Of Jane Austen, the Bennet Sisters … and VAWA?

lizzie bennet“I let him film us having sex, Lizzie. I let him do that. … He never made me do anything, so just tell me that I didn’t get what I had coming Lizzie, just try to tell me that!”

A sobbing and self-abusive young woman named Lydia Bennet is speaking to her older sister Lizzie on the latter’s YouTube Vlog. They have just learned that Lydia’s so-called boyfriend, George Wickham, has set-up a website and is staging a countdown to the worldwide release of what Lydia thought was a private sex tape of her. “I thought he loved me,” Lydia cries in her sister’s arms.

The scene is featured in the 87th episode of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, the sensationally popular YouTube series and transmedia phenomenon created by Hank Green and Bernie Su, based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

As a college professor and Jane Austen scholar I (like many of my colleagues) have been fascinated by the series. My students told me about it in a Jane Austen course I taught last semester and since then I’ve been hooked. In an earlier Ms. blog, I praised The Lizzie Bennet Diaries for its refusal to overly romanticize Mr. Darcy.

But nothing has impressed me more than the Diaries’s treatment of the Lydia plot in Pride and Prejudice. The adaptation not only continues the series’ de-emphasis on romance but also celebrates the importance of female bonds and addresses the need for women to work together to address sexual victimization.

Austen herself cherished female bonds. Her closest companion was her sister Cassandra, and several of her novels stress the value of same-sex friendship. “Perhaps no man can be a good judge of the comfort a woman feels in the society of one of her own sex,” says Mrs. Weston in Emma. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet is bosom buddies with her sister Jane and distraught when her best friend Charlotte marries the idiotic Mr. Collins. (The Lizzie Bennet Diaries redeem Charlotte by having her merely accept Mr. Collins’s job offer.)

But when it comes to Lydia, the Elizabeth of Pride and Prejudice has only scorn. She calls her youngest sister “vain, ignorant, idle and absolutely uncontrolled.” In the novel, Lydia has sex with George Wickham, a huge taboo in 19th century England. In most novels of the period, female characters who have sex out of wedlock are doomed to die. At the very least, Lydia’s life will be ruined, her family stained, and her older sisters’ marital prospects compromised. When Elizabeth learns about Lydia’s scandal, she assumes that Darcy is forever lost to her.

Screen shot 2013-03-06 at 11.07.38 AMLike Elizabeth Bennet, Lizzie Bennet is contemptuous of Lydia—so much so that she calls her a “whorey slut” as early as the second episode. In the 87th episode, as they await Wickham’s release of the sex video, Lydia pointedly re-quotes her: “None of this would have happened if I hadn’t been acting like a stupid whorey slut again, right?” Having watched her older sister’s Vlog, Lydia knows exactly what Lizzie thinks of her. Indeed, Lydia produces 29 episodes of her own Vlog—also available on YouTube—partly to compete with Lizzie and partly to attract her attention, which Lydia desperately craves. It is thanks to this secondary Vlog that George Wickham gains access to Lydia and turns her vulnerability into porn. In this way, Lizzie is herself partly responsible for Lydia’s tragedy. By calling her sister a whore, Lizzie triggered a chain of events which, in the anarchy of the Internet, led her younger sister into a form of involuntary and horrifically public prostitution.

In Pride and Prejudice, Darcy secretly coerces Wickham into marrying Lydia and the scandal is resolved. Nevertheless, Elizabeth remains “disgusted” with her sister: “Lydia was Lydia still; untamed, unabashed, wild, noisy and fearless.” Earlier, the Bingley sisters described Elizabeth as “wild” and accused her of “abominable … independence.” She too once longed for freedom and refused feminine decorum. Not so by the novel’s end, when Elizabeth judges her sister with sexist harshness.

In contrast, Lizzie Bennet recognizes her complicity in Lydia’s trauma and reaffirms their bonds. “No, no, no,” she cries when Lydia re-quotes the “whorey slut” comment. “I … put that line in Episode Two with the intention” of “having it come back to bite Lizzie,” Rachel Kiley, the ingenious writer of both episode 2 and 87, wrote on Tumblr. Kiley “took the line and made Lizzie learn from [its] ramifications,” said Bernie Su.

What does Lizzie learn? She learns that she cannot call her sister a slut without violating her and that she cannot attack female sexuality without abetting the very system that makes women prone to attack. There is a fine line between Lizzie’s mental exposure on her Vlog and the pornographic exposure forced upon Lydia. Lizzie represents herself as intellectually and socially superior to her sister, but in a world of female objectification and commodification she, too, is exploitable, and all women are vulnerable to harm.

Unlike in Pride and Prejudice where Elizabeth scapegoats Lydia and steps into the conservative comforts of marriage, Lizzie finally starts seeing herself as Lydia’s equal and her defender, and she recognizes their ineffable bonds. As Lydia weeps about her love of him, Lizzie substitutes herself: “I love you. … I love you. Do you hear me? I love you. You are not alone.” When Lydia blames herself for Wickham’s sex crime, Lizzie insists, “You didn’t deserve this!”

