A version of this blog was originally published by Ms. Magazine on Friday, March 29. By Rachel Grate.
And the two best friends lived happily ever after.
It’s not the typical ending for a romance story, but The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (LBD) isn’t typical in any way. The web video series that just aired its final episode is a modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, following fictional vlogger “Lizzie” Bennet, her sisters and her friends as they face their own (not necessarily romantic!) challenges.
As Susan Greenfield previously wrote for Ms., romance doesn’t solve all problems in the Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Greenfield points out that the series has remained true to the novel’s central interest in 19th century Elizabeth Bennet, but turns the camera away from her love interest Mr. Darcy (now just called Darcy) to focus on 21st century “Lizzie.” One of the most unique aspects of the series is its focus on women’s friendships, illustrated most vividly with the character of Charlotte Lu. From the first episode, Charlotte’s role in Lizzie’s life has grown as she plays the series’ film editor. Essentially a co-author of the vlogs, Charlotte frequently comes on camera and often pauses the video and overlays text to provide her own dialogue on Lizzie’s thoughts.
Given the strength of their friendship–a strength rarely represented in popular media–I wasn’t surprised to see Charlotte appearing in the final episode, “The End,” when Lizzie drags her on screen to share her good news: Charlotte is taking over the company Collins & Collins.
I got in touch with Julia Cho, the actor who plays Charlotte, to hear her thoughts on Charlotte’s shining moments in the series as it comes to a close.
Ms. Blog: What moments stand out to you in the development of Charlotte’s character?
Julia Cho: [For one], Episode 41 (“Your Pitch Needs Work”): In the novel, we aren’t privy to the exchange between Charlotte and Collins in which he proposes to her (after Lizzie rejects him) and she accepts. I love that in our version, we are not only able to see that interaction but also observe Charlotte exerting control and really maneuvering the situation in her favor to achieve her end goal. Instead of being a victim of her circumstances, she has set an objective for herself and is working towards it … even if her best friend doesn’t support her at first.
[Then] Episode 42 (“Friends Forever”): This was a pivotal moment between the two friends (in both the novel and on our show), when Charlotte accepts Collins’ offer after Lizzie refuses. I also believe this was a big turning point for the show, the first major dramatic episode in a show that was fairly light leading up to that point. I take great pride in the fact that many viewers have expressed that they now finally understand Charlotte after reexamining why she did what she did in the novel. She wasn’t just selling out or settling; she was making a conscious decision for herself. In the end, she established and attained her own meaning of success and happiness.
[Finally] Episode 61 (“Yeah I Know”) and Episode 64 (“C vs C”): These two Charlotte moments are completely fabricated, but they help represent the LBD-specific version of Charlotte. We get to see a Charlotte who is strong, confident and steadfastly loyal to her loved ones. Whether she is standing up to Darcy (“Regardless of your position of authority over me, I don’t like what you did to Jane”) or whether she’s going head to head with Caroline Lee, we see how Charlotte has moved past the second fiddle role and has really come into her own.
How does the change in Mr. Collins’ offer from a marriage proposal to a job offer reflect on the increased strength of this portrayal of Charlotte?
I love that in our modern adaptation we made the marriage-to-job translation, which I think resonates with a lot more young people today. Yes, we can all dream about finding our own version of Darcy, but there are other ways to seek personal and professional contentment.
On the site’s official website, Charlotte is listed as a story element of 55 different videos, even though she doesn’t actually make a physical appearance. How does this testify to her power as a character?
Charlotte filming and editing the videos was an intrinsic part of the show’s original concept, so it’s been very fun for me not only as an actor but also as a fan to see how Charlotte still makes her presence known throughout the series. I think it was very clever to use the Charlotte character to further or enhance the story at times, and I am grateful for that as Charlotte in the novel disappears quite early on.
In episode 97 “Special Delivery,” Lizzie essentially trolls the audience to think Darcy has arrived, when it was actually Charlotte. How do you think this reflects the increased role of female friendship in the series?
For Lizzie to reveal that Charlotte instead of Darcy is at her side in that particular episode, I can see how that could be a reminder that from the beginning of our show it wasn’t all about the love story. As frustrated as the fans were growing as we led up to Darcy’s first appearance, the show was first establishing all these wonderful female characters and relationships, and that is really the foundation of the LBD. Lizzie and Darcy eventually come together, but Lizzie is shaped and changed as a person by having her pride and prejudices challenged by not only Darcy, but her sisters and Charlotte as well.
How does Charlotte’s appearance in the final episode reflect the importance of her character?
In rehearsals and on the actual shoot date [of the final episode], there was such a great feeling of revisited comfort and familiarity with these two best friends. Lizzie and Charlotte’s dynamic truly is different from others, and I’m so glad that we get some Charlotte at the end and not just lovey-dovey Dizzie [Darcy and Lizzie], as cute as they are. Lizzie and Charlotte started these video diaries together and they get to end them together, and it’s just lovely to see it come full circle. I think that is such a testament to not only the character of Charlotte but of all the female relationships in our show.
Do other female characters stand out to you as more empowered/complex than in the novel? How so?
I think it’s safe to say our Lydia is definitely more complex, but to be fair our Jane is arguably more empowered as well. The Lydia I know from the novel was just out to have a good time, but our version is a vast departure from canon. It invoked some strong reactions, but it was a risk that the artists involved wanted to take. The practically perfect Jane from the novel had a little bit of a hiccup on her road to happiness with the equally affable Bingley, but our Jane publicly suffered through a painful breakup and in the end found her own independence and got to reunite with her Bing Lee on her own terms.
How do you feel being a web series (as opposed to more traditional media) allowed the creators more flexibility with their focus on women’s friendships in addition to romance?
If this were a TV show, I’m pretty sure the romance would have had to be front and center from Day One. Fortunately, we were able to take lots of liberties and risks as a web series. It’s unfortunate that in almost every TV show, you need to have some sort of romance or at least the possibility of one (ideally several to take place throughout multiple seasons). I know the fans “ship” Charlotte and Collins (among other pairings), but I actually love the fact that we never delved into any romance between those two characters. The marriage proposal was directly translated to a job offer in our version, and that was that.