Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Lydia Bennet's Blog: the real story of Pride and Prejudice by Valerie Laws

“Well, it seems to be a given that when a bloke's made his pile (or waited for his Pa to peg it), he's ready to commit longterm to install some lucky woman to, like, run his crib and die having his babies.” Poor Lydia Bennet, she and her sister Kitty have coming rushing home from Meryton with some really hot goss about the imminent arrival of SOLDIERS – “phwooar! Give me a man with a long sword and tight pantaloons”-- only to find the rest of their family engrossed by the news that “some minted single geezer's moving in to nearby Netherfield.”

And not just the “loaded” Bingley, oh no! There's the Alpha Git himself “Arsey Darcy” who finds himself needing to keep his back to the wall after Lydia's had one of her characteristic accidents spilling hot chocolate down his creamy pantaloons. Valerie Laws's Lydia Bennet's Blog is funny, crude, clever and a linguistic tour-de-force. Lydia does not speak as a 2013 teen, nor in the language of 1813 Pride and Prejudice. She has her own unique style – streetwise, assertive and the very “epitaph of cool”. She should be starring in a Miranda Hart comedy series, or Miranda, her mother and friends would fit nicely in her world, “the chosen road to desperationville” where the height of “thrilldom” is trudging to a single shop and looking “at the same three hats for at least five years, swear down.” (That word "die" in her translation of the famous first sentence immediately lifts it above simple parody to a sharply realistic critique.)

The cleverness of Lydia Bennet's Blog is remaining faithful, episode after episode, to the original. Laws has to exercise a considerable amount of ingenuity to ensure that Lydia can witness key events in the narrative but she manages adroitly. Her Lydia is resourceful and manipulative. It is she who is so well wired in to the invisible network of servants connecting the gentry houses that she's able to smuggle herself into Netherfield or get the “goss” from Lucas Lodge. Lydia is in charge of plot development and it is she who fixes the Charlotte Lucas / Mr Collins marriage and ensures Elizabeth and Darcy meet at Pemberley. She is also shrewd. She condemns her father for “dissing” his daughters and is constantly sympathetic to “poor old Ma”.

Hers is a perfectly valid materialistic standpoint and it's a tribute to the greatness of Pride and Prejudice that it can survive this perspective just as well as Romeo and Juliet survives when played by bikers and leathers. I was writing digital revision supplements for York Notes when I read Lydia Bennet's Blog. The novel can be considered from a Marxist, feminist, post-colonial, psychoanalytic critical angle and has something extra to give every time. It seemed to me that A level or undergraduate students could perfectly well justify spending some of their study-time reconsidering events though Lydia's wide eyes.

The rest of us, fortunately, need only laugh – and admire.

Reviewed by Julia Jones