I’ve never understood the squeeeeing or heart-fluttering fangirling over Pride and Prejudice. This is not to say that I didn’t like the novel. I really enjoyed it. I love Jane Austen. I have sat at her grave at Winchester Cathedral. I have visited the Jane Austen Centre in Bath. I have read her books. I haz done the Jane Austen pilgrimage as a bookish nerd is wont to do. However, I have never understood the obsessive collectors and viewers of all things Pride and Prejudice.
In fact, I didn’t considered Pride and Prejudice to be a romance. To me it was a snarky novel about social classes, relationships, women’s status, their lack of autonomy and the requirement to make a good marital match. Oh, I know that it is romantic but its subtle romance was lost on me as a 17 year old who had already spent the previous 5 years reading intense and focused romance in the form of category series romances. As an adult, I have read the many epistles and scholarly criticisms and journals dedicated to Pride and Prejudice and all that other cerebral stuff but deep down inside – there was nuthin.
I tried to understand the hero status that Mr Darcy inspires. Colin Firth, in the BBC series, looked like he had swallowed a bad oyster throughout every episode until that last scene when he deems it worthy a moment to crack a smile. He’s all muttering and mumbling. Jennifer Ehle’s portrayal of Lizzie Bennet is good but I never feel the connection between her and Mr Darcy – even in the wet shirt scene (and really?! What is the whole kerfuffle about that wet shirt? It isn’t that impressive. All I could think of was the squelching of wet socks in boots and the chafing of wet trousers when walking).
I tried again to watch Bridget Jones’ Diary but once again I was left cold. A ridiculous heroine misjudges Mark Darcy. Once again, Colin Firth has had a plate full of bad oysters until, once again, the last scene where, I will concede, he is a tad sexy with his “Nice boys don’t kiss that way” retort of “Oh yes they fucking do”. I came around a bit with the Knightley/McFadyen version of Pride and Prejudice which seems to be anathema to most fans and I’ve also watched the Laurence Olivier/Greer Garson version which was also ho hum. So you get it. Not a fan.
It took until the 200th anniversary to finally get it, to finally see how wonderfully romantic the book actually is. And not only do I get it but I also am surprised at my score long obtuseness.
How did I not see that Mr Darcy is one of my all time favourite romance hero types – the suited up, billionaire CEO sitting on his high horse, lording it over his minions just to be brought to his knees by an unassuming, often much poorer and plainer but ever so sharp heroine that he initially barely deigns worthy of his time. Elizabeth Bennet, too, is my favourite romance heroine. She is not glitzy, glamorous, ditzy or quirky. She is smart, observant, quick to take offense at perceived slights and really funny. These two are fabulous together and I have finally seen the beauty and the romance of Pride and Prejudice due to The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.
To many of you who also follow me on Twitter this is not a surprise revelation. I have already blogged about The LBD elsewhere. I decided to wait until the last episode before posting my total adoration for this series but I couldn’t bear to post straight away – it has taken me a whole month to deal with my loss. Yes dammit. I have turned into one of those viewers who is grieving the loss of a favourite show. Go ahead. Judge me. Then judge me some more when I tell you that I have struggled writing this post for this month as it is difficult to pull together the many different ways this show has left an impression on me which is why the rest of this post will be a list of why I think this series is teh awesomesauce:
Where in every other adaptation the secondary characters remained unexplained, their motivations left unknown or unrealised this adaptation fleshed out previously disliked characters giving them depth and humanity. From compliant Bing Lee, beautiful calm Jane, practical and insightful Charlotte, conniving Caroline, sweet Gigi, Fitz (my sons’ favourite character “Fitzie”) to the shallow, selfish party girl with hidden depths Lydia! Just a few quick words on Lydia – I honestly don’t think that there can be any subsequent production of Pride and Prejudice that doesn’t take into consideration this brilliant interpretation of a previously two-dimensional grating character. She very nearly stole the whole show. She finally made us understand the appeal of the fun, thoughtless sister. I’m possibly the only person who would have liked to see Lydia end up with George Wickham. I get that the moral to the story is that you don’t need to settle and in this day and age you certainly don’t need to stay in a dysfunctional relationship but – well, call me warped but Lydia became too subdued for my liking and the moralising of the consequences of sleeping around seemed stronger than Austen’s own writing expressed 200 years earlier.
Lizzie Bennet/Ashley Clements
I have a girl crush on Ashley Clements. I don’t know where to start in praising her interpretation of Lizzie Bennet. She is the Lizzie Bennet that I wish all the other adaptations delivered. Her Lizzie just hands down trumps every other wimpy, soft-spoken, pursed lipped, ditzy dumbass version that I have seen. Clements slams you with snark and lampoons from Episode 1. She delivers a character that is observant and funny and sharp and someone you want as your friend. Her face is beautifully expressive whether she is recounting an event, taking the piss, yearning, crying or happy.