That message is especially crucial to Kiley. She wrote me,

Just because Lydia has a history of being flirtatious and having sex and willingly made [the sex] tape doesn’t mean it’s in any way her fault that Wickham exploited her. I hope that having Lizzie defend Lydia not only signifies [Lizzie's] growth … but sends a positive message to any other girls who can relate to Lydia in any way.

By episode 88 the problem is resolved. Wickham’s website disappears. Lydia is saved from forced pornography. As a Pemberley Digital video (part of another interpolated series narrated by Darcy’s sister Gigi) reveals, Darcy is, of course, the hero who foils Wickham’s plans—just like in the novel.

Nevertheless, the feminist point remains the same. Even more than they need Darcy, Lizzie and Lydia need to love each other and work together. As proven by the recently victorious effort to renew the Violence Against Woman Act, there is no fighting sexual abuse without female bonds.

Screenshots via The Lizzie Bennet Diaries on Youtube

Comments

  1. Great piece, but I think you missed an important point. Darcy’s foiling of Wickham in TLBD is materially assisted by Gigi. The theme of female bond continues.

    • Susan G. says:

      Ah–you are right. But if I understood correctly, Gigi does not realize she is helping. It’s an accident. In fact, she contacts Wickham, she thinks against Darcy’s wishes, and that unleashes the whole Domino effect.

      • I dont know if you realized you wrote a pun in, but I just wanted to point it out. Because the application is called domino and you said the domino effect. Hahaha, jokes.

        • Kelly F says:

          Gigi does try to help; she just doesn’t realize *how* she’s helping. She calls George in hopes that she can make him listen to reason, in hopes that he might crack or inadvertently admit to involvement in the scandal. She understands that it’s a long shot, but she also knows that if there’s anyone that George will pick up the phone for, it’s her, even if he tries to manipulate her again. That manipulation is what Darcy tries to protect her from, but she has grown enough to defend herself against George’s false charm. The *only* reason she calls George is in a last-ditch effort to help the Bennet sisters in any way she can.

          The series shows that women can recover from abusive, manipulative, and/or controlling relationships and still become fantastically successful women, and Gigi clearly is. Gigi is depicted as opinionated and strong-minded, and she has a kinship not only with Lydia because they are connected through their associations with George, but also with Lizzie. Gigi looks up to Lizzie, and Gigi is the key to helping Lizzie warm up to the Darcy family name and reputation. They learn to admire each other, and Lizzie helps Gigi feel comfortable opening up about her experience with George. Gigi’s interactions with Lizzie in turn help her see that Lydia should be free to dress and act however she likes, and that her fashion and life choices should have no effect on the way men treat her. It’s a strong message about the connections between slut-shaming, self-hate, and abuse.

          More power to the women!

          • Susan G. says:

            Thanks. I especially appreciate your insight about how Lizzie’s earlier conversation with Gigi prepares her to see Lydia differently and sympathetically when the scandal breaks. I hadn’t recognize that important connection. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth meets Georgiana Darcy (Gigi’s predecessor) but they never discuss Georgiana’s experience with Wickham. Thanks to your comments, I now see how here too TLBD alters the novel to feminist effect. Rah!

          • Except Gigi is dismissed and treated as a child by her brother. She didn’t get Wickham captured on purpose, she didn’t plan it out, or think it through. The writers seriously just made a “woops, she did it!” and then patted themselves on the back.

            Please. This show–with making Lydia’s downfall directly linked to her sexual promiscuity of all things and then never fully articulating and dealing with the ABUSE plotline while other things–is not the prime example of feminism.

        • I believe that was the reason they called the application Domino.

        • Susan G. says:

          Thanks. It was intentional. I suspect the LBD folks intended that too. Not that I really could figure out what the domino thing was. Explanations welcome!

      • Wildbreeze says:

        She was intending to help, it just worked out differently than she planned.

        • Susan G. says:

          Does anyone understand the technicalities of how domino worked.

          • My understanding is that Domino is a program that you could use to help you make your videos more professional. Say you wanted to interview someone on the phone or via video conference, or even ask a few questions via text – Domino takes all of those actions and makes them part of your video. Like FaceTime for Apple or Google Hangout, but with a different interface and a little more flexibility because it integrates your personal phone and can use your contact’s smartphone as a video camera to film their side of the conversation. Gigi also claimed that Domino was a ‘smart’ editor, in that it would cut out long pauses and silences, to make the videos shorter and flow better. Does that help?

          • Jacklynn says:

            Domino was an application that automatically edited and uploaded videos, focusing on facial expressions/vocal tones to determine what was interesting/should be in the video when it was uploaded.

          • CalLadyQED says:

            Domino was still in it’s alpha testing stage (they claim in the PD press release, but I think it would have to have been the beta test). When George Wickham “accepted the terms of service” in order to do a video call with Gigi, he allowed Pemberley Digital to know his location via the GPS in his own smart phone. Darcy used this to catch him. Even if that personal use could be seen as violating Wickham’s privacy, Darcy’s pretty safe b/c Wickham isn’t likely take him to court over it. Or is he?

