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Lydia, Legacy, and the End of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

Today, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries ended its 100-episode run, bringing to a close Hank Green and Bernie Su’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Having seen positive impressions of the series on Twitter, I included the first episode in my screening of webseries for my Intro to Television class, which of course meant watching it myself before assigning it. Watching the first episode turned into the first twenty, and then the next twenty, and then I was caught up in time for the last half-dozen or so episodes that have been released this month.

I consider the show to be a tremendous accomplishment, and I am sad to see it go: while I will admit that I would have found only 6-10 minutes of the show each week to be somewhat frustrating, and believe that my binge viewing highlighted many of the show’s achievements, I also missed the opportunity to “live” The Lizzie Bennet Diaries with other viewers. As someone who writes episodic television reviews, I believe in the value of discourse in shaping how we experience texts; as I’ve been following members of the creative team on Tumblr, or the official show Twitter account, and talking with other viewers on my Twitter feed about the most recent episodes, I can’t help but wish I’d have been able to spend the last fifty weeks within that space.

Perhaps it’s fitting, though. It calls attention to one of the primary takeaways from the Lizzie Bennet experience, which is the degree to which engagement is a sliding scale within an online space. Some people followed the canonical Twitter accounts, Facebook updates, and spinoff webseries that coincided with the 100 episodes of the main series; other people followed some of the transmedia components; other people simply watched the main videos—as I mostly did for my own viewing, at least initially—and let the rest be the rest. This isn’t revelatory, nor unexpected: the show’s writers/producers have been upfront that they’re creating a story they know will be consumed in different ways by different people. It nonetheless bears repeating, however, as the show reaches its conclusion: as viewers say goodbye to The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, what precisely they’re saying goodbye to may vary depending on their individual experience, to a degree that one doesn’t see with a normal television series (or a “normal” webseries, for that matter, although suggesting there’s a “normal” for a form so comparatively new and experimental may be misguided).

Which brings me to “The End,” the final episode of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries story, and a decision that the creative team has suggested came early on: despite the fact that Pride and Prejudice is centered around the relationship between Elizabeth Bennet and William Darcy, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries ends on Lizzie, her sister Lydia, and her best friend Charlotte.

Writer Jay Bushman, asked on Tumblr when they decided that Darcy’s swan song would be Episode 99, “Future Talk,” responded that

“since we spent the first 59 episodes on her relationships with people other than Darcy, it would feel pretty lousy if the show ended with her only focused on him without any recognition of all the other people in her life who are so important — and all the other relationships that make our version of this story different than all the others.”

It’s a compelling argument, and I did a literal—yes, actually literal—fist pump when I finished “Future Talk” and saw from the preview for “The End” that Darcy was absent. It reflects conversations I’ve had about how the show’s characterization of Lydia was its biggest accomplishment, and its most substantial “addition” to the Pride and Prejudice story as far as adaptation goes. I had skipped Lydia’s videos on my first viewing of the series, but was told by fellow academic Kathryn VanArendonk to go back and discover what I had missed, and I was immensely glad I did. Lydia’s story is heartbreaking, and powerful, and demonstrates the power of transmedia as a storytelling tool better than any other part of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.

And I’m afraid that, despite her presence in “The End,” that Lydia will not endure as the legacy of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries in the way I desire.

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