Ok, hands up who has read the classic Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen? That doesn’t include watching the BBC adaption with Colin Firth in it, or the film with Keira Knightley….
Well, if you haven’t read it or seen the film or TV show then I will give a brief outline of the plot. Mr and Mrs Bennett live in Longbourne. They have five daughters and need to get them all married off. The oldest daughter, Jane, falls in love with their new neighbour Mr Bingley who is super rich. The second oldest, Lizzie, is pursued by Mr Darcy even though he thinks that she isn’t good enough for him (he’s a bit arrogant but also mega rich) then there is Mary, Kitty and lastly, Lydia who turns 16 during the course of the novel. The book is set in Georgian England and it is about the time that England is fighting the French. Their village is overrun with soldiers, one of whom is Mr Wickham, who has history with Mr Darcy. There is a silly vicar called Mr Collins who is a cousin of theirs and he will inherit their house when Mr Bennet dies unless one of the girls marries him and secures it for all of them. Mr Collins also happens to be the local vicar for Mr Darcy’s aunt, who is a Lady. Mr Collins is also really creepy but sets his sights on Lizzie.
Everyone is obsessed with class and money and whether people have good reputations. Mrs Bennet is certainly obsessed with making sure that all her daughters make good marriages with rich husbands so that the family won’t have to worry about being thrown out on the street. I may have just butchered a classic there but that’s a broad outline of the story!
In the original book Lydia is silly, vain and obsessed with dances and dresses and being pretty. She doesn’t read and isn’t interested in being educated. She follows the soldiers around in their lovely red coats and loves flirting. During the course of the book she befriends the Major’s wife and, when the soldiers are moved down to Brighton she goes with and hopes to bag a husband while having as much as fun as possible.
In this book, she is keeping a diary which was given to her by her sister, Mary. Mary is the clever one who likes reading and playing the piano. The first section of the book follows the storyline of the original and gives us a fresh perspective on the Bennet’s life. Lydia gets on with her sister Kitty the best but respects Jane and Lizzie and feels a bit left out by them. She is a minor role in the original book until the end where she is integral to the ending but, in this her personality comes through. Things really start to get interesting when she arrives in Brighton. In Georgian times, Brighton was the place to go and Lydia soon fits in. She goes to balls at the Ship Assembly Rooms (I’ve been there!) and goes to the theatre where the King may also be attending. She also starts to swim in the sea. During the time, if you wanted to swim in the sea you have to be pulled in a carriage in which you got changed. Everyone was obsessed with their reputations and not exposing themselves to ruin. Other people seeing you in your swimming costume would ruin you!
Anyway, Lydia is on the beach with Harriet (the Major’s wife) when she sees a very glamorous redhead. She learns that this lady is a Comtesse and has fled France after the revolution. A Comtesse in like a Countess to us. She also learns that she has a brother, Alaric, who is a Comte. She is enthralled by the idea of meeting real life royal French people and sets about engineering a meeting with them. Helped by the dashing but dodgy Wickham. Wickham is already in trouble because he keeps trying to marry rich women (including Darcy’s sister when she was about 13!). The Comte and Comtesse are living with a relative who, it turns out, is pretty rich and eligible and Wickham decides to try his luck with her. Lydia in the meantime falls in love with Alaric and hopes to marry him and live in India where his stepfather has a tea plantation.
The book has a good twist at the end which I wasn’t expecting and it is obviously more accessible than the original. It is also of the period so will give you a good idea of the original storyline and why everyone behaves the way they do. It also made me very glad that I didn’t live in that time!
Lydia is a likeable character and you will want her to make a success of things in the end. The only problem is that I didn’t really feel there was enough time spent on the romance to make it believable that she would do what she did, and there is a few little bits that are a little hard to believe. A nice spin on a classic though, you will enjoy it whether you have read the original or not.