          • Thanks for all the comments about how domino works. Very helpful. But I still don’t get what that had to do with foiling Wickham’s plot. In a subsequent episode Lydia finds out that Darcy bought out the web company that was going to show Wickham’s video. Can anyone put all these pieces together for me. (I was born before the internet age–in case you didn’t guess).

    • Except that both Fitz and Darcy treat Gigi like a child, “forbid” her from talking to Wickham and then Gigi inadvertently traps Wickham by accident. When fans asked Bernie Su why Gigi couldn’t take a more active, thought out appraoch to defeating Wicham, Su said that it would take away from Darcy’s heroism. *Eyeroll*

  2. Jane’s happy ending should also be mentioned. In the book she ended up happily married, all problems solved. In the LBD, however, she decides to move to New York and pursue her career. It is then Bing (Bingley’s equivalent) who decides to move to New York with her. She clearly chose her career over a possible love interest when she chose not to initially tell Bing she was leaving.

    • Susan G. says:

      Yes–I agree. There was only so much I could say in the article. But Jane’s decision is very interesting and the fact that Bing is following her is important–a feminist point, but maybe also discouraging in a way too, because the goal of feminism is equality (at least I think so) and I am not sure Bing is going to be able to keep up with Jane. He seems at loose ends. Is he independently wealthy?

      • Yes, I believe his family is wealthy.

      • The goal of feminism *is* equality. It means that Jane can pursue a job, and Bing can follow her. Jane is free to make that choice, just as much as she is free to tell Bing that she would love him to come with her.
        Jane was no longer at the mercy of Bing’s whims. She wanted him to be a part of her life, and made decisions which would make him a piece of her life, without making him her everything, and her salvation. THAT is true growth.

        • Susan G. says:

          Right. Agreed. It is growth for her and that sends a positive feminist message. My concern, though, is that it may be a compromised feminism. Is Bing simply being put into what used to be the female position of following the man? If so, the only thing that changes is that the sexes have switched places in an unequal economy. Or do you think Bing can hold his own?

          • Well, Bing is talking about working with the needy, and has been doing charitable work this whole time since he dropped out of med school, so it looks like he definitely has goals of his own. As to how exactly he will realise them other than by being sweet and adorable, we’re not going to find out – but I think it is significant that Jane, who often seems such a wilting flower of a character, has proven to be very strong and in control. She will probably anchor and inspire Bing to be responsible, as she moves forward in her own career. In the novel Bingley is a bit of a flake, as he is here too – in the novel it doesn’t really matter because he has a large independent income and a lovable personality. Here, Jane has an income of her own and an exciting career path ahead of her. I feel that Bing and Jane bring the best out in each other and will have a more equal partnership because they both give and take.

      • Bing is independently wealthy, yeah. I think it’s pretty equal. Jane basically told him ‘separate apartments, you won’t be following me, you’ll just also be there, and we’ll see how this goes.’ He has his own goals. He wants to help people, get involved in charities and relief efforts, and like they said in the video, there’s plenty of people to help in New York. He’s not giving anything up by going with her.

        Also, Gigi wanted to help. She didn’t call him on accident. She kept trying to contact him in the hopes that she could be helpful by convincing him to tell her where he was. Just because her goal was achieved in a way she didn’t expect didn’t make it any less ‘Gigi saves the day’. He wouldn’t have answered the phone for anyone else who was trying to contact him, after all.

        • Susan G. says:

          Ah–I posted my response above before reading this about Bing. It helps answer my question to Molly. Thank you.

          Your point about Gigi is well taken. Still and all, Darcy is the mastermind of the solution is he not? Gig wanted to help in calling Wickham–I get that–but her plan to influence Wickham is not the source of the solution–Wickham doesn’t change because of their conversation (or at least not according to the episodes so far). He gets tricked by Darcy. And in a sense, Gigi is tricked too because she does not know that she is advancing Darcy’s scheme. She does not have full agency.

          • What? Gigi wasn’t tricked into helping Darcy! She was specifically asked not to help in any way. Gigi held *herself* responsible for what had happened, and took it upon herself to try to fix it, even if that meant contacting her own abuser. It happened that this had an even bigger effect than she intended, but it most certainly wasn’t Darcy’s intention. Darcy didn’t have a scheme until Gigi handed it to him on a silver platter.

      • Heather says:

        Bing is generally portrayed as being independently wealthy (in TLBD, he outright bought Netherfield), so I think him going to New York and finding himself is a good segue for him as well. Even the ending of the book indicates that Bing and Jane continue to be the picture perfect couple…without issues. Really?

        • Susan G. says:

          Ha! You can only be a perfect couple without issues if the book ends before you actually have to be married and start living together!

        • well, it is fiction. at some point, you have to suspend belief; I guess it’s not too awful if that point is at the end of the book.

      • I DO believe he is independently wealthy. It is not directly covered, so your points are certainly valid. I definitely agree with your opinion of equality. I do not intend to contradict, only offer my interpretation of Bing’s choice.
        Bing dropped out of Med School months before, for his own reasons having nothing to do with Jane, so he is not tied to any particular location, career, or goal. You’re right, he is at loose-ends. The way I see it, New York might be a fine place for Bing to find himself and a new direction in life, having rejected medicine without any obvious replacement goal. He is willing to commit himself enthusiastically and optimistically to their relationship, but they ARE in a “starting over.” Hopefully he will be identifying what else he wants to do with life while he is there. He seems to have procrastinated that quite a bit already.
        Certainly that is only my interpretation. Even leaving it open maybe places it somewhere in the middle? It does make me want to watch those episodes again.

