‘The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,’ and Diversifying Old Stories

I’ve been watching The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a cute little web series that imagines Jane Austen’s best heroine as a graduate student living at home with her parents to save money and avoid taking out further loans:

It’s clearly being shot on a low budget, so the show is unfortunately a bit limited. But I’m struck by the way it’s managed to gracefully make the old text more diverse and more modern. Lizzie’s best friend Charlotte Lucas has become Charlotte Lu, who edits Lizzie’s videos and occasionally stars (quite funnily) as Lizzie’s father. And Mr. Bingley has been turned into Bing Lee, a successful Asian doctor who’s recently bought a nice house in the neighborhood, and has been targeted with laser-like precision by Lizzie’s mother, who is desperate to find prospects for her single daughters in the suburbs. It’s smart, if a little punny, and nod to the demographics of suburbia (I think Suburbia does this okay, too, though it could use some Asian teenagers as well as its gay Asian principal).

The one thing that strikes me as a little off, though, is the way modern Lizzie ribs Lydia about being a slut. Lydia’s character is unpleasant, but the relish the novel takes in packing her off to a miserable marriage is pretty nasty, and a reminder that, no matter how enduring Lizzie Bennet is, Jane Austen was a woman of her time. One of the things that I liked so much about David Liss’s The Thirteenth Enchantment was its compassionate, but not entirely unrealistic, look at the prospects for a woman like Lydia who would have been considered “ruined.” It may be easy to get romantic about Mr. Darcy’s reform. But I have zero nostalgia for the era’s overall sexual politics.