I have a confession to make: I don’t like Lizzie Bennet. At least not in the Lizzie Bennet Diaries.
Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorite novels, and I’m enjoying the Youtube adaptation. I love Jane, and Lydia, and Charlotte, and Catherine. But Lizzie… Lizzie rubs me the wrong way. She’s judgemental and superior, trusting of the wrong people and incredibly harsh about anyone she vaguely dislikes, and it’s making me think about the original Elizabeth Bennet in a new way.
Elizabeth Bennet is one of literature’s most admired heroines, for being opinionated and independent, calling Mr Darcy out on his nonsense, and refusing to sacrifice her happiness and marry a man just to ensure her own financial security. She captures our modern fancy as a true heroine. But she’s also as full of pride, and as full of prejudice, as Mr Darcy himself. She makes harsh judgements quickly and refuses to let them go. She is sure of herself to the point of arrogance or superiority, joining her father in looking down on her mother, her sisters and pretty much everyone else she encounters, and her story in the novel is all about her learning to overcome some of these prejudices. Although we praise her self assurance and independence, she is quite selfish and reckless in turning down two marriage proposals in quick succession, when her sisters, her mother and Lizzie herself all need her to make a good marriage to save them from destitution (and, as the vile Mr Collins says, there’s no guarantee that anyone will ever propose to her again). And cynical readers might even claim that she only starts to love Mr Darcy after she sees Pemberley and fully understands what she could have as his wife. As readers who long for a love-hate romance and a self-assured heroine who refuses to bow to 19th century expectations of women, her story is a delight to read. But when viewed from a contemporary point of view, or when put into a modern context, some of her traits seem less admirable.
I’m sure everyone will disagree about how closely The Lizzie Bennet Diaries‘ Lizzie matches Elizabeth Bennet of the books, or how successfully her opinions and personality traits were adapted into a modern day context. But the adaptation does give an interesting new look at this beloved character and the flaws and tendencies that are often overlooked.
Lizzie Bennet is an interesting character, and her story is one worth reading, and one worth watching. But I’m not sure I would want to be her friend. And that, I think, makes her a more unusual, and more compelling, heroine in some ways. She doesn’t have to be perfect, or even always likeable. She just has to feel real.