        • Since I started, other comments have addressed some of this, even remembering more detail on Bing’s potential direction now without med-school. My comment may only be redundant. Sorry about that.

  3. Catherine says:

    This is so awesome! I appreciate you speaking so frankly about the realities of sexual violence (and the support of the TVPRA- EXCITING!)- especially using the words porn/pornographic- even trauma. Because that is the reality- and it can be easy to gloss over the “ugly” word. So thank you :)

  4. Fantastic article. And while this just about sums up why I love the Lizzie Bennet diaries so much, I think we’re being a bit harsh to Elizabeth here. A sex tape is a huge exploitation of Lydia, who is manipulated into the relationship with George as he twists her insecurities–but in Austen’s day Lydia’s decision could have actually prevented the other Bennet sisters from being able to find husbands. Obviously that in and of itself is a horrible show of how powerless women were in Regency England. But with the entail on their estate and no income to speak of, that could essentially mean the other sisters becoming homeless after Mr. Bennet dies. While Elizabeth could be more sympathetic, Lydia’s decision in P&P has far greater repercussions to her family and herself than a sex tape would do in 2013.

    • I agree with Rachel and had problems the author saying that Elizabeth judged “her sister with sexist harshness.” It’s an anachronism to call her judgement of Lydia “sexist” when it was simply the reality of the day that Lydia’s actions could have ruined her sisters’ chances at marriage and security. Lydia was thoughtless and selfish, given the situation of her family. Fortunately that’s no longer the case. I do, however, love how the “whorey slut” comment helped to demonstrate Lizzie’s development and shift in feelings and behavior toward her sister.

    • par_parenthese says:

      I completely agree that Book!Lizzie has a lot more to lose by Lydia’s behavior than LBD!Lizzie ever could. Mr. Bennet was a gentleman, but he was land-poor, most of his assets being tied up in the very property that had been entailed on Mr. Collins. Moreover, Lydia’s marriage settlement gave her a larger share of the inheritance, during Mr. Bennet’s life, than the other daughters would receive upon Mr. Bennet’s death (100 pounds per year rather than the 50 that was due her), which likely ate into the capital of the inheritance, leaving even less for Mrs. Bennet and the remaining daughters to live on. Lydia’s behavior potentially meant financial ruin and destitution for her mother and sisters, and yet she would not listen to anyone’s rebuke.

      Having an accidental porn star in the family would probably be humiliating, but it hardly entails a life of grating, unremitting poverty for the entire family.

      That said, I think the scandal on LBD was fantastic, and I love how they’ve apparently combined Lydia and Kitty’s storylines to make Lydia a far more sympathetic and nuanced character.

    • I completely agree with you, it’s unfair to judge Elizabeth by modern standards. Lydia’s action could have resulted in the Bennet sisters having to resort to desperate measures such as prostitution to be able to afford food, should the father die and the rest of the family be unable to support them; society as a whole was different then. 1800s Lydia’s action was vastly selfish, as it would have massive repercussions for her family’s acceptance in society and all four of her sisters’ futures. TLBD Lydia is far more of a victim, she would have suffered the brunt of any damage herself and she is a lot easier to forgive. Let’s not forget, TLBD’s Lydia actually regrets her actions, P&P Lydia had gambled her entire family’s future on having a laugh and she doesn’t even care what her actions may have meant to them. THAT is what Lizzy is unforgiving of, and with good reason.

      • Also, saying that Elizabeth steps into the “conservative comforts” of marriage is also unfair when you consider women’s choices of the time; it was marriage or be supported by her family. She had no money, those were her options, as working would have led to a drop in social class for her and affected her sisters’ prospects. Considering that she turned down two offers of marriage during the book she is hardly settling for conservative comforts, she has waited in the hope of finding a marriage partner she can love and respect.

    • Susan G. says:

      You maybe right that I’m too harsh on Elizabeth. The contrast with LBD made me question her. I agree that in PP Lydia’s fall threatens the whole family. Elizabeth assumes that Darcy won’t re-propose after she hears about Lydia, and she is really depressed about that; now that she thinks all hope of marriage is over, she realizes how much she could love him. At the same time, though, Austen points out the similarities between Elizabeth and Lydia–similarities that Elizabeth refuses to acknowledge. Both value independence–both are forced to give that up.

      While TLBD Lydia is not as threatening to her sisters as the PP one is, I think the sex tape is just as dangerous to her personally as the PP Lydia’s elopement with Wickham is to her. TLBD Wickham is on the verge of an committing a very abusive sex crime. If the video of Lydia were to be posted, she would be trafficked in the world of internet porn–against her will! And as Lizzie points out, “the internet is forever.” There was a devastating article in a recent Sunday New York Times Magazine about girls who were victims of internet porn (their male relatives sexually abused and photographed them), and now, years later, the pictures are still being exchanged all over the world, and the victims cannot escape them and are permanently scarred.

