Lydia Bennet is not what one would consider an attractive character. “Vain, ignorant, idle, and absolutely uncontrolled!” her sister Elizabeth cries about her in a trying moment, and the reader tends to sympathize. Lydia does share DNA with Jane and Elizabeth, so it stands to reason that she must have some redeeming qualities; yet fan fiction writer after sequel writer (including your humble servant) uses Lydia only as a convenient punching bag and plot point. However, Jane Odiwe has given Lydia Bennet a plausible backstory that, if it doesn’t redeem her, at least gives her the benefit of the doubt; and a happier ending than one would expect, and happier than the cynical Janeite might think she probably deserves.
The first half of the book tells the events of Pride and Prejudice from Lydia’s point of view. She is wild for officers and sexually precocious. She fixes on George Wickham, and is disappointed when he goes after nasty, freckled Mary King and her ten thousand pounds. Wickham has much to answer for in this story. He awakens Lydia’s sexuality and takes advantage of a young girl in full hormonal overload. He knows exactly what he is doing, and while Lydia certainly knows better, anyone who remembers being fifteen and in the throes of one’s first relationship can perfectly understand how she is led astray by a manipulative, self-centered man. This part of the story is absorbing and well-written, sexy without being explicit, and like the best of such alternative-viewpoint Austen paraliterature, we get a new, thoughtful, and sympathetic perspective on a well-known, well-loved classic.
We all know the story: Lydia is married, her sisters are married, Mrs. Darcy and Mrs. Bingley live happily ever after and Lydia not so much. The End, right? But the tell-tale lack of compression of the pages tells us that the book is only half finished. There is more to come, and the second half of the book is where we fear some Janeites will have to work hard to suspend their disbelief. (We had to club ours into submission and lock it into the closet for a few hours.) The Wickhams’ marriage is much like one would expect: he gambles and whores around, and she alternates between self-delusion and pitching the occasional hissy fit. However, there is not much story there, so Ms. Odiwe tosses in a shocking twist that we’re sure Jane Austen never intended but allows her to give her heroine as happy an ending as she could want. While the second half is well-written and enjoyable, we fear many Janeites will find it too much out of canon. However, if the reader is comfortable with non-canonical Austen paraliterature, we think she will find Lydia Bennet’s Story an absorbing read; and those who think they are not comfortable with such stories might enjoy it in spite of themselves.