Lizzie’s depictions of family, friends and acquaintances are as caricatures. For the sake of a great story she overdraws the people she comes across in her life. She knows that she is not being truthful to her viewers about the people she is depicting. She admits to being 80% truthful…no make that 50% truthful. As a viewer you know that Lizzie is not an accurate narrator but as a narrator even she knows that she is not an accurate narrator. Hyperbole is her ruler but, just like her sister Lydia, she has a vulnerable side that you get a glimpse of in Episode 7 when she is retelling “The Most Awkward Dance Ever”. It takes 3 episodes for Lizzie to even bring up this event – a whole 10 days after the Gibson wedding. As a viewer you see that Lizzie Bennet was embarrassed and slighted publicly by William Darcy. A public that is a tangible one. One in the physical world of family, friends, neighbours and the whole community watching her being rejected. Lizzie Bennet then goes on to publicly embarrass and slight William Darcy in a virtual space – a space which she doesn’t perceive has the impact that reality does until Episode 61 where we see her hesitance to even meet William Darcy’s eyes.
For a while I have been exploring this idea of the spaces we consider our reality. My interpretation of Lizzie Bennet at the beginning of the series is that Lizzie is detached from this virtual space. Particularly as a communications student her understanding of this medium as a virtual space unlike real life seems to make it OK to speak freely about family and friends once you have altered them, fictionalised them and you the viewer need to work out what aspects of the other characters are truthful. It is after Darcy’s first love declaration and subsequent argument about real events that Lizzie realises that Darcy is a man she has wronged. (And I love the strained look on her face when his objections to her mother and Lydia are also her objections to them). Thankfully for Lizzie, (and perhaps because he is a media communication CEO) he seems to have a similar understanding to her of the reality of the web as an unreal virtual space with somewhat unreal depictions and is able to dismiss her online comments about him. From Episode 60 Ashley Clements slowly turns Lizzie Bennet around from a seemingly oversharing, laughing storyteller to a more reserved person selective in her choice of words for the screen.
William Darcy/Daniel Vincent Gordh
As you have read above, I have never been a fan of grumble bum Darcy. But for the first time ever, here was a Darcy that appealed. He is a snob. He is realistic that there are class differences in our world. Just as Lizzie portrays her worse self in Episode 60, Darcy too shows us his absolute worse. The beauty is that neither of them are reticent in their exchange. These two are equals who leave their exchange rethinking their approach to each other. From that episode onwards we get to see a softer, more considerate Darcy. One that starts thinking through his attitudes to people outside his usual sphere until the penultimate episode where he is a relaxed, happy man (well – he had spent a week getting it on). For what it is worth, I am not a subscriber to the Darcy has Aspergers theory. I do not like the need to medicinalise behaviour that society has decided is not the norm. Darcy starts the story as a total snob but he is also shy and this combination is the fab reason why it takes nearly a year and 3 minutes to get the girl. And can I say, Daniel V Gordh has the most beautiful sprinkling of silver in his hair. Be still my beating heart! Just what all distinguished, billionaire CEOs should have. And 16 year old me would be pulling apart my Tiger Beat mag and putting up posters of DVG.
To add to this, I loved all the Darcy and Lizzie episodes. There are minor niggling lines that I wish could have been refined. Lizzie is fine calling Darcy a “prick” but shies away from saying that she doesn’t want to be the girl that is sleeping with the boss (c’mon already – who says “dating”?) and Lizzie not acknowledging Darcy in the last episode (a phrase would have sufficed). This doesn’t detract from the fact that these two sparked off each other. They had tension, those deep gazes gave me flutters and it was wonderful to watch the online squeeeeeing from all the other fans and viewers.
How could I even think of writing such a love letter to this wonderful show without acknowledging the wonderful writers who adapted this 200 year old story. These writers went well beyond any movie or any TV series has previously managed. They wrote flawed, real characters. They understood Austen’s characters and that people change due to the people they know and meet in their life. The writers show us all the necessity for forgiveness and that it is possible to overcome our prejudices and change our perception of others. The transmedia fiction, the use of Twitter and Tumblr and Pinterest gave us a deeper understanding of the main characters and allowed us to view them off-screen but still online partaking in a life that is the norm for all of us in this internet connected world. Understandably, production quality – great for a low budget series – did have its own challenges. There are sound quality fluctuations, Mr Microphone peaks at us in a later episode, beltless Bing, Darcy is not that crash hot a dresser for someone who is supposed to be in the 1% (seriously – a buttoned down shirt that isn’t buttoned down). These points though are inconsequential because the storytelling ruled.
The last episode was subdued and though at first I was disappointed with it, I now see it as the quiet farewell it needed to be. This was a journey for Lizzie and Charlotte. Two women finding their professional way in this modern world, each of them with different values and needs yet dedicated to their friendship. Thankfully, the writers were not constrained to only the videos and the transmedia fiction element delivered a wonderful epilogue on Twitter, at once funny, romantic and hopeful for the future. I truly hope we get to see the tweets in the DVD edition as I really feel they were key to the whole story. The writing, and the writers, are the absolute champions of this wonderful web series.
In the end, I invested countless hours in these wonderful characters. Gee they were fabulous! I have invested in the Kickstarter and I am so happy they have brought me to a new love and appreciation for Jane Austen’s wonderful Pride and Prejudice.
What!? You want more! Should my overly long letter not be enough here are a couple of links to read:
Goodby Lizzie Bennet, it has been… so good to see you
Asian Americans in Jane Austen’s White Sanctum