      • par_parenthese says:

        I’m confused as to how you see Elizabeth giving up independence. You don’t mean by marrying Darcy, do you? As the wife of a fantastically wealthy man who admires her for her intelligence rather than marrying her for her looks or money, she’s orders of magnitude more independent either than Lydia is, or than she would have been if she had remained unmarried.

        But I completely agree that the sex-tape scandal is as personally dangerous to LBD!Lydia as the elopement is to Book!Lydia — perhaps even moreso, as Book!Lydia at least has the chance to start over in a new area of the country.

      • It’s perhaps worth pointing out that book!Lydia and LBD!Lydia are pretty different too. In the book Lydia never even seems aware that she did anything wrong or that she endangered her family in any way. This Lydia knows she was manipulated into something that, whether it’s wrong or not, would follow her forever and not in a good way.

        Book!Lydia’s behavior would be like my sibling setting the house on fire and acting like he didn’t do anything wrong and besides, the firemen put it out before everything was destroyed. I don’t blame Elizabeth for being disgusted by this behavior. Lydia never thought of anyone but herself. Modern Lydia is older and more aware of the consequences on herself and everyone around her.

        • I’m with you on this. There is a fundamental difference in the portrayal of Book!Lydia (unrepentant and unaware of the extended consquences) vs. LBD!Lydia, who experiences the emotional consequences of the scandal firsthand, and subsequently rebuilds her relationship with Lizzie. I love the way the LDB is showing Lizzie’s character growth, but I don’t think many of the viewers understand just how different the post-scandal portrayal of Lydia has been from the novel. That said, I think the LBD is a wonderful adaptation – I just don’t agree with the harsh judgements of Lizzie that I’m seeing online. To me, there are several episodes that make it clear that Lizzie already judges herself very harshly when she understands her role in Lydia’s situation.

          • Susan G. says:

            I agree with you on Lizzie’s painful self-awareness after the Lydia episode. Indeed, I think that the series’s treatment of Lizzie here is fascinating. In the book, Elizabeth realizes that “til this moment I never knew myself” after she reads Darcy’s letter. But in the series, its really Lydia’s scandal that teaches Lizzie that she doesn’t know herself and that she has been unfair and harsh to her sister. To my mind, this is a feminist revision. Lizzie needs to recognize the importance of sisterhood, among other things.

  5. This is fascinating! Great convergence culture moment! I have to watch the LBD now.

  6. I actually love this empowerment of women story. It is utterly devoid of the “knight in shining armor” cliche that seems to attach itself to every TV and movie script to this day and is something, as a guy, I can watch without feeling guilty for my sex.

    Bing is as wishy-washy as the stereotypical maiden caught between his loyalty to family and friends and his loyalty to love. Collins is the clueless girl who can’t see what is staring her in the face. Wickem plays the jilted lover with zest. Every Darcy’s Knighthood by saving Lydia is stained because of his interference with Bing and Jane as well as his superior attitude and inherited wealth (read spoiled princess).

    This truly is the story of sisters and the battles they face. The male characters, while important, are merely side characters whom the sisters (and friends) fixate on. To be the misogynistic male I am, it’s a chick show that is actually interesting. It lacks all the “Lifetime (of abuse and never trust a man because he will beat or rape you) Orginal Drama” garbage that just only seeks to tell the story of “a woman finds her _____”
    A. True love
    B. True friend
    C. Self-sufficiency

    All of this is really just to say I’ve loved every episode. They were 70 in before I saw the first one and then pulled an all-nighter to catch up. Also, it has me interested in the actual book (I can critically watch film, I seem lost when it comes to books). I picked up P&P yesterday, and as soon as I finish The Count of Monte Cristo (picked it up because I saw the movie too btw), it will be time to dive into some Austen. I know it’s a different time and not much like Hank and Benie’s creation, but I’m willing to at least give it a shot now.

    • Susan G. says:

      FABULOUS! I have been trying for years to get my male students to appreciate Jane Austen. Maybe TLBD will do the trick. Let us know if you read it and what you tihnk.

      Also, I really appreciate your take on the limits of the “knight in shining armour” stereotype. It is helpful for me to know that this may be as destructive for men as it is for women.

      Not sure I fully agreewitht your take on the feminization of the male characters, however.

  7. I too love the Lizzie Bennet Diaries and specifically the modern-day Lydia twist. But I completely disagree with most the criticism of Elizabeth Bennet’s judgment of Lydia in the book. It sounds almost as though you’re interpreting Elizabeth’s marriage to Darcy as a sell-out. She didn’t marry him for the “conservative comforts of marriage.” She married him because she loved him. They were equals – not in socio-economic status, but in the ways that count: the heart and mind. Darcy sensed that about her from the beginning, and he had to get over the external status-related inequalities. The Lydia of the books is much more shallow than the LBD Lydia, who is given real motivations, other than just pure fun.

    BTW, how many agree that Jane took a feminist stand here when she told Bing to get his own apartment in New York? I would certainly say so. Everyone is so concerned about a woman’s right to enjoy her sexuality, but how about her right to say no and be in control?

