I would generally describe myself as a bit weird about any attempt to add to or change one of my favourite books. I’d like to say it’s not because I’m precious or possessive, but that would be a lie. So you can take it as a very big compliment to Natasha Farrant’s Lydia: The Wild Girl of Pride and Prejudice when I say that I lapped it up and thought it was hilarious.
The book is presented in the form of Lydia’s diaries, and begins around the same time as its source novel, with the arrival of Mr Bingley at Netherfield. There’s something really pleasant about being back at Longbourn, home of the Bennet family; a while ago, I went to the home of my childhood best friend’s parents for the first time in years, and it felt so welcoming and comforting, and that’s what reading this book reminded me of. Farrant’s use of all the Bennet sisters is entirely true to Austen’s original creations, but with Lydia’s occasionally snarky voice, we gain a new and intriguing perspective. Lydia is also completely hilarious; exactly as melodramatic as she is in Pride and Prejudice, she frequently talks about how much she’d like to murder everyone and is particularly scathing when describing the horrendous Mr Collins. Her relationships with her sisters are interestingly portrayed, especially Lizzy; there’s a degree of envy in the way Lydia regards her second-oldest sister, but the loving bond of the Bennet family is always evident. On the subject of which, it seems that Farrant picked up on something I’ve long believed about the Bennet parents; namely, that Mr Bennet is incredibly condescending and basically not a very good father, while Mrs Bennet is just desperately trying to do her best for her daughters.
There’s a feminist edge to Lydia which I really enjoyed; the forceful main character bullies Wickham into teaching her to ride a horse properly, as well as asking him to show her how to shoot, and more than once bemoans the fact that being born a girl in the Regency period has deprived her of the opportunities available to men. “I wish I were a man,” she says, “instead of a girl, obliged to sit around waiting for no-good suitors to decide if I am fancy enough, or to throw myself at idiot clergymen. If I were a man, I could do something.” It’s hard to argue with her logic, and I found myself cheering her on as she took matters into her own hands. Farrant’s spin on the relationship between Lydia and Wickham is interesting too; it’s not necessarily how I’ve always imagined that aspect of the story, but I enjoyed what she did with it, particularly when Lydia’s diary was covering events that were familiar from Pride and Prejudice.
I’d recommend Lydia to fans of Pride and Prejudice; Farrant manages to adopt a voice which sounds like Austen’s, without slavishly replicating her style, and the product is something which is undoubtedly very funny. I’m going to be teaching Pride and Prejudice next year, and I’ll be strongly suggesting my students pick up a copy of this too, although my concern will be that they’ll then wish they were studying Lydia’s story rather than Lizzy’s!