This reading group guide for The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with authors Kate Rorick and Rachel Kiley. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book. Introduction
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Inspired by Jane Austen’s timeless novel, Bernie Su and Kate Rorick created a modern-day Pride and Prejudice
with The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet
. Now, Rorick and Rachel Kiley tell the story of Lydia Bennet, never before explored in the Emmy Award–winning YouTube series.
Before her older sister, Lizzie, started her wildly popular vlog, Lydia was just a normal twenty-year-old obsessed with partying, shopping, and getting away with doing as little work as possible while still having maximum fun. But once Lizzie’s vlog turned the lives of the Bennet sisters into an Internet sensation, Lydia quickly realized that all the attention coming her way as people watched, debated, tweeted, and blogged about her life was not always good.
After her ex-boyfriend George Wickham exploited her newfound web-fame, betrayed her trust, and destroyed her online reputation, naïve, carefree Lydia was no more. Now she must work to win back her family’s respect and find her place in a far more judgmental world. Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. This novel expands on storylines documented in The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet
and the YouTube series while retaining the plotlines and character archetypes from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
. Discuss how the authors make Lydia’s circumstances contemporary while still drawing on source material from the nineteenth century.
2. Think about Lydia’s attraction to psychology, taking into account her eagerness to be respected by her professor in class, as well as her relationship with her therapist, Ms. W. What do you think draws her to this field? How does she apply the concepts she learns (for instance, Pavlov’s dogs and the Milgram experiment) to her own life?
3. Why do you think Lydia does not try to take down the incriminating videos of her past? Do you think it’s possible to “rewrite your history” in this day and age? How does the permanence of the Internet affect our society? How has it affected your life?
4. Discuss Lydia’s relationship with her parents. How do you think their support helps or hinders Lydia’s journey? How is Lizzie’s relationship with her parents (from the previous book) like and unlike Lydia’s?
5. How do Mary and Lydia act as foils to each other, particularly in social settings? How do they complement and push each other to grow as people? Give a few examples from the text.
6. Lydia is grappling with her identity after hitting rock bottom and is newly motivated to be a hardworking student. However, this role is still very new to her, and she is alternately disappointed and heartened by her performance in different classes. Talk about a time when you decided to change your life—how easy was it to enact new goals and ambitions, and how did you overcome hurdles along the way?
7. At a party Lydia attends in New York, guests adopt the personalities of different characters for the entire evening and, at the end of the night, share their characters’ secrets and then burn them. How is this both therapeutic and cathartic to Lydia? How does it parallel the new “character” she is trying to be in her own life?
8. On page 92, Lydia says, “There’s this weird thing that happens when everything falls apart. […] Your body, the normal one you live in every day, sort of starts to exist apart from you. You’re still there, of course. […] But it all goes on autopilot, getting you through the days while you . . . contract.” Discuss how detachment and self-sabotage come into play while Lydia tries to reacclimate herself to the real world after this traumatic event. Can you relate to Lydia’s feeling of sometimes being on “autopilot”? How so?
9. In The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet,
which takes place before this novel, older sister Lizzie feels that she has failed Lydia, realizing after she learns of her sister’s sex tape “that Lydia has never been told that she is loved exactly as she is.” Now seeing the story from Lydia’s perspective, how much of this still rings true? How does Lydia crave love, and how does she receive it from her parents, Lizzie, and Jane?
10. Discuss how Lydia is manipulated by the men in her life, Cody as well as George. Lydia declares on page 155: “Here’s the thing about good guys. They don’t tell you they’re good guys.” How is this true or untrue in your experience? How are Cody and George harmful to Lydia in their own distinct ways?
11. Lydia realizes that there are so many people in the world who know her from her sister’s vlog and her tape scandal, and yet these commenters are faceless to her. What do you believe is the function of anonymity on the Internet, especially in commenting communities? What are the positive and negative possibilities for anonymous communication online?
12. Think about Lydia’s relationship with Lizzie and with Jane. Lizzie is absent for much of this novel, yet Lydia often compares herself to her. Alternatively, Lydia seems to blossom in a new way when she visits Jane in New York. Discuss the ways Lydia compares herself to her sisters—is it internally or externally motivated? If you have siblings, do you relate to Lydia’s relationships with her sisters? Enhance Your Book Club
1. Watch a few Lizzie Bennet Diaries
YouTube videos and then have a look at the comments below. Discuss in your group how comments can be constructive or destructive, and how they act as a form of instant feedback.
2. Try making a YouTube video with your group! React to the book and speak to the ways vlogs and social media impact the narrative. Invite your friends to join in the conversation!
3. If you were going to write a book from another Lizzie Bennet Diaries
character’s point of view, whose would it be? Bring in a chapter to share with the group. A Conversation with Kate Rorick and Rachel Kiley Why did you decide to continue the Bennet story beyond The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet? What was it like to delve into territory not previously covered in the web series? Rachel:
We told Lydia’s story alongside Lizzie’s for certain parts of the web series with her own series, The Lydia Bennet!
