, her bestie Charlotte Lu, new comers Bing and Caroline Lee. A handful get left to our imaginations or end up in Lizzie’s comical reenactments. The one who she mocks most in her imitations is Darcy, a friend of Bing’s, whose snobbish and rude behavior offends her. The story (which mirrors the original in a roundabout way) plays out before the camera, or is reenacted. Darcy continues to be illusive, until episode sixty, when the man himself makes an impromptu cameo.
The series of misunderstandings are eventually solved. Darcy and Lizzie surrender their pride and prejudice and allow themselves to fall in love. That original formula is there, but the actors have a special chemistry that makes it feel fresh and new. Their relationship is a marriage of true minds. As much as I enjoyed this new take on an old classic, it was many of the side characters whose story arcs intrigued me.
When Bing Lee returns to reunite with Jane, rather than jump at the chance of reconciling, Jane receives an explanation and apology. She has plans put in motion regarding her career, and instead of forfeiting her dreams, Bing Lee follows her lead and supports her.
Charlotte Lu isn’t condemned for accepting Mr. Collins’ proposal… of a job offer. While Lizzie might question her motives and happiness, we see Charlotte content with her choices and she has a way out of her financial woes. She can help her mother and younger sister too.
Best of all, Lydia isn’t conveniently married off to Wickham at the story’s end. Lydia is not the one-dimensional, selfish ditz shown in many adaptations/retellings. She is a well-rounded, three-dimensional young woman. We feel compassion for her when she makes mistakes or gets manipulated, and we can rejoice when she thrives after her association with Wickham ends.
I’ve watched The Lizzie Bennet Diaries multiple times, and it never gets old. There’s something about it that is heartwarming. The oddball Bennets remind me of my family. I’ve laughed and cried with this version, as much as I have with the original.
And you know what, I think it’s time for me to tune into it again.