I am a giant Pride & Prejudice nerd. I grew up watching the Colin Firth miniseries with my mom, and since then I’ve seen almost every movie version in existence (most of them multiple times), I wrote my English thesis about it in undergrad, and I wear this scarf on a weekly basis. I own a Pride & Prejudice game that I’ve never played because I don’t know anyone who knows the story well enough to stand a chance against me. So it shouldn’t be surprising that I could fangirl forever about the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, but I’m going to show some restraint and just focus on what I”m thinking about today.
For those who don’t watch LBD, it’s a YouTube adaptation of Pride & Prejudice told primarily through Elizabeth Bennet’s video blog. The modernization most relevant to this post is the Lydia/Wickham storyline, where the scandal has been translated from elopement to a sex tape. Personally, I think it’s a fantastic change that captures the magnitude of Lydia’s actions and their effect on her reputation and family, but it’s brought up some ugliness among the mostly lovely fanbase.
When lbd!Lydia first started spending time with Wickham, some people started attacking her, basically saying “how could she not know?” The thing is, how could she? In the book, and in the series, he’s a charming guy. The only reason we as viewers know he’s bad news is because we’ve read the book. But Lydia hasn’t read the book. She’s FROM it. It’s absurd to expect her to know as much as we do, and worse, it’s victim-blaming. It’s supposed to be obvious to us that George is manipulating her, but it’s not obvious to her, which only made it worse when the sex tape surfaced and the slut-shaming started. One minute George was an abusive, manipulative jerk (and we knew it all along! we’re smarter than her!), the next we were blaming Lydia for what he did. Lydia addresses these negative reactions starting about 4 minutes in:
The sad thing is, the writers saw this coming. This episode would’ve been filmed at least a few weeks before the sex tape was released and the fans started reacting. What’s ironic to me, and sad, is that we’ll gleefully accept Lizzie’s initial misjudgment of Darcy, but suddenly when Lydia is the misguided one, she’s a stupid whorey slut. And I love that she used that phrase, quoting Lizzie from all the way back in Episode 2, because it drives the point home so dramatically.
What. you. say. matters. I’d like to believe that the people saying hateful things thought they were somehow “adding to the story.” That’s the fun of this format of story-telling, and other times it’s been positive and innocent, like when people posted words of encouragement on Jane’s sad Pinterest pictures. I truly hope that none of the people slut-shaming Lydia would ever consider treating a real person that way.
But if we’re going to believe John Green when he talks about “the very idea that made-up stories can matter, which is sort of the foundational assumption of our species,” we can’t just accept the excuse that it’s not real. It doesn’t matter that Lydia is fictional. It doesn’t matter that Lizzie said it first. It matters that you are victimizing someone who is already a victim. You are slut-shaming someone who is not a slut. Watching this episode with some friends today, we talked about how we weren’t thrilled that Lizzie said “you don’t deserve this” as opposed to “nobody deserves this”, but from a story perspective I’m glad she did, because it shows how she’s changed. I think December Lizzie would have blamed Lydia for what happened, and I’m so thankful February Lizzie didn’t. It happens in the book, too – in the midst of dealing with the elopement Elizabeth says to her aunt, “Perhaps I am not doing her justice.”
It was so satisfying to see Lydia lash out at the slut-shaming from the fandom, and to see Lizzie look us in the eye and tell us it’s wrong. I’m hoping the writers will end strong with this story arc and drive the message home. It’s a powerful testament to what the novel is really about – perception and judgment and learning to overcome first impressions.
…This was going to be a quick reflection and somehow it turned into an essay. But like Darcy, sometimes I just find it easier to write things down :)