We actually had one more set of her episodes written that wound up not being shot for various reasons, so her arc always felt like it had been left somewhat incomplete. Personally, a lot of the writing I did on the show was for Lydia’s series, and most of that was just made up outside the confines of adapting Pride and Prejudice
, so expanding her story from there into a novel (which included some of the things previously written for the episodes we didn’t shoot—the scene between Lydia and Wickham, for example, is almost identical to one of the unshot episodes) wasn’t very different from what my work on the show had already been. Just more novel-y. Why did you choose to focus on Lydia in this story, rather than continue with Lizzie’s perspective? Did you research any real-life events to create Lydia’s storyline in this novel? Kate:
When we finished the web series, everyone’s story had been neatly wrapped up. Except for Lydia’s. When we leave her at the end of the series, she’s still in the emotional aftermath of the sex tape. There was a vague sense that she was going to be all right, but we didn’t know how she would get there. When we talked about the idea of doing a sequel to The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet
, Lydia was the first and foremost on our minds. Plus, her voice and personality are such a standout that of course she has to get her own story! As for drawing from real-life events, Rachel and I drew a lot of inspiration from our own lives. We both spent years in New York City. And I did have a Gothic Literature class in college. I never really understood the lure of Dracula
. The subject matter (particularly the sex tape) in Epic Adventures is extremely relevant to readers now—how difficult was it to incorporate elements from Pride and Prejudice into this very 2015 story? Kate:
In Pride and Prejudice
, Lydia causes a scandal by eloping with George Wickham, which causes a rift between Lizzy and Darcy just as they are getting close. In modern times, eloping with someone is not necessarily scandal-causing. We needed a public scandal that resonated for today—and since The Lizzie Bennet Diaries
was informed and influenced by the fact that it was happening online, having the scandal be on the Internet felt right.
However, we’ve always said that the biggest change we made with the storyline was not the sex tape, but the fact that we actually liked Lydia. We related to her better in LBD
than we did in P&P
because she’s closer to Lizzie/y. We watch her be vulnerable and get her heart broken in a way that the brash Lydia from P&P
never shows. At one point in the novel, Lydia expresses her anxiety about all the people in the world who now know her from her sister’s vlog and her sex tape scandal. Have you ever felt vulnerable or excited putting a piece of work online, knowing it will receive an immediate response? How do you feel about the anonymity of the Internet community? Rachel:
A lot of what college/general writing experience teaches you as a writer is to accept and withstand criticism, but it seems like everything online now becomes so personal. It’s not just “This piece of work sucks, here’s why,” but instead often turns into “YOU ARE THE LITERAL SCUM OF THE EARTH FOR WRITING THIS.” We (and by “we” I mostly mean me since I was the only one dumb enough to pay attention to things online) dealt with that on LBD
to, I think, a much lesser extent than I’ve seen TV writers deal with it, and watching writers I admire on shows I watch get responses like that is terrifying. I don’t read stuff about my writing online anymore because even more than sometimes turning into personal attacks, which you can eventually learn to shrug off, it also sometimes makes you question what you’re writing, and if you’re in the middle of a story, changing it as you go to react to one fan’s criticism here or another fan’s criticism there just muddies everything up. It’s a weird balance to try to navigate. Kate:
Rachel is absolutely right in that to be a writer you have to be able to take criticism—and that was true long before the Internet. But the Internet does make it more immediate, and often true criticism gets lost in the noise. You just have to know that you can’t please everyone, and if you try, you’ll drive yourself crazy and probably harm your work. To be on the Internet in any capacity now, you have to have a very thick skin—which was something Lydia had to develop once the sex tape happened. Both of you were also writers on the Lizzie Bennet Diaries web series. How is writing the Bennet story in a novel format different from writing a web series? Rachel:
You go from having talented actors who can convey the emotions and layers you’re trying to get across in a scene to actually having to find the words to do it yourself, which, after years and years of training yourself not to use adjectives or get too descriptive in sentences (aka screenwriting), can be very daunting. I’ve hardly written any prose since probably middle school—all my experience is in screenwriting, or really crappy poetry in high school—so having Kate there was incredibly helpful in the whole process since she knows what she’s doing. Plus the web series was literally just people talking to a camera, which is a whole separate beast from most storytelling of any type. Kate:
I’ve written both books and TV screenwriting for a while now, and I’ve actually come to the conclusion that they aren’t as different as we think they are. When I’m trying to put together a scene, I hear the character in my head, I play out the scene, I notice what they would notice. The novel is of course much longer—a lot less white space on the page—but you still have to justify every word you put down, every scene driving the story forward. Now that you’ve explored the perspectives of two Bennet sisters, which one do you think you relate to more and why? Are you like Lizzie in some ways and Lydia in others? Rachel:
I kind of talk like Lydia (possibly a product of writing for her for so long), but I don’t particularly relate to her too much. There are always small similarities you find as a way to delve into every character you write, but I’ve always probably related most to Mary, Darcy, and, in certain non-creepy ways, even Wickham. Kate:
I’m a straight-up Lizzie. While there are certain things about our Lydia I definitely relate to—her tendency to pretend everything is okay, for example—I’ve been an Elizabeth Bennet wannabe since I was fifteen. Do you have any plans to continue telling the story of the Bennet sisters beyond this book, whether in the form of a novel or a continuing web series? Rachel:
I don’t know what Pemberley Digital has in store, but personally I feel like Lydia’s story has gone as far as we can take it without beating a dead horse (sorry, Mr. Wuffles). At a certain point, you have to say good-bye to your characters and let the rest of their lives be left to the imagination. Or kill them off, but that would probably be an odd twist in this genre. (Or would it?!?) Kate:
I can’t speak for what Pemberley Digital has in mind, either, but I’d like to think that if we left our characters here, we know that they’re going to be okay, leading happy, fulfilling, and slightly wacky existences. And in the end, that’s what we want from a story, right?