    • Snufkin says:

      While Jane did the right thing, she may change her mind about living together once the cost of living in New York sinks in. Which now has me imagining a spin-off web series a la Girls about Jane and Bing’s life in Brooklyn a la Girls (or they could live in Queens, which probably would horrify Caroline as not an acceptable zip code). Also in this universe, Darcy and Gigi pretty much are aristocrats having inherited enough real estate and money to be able to afford to live in San Francisco and own a car/have a place to easily park it.

    • Susan Greenfield says:

      All of your comments about Elizabeth and Lydia in Pride and Prejudice have really made me think. A lot of you have said that I am too hard on Austen’s Elizabeth. A lot of you have argued that Autsen’s Elizabeth doesn’t judge Lydia with “sexist harshness.” You’ve pointed out that Lydia is really a shallow and self-centered character who deserves Elizabeth’s contempt in PP.

      I think everyone is right that Lydia is a much shallower character in PP than Lydia in LBD. In LBD, Lydia has tremendous psychological depth. She not only learns from her mistakes, but she seems to feel deeply on many levels–she wants to be closer to her sisters and she is trying to get their attention.

      Still, I think there is a problem with the way Austen’s Elizabeth treats the novel’s Lydia. In the novel Lydia is only 16 years old. Elizabeth begs her father to be a more responsible parent about Lydia. Before Lydia goes to Brighton (where she elopes with Wickham) she says to Mr. Bennet “If you my dear father, will not take the trouble of check [Lydia's] exuberant spirits, and of teaching her that her present pursuits are not to be the business of her life, she will soon be beyond the reach of amendment.” Well, Mr. Bennet, a very lovable character but a flawed one, does not bother himself with Lydia. After Lydia’s fall, Elizabeth never says or thinks contemptuous things about her father. She recognizes his faults. But she is not so hard on him.

      Also as Snufkin says, in PP Mr. Wickham is the real “slut character.” But even though Elizabeth has open eyes about him, she is never so harsh as she is on Lydia.

      Thus, Elizabeth is much more willing to overlook the faults of the men involved in Lydia’s fiasco than she is to forgive her sister, who is 16! I think that is conservative of her. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE Elizabeth Bennet. I love Pride and Prejudice. But the ending is conservative–even given the historical period (Mansfield Park is much less so), and part of that is because of Elizabeth’s harshness towards Lydia.

      • Caroline says:

        I’m a little confused by the very clearly negative connotation you attach to the word “conservative,”
        and how being unforgiving towards a sister but not towards an awful man and a father could be called “conservative.” I would call that being harsh to her sister. And Austen intended Pride and Prejudice to be a jab at the societal norms of the day. She wanted to point out how ridiculous it was for women to have to marry the way they did. I just don’t like that you’re using a word that is so politically charged to deal with something that is in no way political and in every way societal, and not even currently societal. There is nothing wrong with being conservative. You might want to try to choose your words a little more carefully.

      • Just curious what you think of Jane Eyre? I think she trumps all the Bennets in virtue.

        • Hmm. I’d have to think about that. But Jane certainly makes the bold and appropriate deccision to leave Rochester when she finds out about his wife. I llike Rochester and of course he loves Jane but what he does to her (not to mention his wife) is horrible. He tries to prostitue Jane without her knowledge. This does remind me a little of what happens to Lydia in TLBD. Thanks for the association.

          • I think of Rochester as far superior to Wickham. Wickham eventually would have left Lydia if Darcy hadn’t bribed him to marry her. Rochester did want to make Jane his mistress, but he was committed to staying with her for life. It was she who stood up for virtue – yes, the conservative virtue of marriage. Either marry me the right way or not at all!

    • Susan Greenfield says:

      Thanks for your comments. I agree that Elizabeth and Darcy are equally in love at the end of PP, or if anything he loves her more. I didn’t mean to suggest that Elizabeth is selling out in marrying Darcy. I agree that her options are very limited given women’s financial limitations of the time.

      At the same time, I think the marriage ending of Pride and Prejudice is conservative. That’s what I meant by saying Elizabeth steps into the “conservative comforts of marriage.” In marrying Elizabeth to Darcy, Austen opts for a conservative ending.

      Elizabeth’s marriage with Darcy can never be an equal one. She never will own his property. All she has in her power is his love and adoration of her and the right to run his household. There are several moments in the book when Austen reminds us of Darcy’s huge socioeconomic advantage over Elizabeth. For instance, here’s what Elizabeth thinks when she looks at Darcy’s portrait in Pemberely: “As a brother, a landlord, a master, she considered how many people’s happiness were in his guardianship!–How much pleasure or pain it was in his power to bestow!” What Elizabeth realizes there is that Darcy exercises benevolent power over his underlings. As his wife, she will be an underling, and she realizes he will use his power over her well. Still, he will be the one with the most power.

      Later, when Mr. Bennet finds out about their engagement he says to Elizabeth, “I know that you could be neither happy nor respectable, unless . . . you looked up to [your husband] as a superior.” How much of Elizabeth’s happiness with Darcy depends on her seeing him as a superior?

      On the surface, Pride and Prejudice suggests that because Darcy loves Elizabeth for her mind and intellect, she has all the equality she could possibly want. But the novel also shows the many ways such equality is not enough–is not real.

  8. I must admit that I love this article. It is an intelligent and intellectual look on an entertainment web series which I am absolutely obsessed with. I always find it interesting to hear other people’s opposing or interesting views and I was completely blown away by this article. It takes a in depth positive analysis of the web series which you often don’t find on the internet . More often than not they are incredibly critical and never even think to see it from the point of view of the person who likes it so thank you for writing this brilliant and both objective and biased look on the Lizzie Bennet Diaries

  9. It is the role reverse that makes it powerful. It’s not just the helpless females that have these traits as portrayed in film, it is every person on the planet regardless of gender. ANY person can be caught between loyalty to love and family and loyalty to one’s self, ANY person can be vengeful and vindictive in a relationship, and ANY person can fell to pick up on real love that is right under their nose. These “deficiencies” have stereotypically been written for a woman’s role in story and film thus fixating that position and portrayal of women in our collective consciousness. The absolute reversal of that role as well as the very flawed and misinformed heroes (or in this specific case heroines) adds to the critical viewing of the story the undertone of imagining others complexly and empathizing with the positions of others.

    To me this speaks against the sociological media and psychological machines that carried evolutionary placeholders of working bronze age communities into a modern age. While women can be dimwitted and/or emotionally challenged , their numbers in written and acted works are far too great when related to the number of dimwitted and/or emotionally challenged men that cohabit the planet.

    (I just reread what I wrote and wish to apologize before concluding for the heightened language above. I get a little airy sometimes.) I guess the point I’m trying to make is that bad guys or good guys or weak guys or strong guys are not really a destructive to a gender in the social order until their numbers swing largely out of proportion. I’m fine with men being the weak characters captured by the dragon and in need of rescuing. Let’s just not make a habit and put men in that spot 99% of the time. Besides, it’s about time them there women pulled their weight and started storming the castle for the man (or better yet woman) they love!

  10. Great article and discussion, far more nuanced than a lot of the grousing you see on Tumblr about how it’s been nothing but “Oh this is awful slut shaming!” (may also be that the average age on Tumblr seems to be a junior year undergraduate).

    Speaking of sex, but one point I’ve yet to see mentioned anywhere is that part of Wickham’s twisting the knife on Lydia was mentioning to her that he’d had sex with Lizzie. I can’t remember which episode I remember seeing that comment in, but given the discussions in the main Lizzie videos about how they were “casual” (and Lydia said at one point she was surprised because “Lizzie Bennet doesn’t do casual.”), I’ve taken that to mean Lizzie had a NSA arrangement with Wickham before he blew town and which is part of why she had such a revelation when Darcy finally told her in his letter what he’d done to Gigi (I’d imagine Lizzie also ran post haste to get a STD screening). And given what we know from the book, it pretty much means in this narrative, Lizzie will have ended up having had sex with both Wickham and Darcy with no moralizing about how she “shouldn’t” have been with the former because the latter is her OTP.

    • Oh and in a more traditional/knee jerk narrative, it’d be Lizzie refuting his claim with “We never had sex, he’s lying!” Also I’m always surprised in any discussion of P&P that nobody ever mentions that the closest the book has to a slut character is basically Wickham, who hooks up with 3 of the main female characters, Mary King, and who knows else. Double standards, I guess!

      • Susan Greenfield says:

        Have you located the episode where it seems that Lizzie and Wickham had sex? I’m curious. Also I refer to your point about Wickham’s multiple hook-ups in one of my responses above.

  11. Carl W. Goss says:

    Great commentary. The Diaries are wonderful. In some respects Lydia is more fascinating than Eliz. As to the series, I would have liked to have separate actors playing Mr and Mrs Bennet.

  12. Actually in the book I think JA lays some very definite trails about how Elizabeth and Lydia are alike – when Lydia tells Elizabeth (after the first proposal at Rosings) that Wickham couldn’t possibly care for drab Mary King, Elizabeth is shocked to realize Lydia is just giving voice to thoughts she herself had had. And when Lydia blurts out that Darcy’s presence at her wedding is supposed to be a secret, she runs away because she knows there is NO WAY she can resist getting the story, and in fact eventually writes to Aunt Gardiner for information even though it’s CLEAR she is not supposed to know. In fact, Lydia in the book is simply Elizabeth with no judgment (and no heart, a cartoonish character, really).

  13. Very interesting and thoughtful article – I too am a middle-aged college academic who has followed by Vlog since last Spring. I agree with many of the points ,but take issue with just one. While Elizabeth does not condone Lydia’s behavior in the original P & P, she does show grace to her. Mr. Bennett would never have received her into the home again, except for the prodding of Jane and Elizabeth. Both sisters also go out of their way to provide financial support to her throughout her life. I believe that should mitigate the harsh condemnation the article’s author makes toward the original Elizabeth. Many people in that society would never have shown grace to someone in Lydia’s situation – but her two sisters did.

  14. I have nothing more to add, I just wanted to say that it is *illuminating* and refreshing to read such intelligent comments.

  15. As an older male I always feel like a bit of a interloper in these conversations about Austen. I watched with interest the film about the Austen book club, with the one male member awkwardly trying to fit in. I personally would like to see this series adaptation transferred to a TV type series. Which showed the actual “off web camera ” interactions. I do complement you on two great articles, the proof of the quality is in the creation of discussion commentary below, one of the windfalls of blog writing.

  16. Susan Greenfield says:

    It is a shame that any man should feel like an interloper in a conversation about Austen. In our time, she is seen as a woman’s romance writer (not that there is anything wrong with that!). But that’s just in our own time. In WWI, men took Jane Austen’s novels to the trenches. When Winston Churchill had pneumonia, he asked his daughter to read him Pride and Prejudice from the foot of his sick bed. Many, many men have been huge Austen fans including Sir Walter Scott, Benjamin Disraeli, Rudyard Kipling; Cornel West calls himself calls himself a “Jane Austen freak.” Join the club!

  17. Maureen says:

    Thanks for this piece on LBD. As to the judgments on Elizabeth and her disgust with her “thoughtless” sister Lydia, why must a feminist fall on her sword, so to speak, and go through contortions to save a sister who has no wish to be saved? Is not calling out the truth of the situation that Lydia had landed the entire family in a courageous act? The facts were quite ugly and perhaps beyond the scope of our modern perceptions. Lydia showed no remorse and, indeed, gloated that she had caught a great prize….and yes, she is only 16 but she seemed to have been created as a character incapable of self awareness just as many real-life people are – -like the boys who film and post their sex videos to destroy their hated female dupe while thinking nothing of their own soul’s degradation.

    • Susan G. says:

      Interesting. Austen certainly makes merciless fun of characters who lack self-awareness. At the same time, though, Lydia has some valuable qualities. Perhaps because she is young and ignorant, she doesn’t realize that she lives in a society where women are not supposed to act on their sexual desires–not supposed to even have them. So Lydia wrongly (wrongly given her time period) assumes that she has a right to feel and act on desire. She defies the sexual double standard. TLBD Lydia does the same. Both are punished–the only difference is that Austen’s Lydia doesn’t realize this yet.

  18. Amy Johnson says:

    Loved the article! And I love reading all the comments and interesting debate on these characters. That alone is such a testament to JA and her writing.

    Just wanted to chime in with the Lydia argument. I agree that LBD Lydia is a far more complex, and also forgivable, character. Book Lydia – not so much. And yes, she is 16, but that in no way means she is clueless to gender roles of that time. Even with Mrs. Bennett as a mother! After all, Jane and Elizabeth have been exemplary role models on how to behave in society. And they do go to church. I’m sure they have heard before about keeping their virtue.

    Also, the internet video is horrible and would cause a lot of emotional stress on Lydia and her family. The real consequences, however, of being married to a more than likely cheating, gambling, and drinking Wickham while trying to care for their growing brood would be a life sentence of turmoil and pain. Not even close in my opinion.

    • Susan G. says:

      I sometimes offer my students the option of writing about whether or not book Lydia can be seen as a heroine in her own right. You’d be surprised at how many of them think she is.

  19. Christen says:

    I thought this was a very smart and insightful read, but I am a little taken aback by the way people are so quick to assign blame to Lizzie for Lydia’s choices/mistakes. I saw a lot of it on the Youtube channel as well. Obviously, it was completely inappropriate and unkind for Lizzie to call Lydia a “stupid, whorey slut” (I still can’t believe she did that), but when I watch it, I’m not convinced of her sincerity in what she says. In the early videos of the LBD, Lizzie is snarkier and edgier. She still generally maintains civility, but as these diaries are meant to share some of her more private thoughts, I think it is fallacious to look at one offhand, ill-advised comment and say that Lizzie was the starting point of Lydia’s downfall.

    I can’t even completely fault Lydia. Her father is disengaged and her mother, with her obsession on romance and men, surely planted the early seeds of Lydia’s character. Lydia has a deep-seated need for romantic love that causes her to lash out when Lizzie attempts to help her. I thought the gift that Lizzie gave Lydia on her birthday was thoughtful and showed that she actually cared about Lydia and her life choices. Some people have said that the book was meanspirited and hurtful and that just talking to Lydia off-camera would have been a better choice, but throughout the series, Lydia constantly ignores Lizzie’s help and advice even when Lizzie is at her kindest. Lydia is sometimes ignorant and sometimes indifferent to the way her choices affect her sisters. It is up to Lizzie and Jane to protect her from others and herself. It is hard to have real affection for someone who puts their needs above your own so often, and I think that is what makes the resentment between the two sisters rear its head.

    Ultimately, my point is that the only person responsible for the sex tape is George. As much as anyone would hope Lydia could see through someone like George, she thought what they were doing was private and for love and no one should hold her accountable for that. Wickham maliciously preyed on a vulnerable girl to get back at his ex friend and ex girlfriend and to say that Lizzie is culpable for the making of the sex tape and Lydia’s emotional trauma is like saying that Darcy is culpable for what George became by giving him money to leave Gigi alone.

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