The Forgotten Sister: Mary Bennet’s Pride and Prejudice Book Tour with Author Jennifer Paynter & Giveaway!

The Forgotten Sister: Mary Bennet's Pride and Prejudice, by Jennifer Paynter (2014 )Please join us in celebration of the new release of author Jennifer Paynter’s debut novel, The Forgotten Sister: Mary Bennet’s Pride and Prejudice, published this month by Lake Union Publishing. 

Jennifer has joined us to chat about her inspiration to write her book, a revealing look at one of Jane Austen’s most misunderstood characters from Pride and Prejudice, Mary Bennet. Her publisher has generously offered a giveaway chance for a paperback or Kindle digital edition of The Forgotten Sister to three lucky winners. Just leave a comment with this blog post to enter. The contest details are listed below. Good luck to all. 

Welcome Jennifer.

What first led me to think of Mary Bennet as a possible heroine was an observation by Jane Austen scholar, John Bayley. In his memoir of his wife, British novelist Iris Murdoch, Bayley wrote that ‘the unfortunate Mary is the only one among Jane Austen’s characters who never gets a fair deal from the author at all, any more than she does from her father.’ 

I immediately wondered what sort of story would emerge if Pride and Prejudice were to be retold from Mary’s point of view. How would Mary feel about her father, for instance? Wouldn’t she resent being constantly ridiculed by him? (When Mary first appears in Chapter 2 of Pride and Prejudice, she’s sarcastically framed by Mr Bennet as a ’young lady of deep reflection’ who reads ‘great books and makes extracts’.) And how would Mary view her two older sisters, Jane and Elizabeth, and their so-eligible suitors, Messrs. Bingley and Darcy? And would there be room in any retelling for Mary to have a life of her own? Could she find a friend for herself outside her immediate family, and even, eventually, a lover?

I’m much more at home writing dialogue than descriptive prose, and as an early exercise in getting to know Mary I noted down all her speeches in Pride and Prejudice—there are only half a dozen!—and afterwards used them as milestones in The Forgotten Sister. I figured it would be cheating to edit out Mary’s speeches. The challenge instead would be to place them in a newly imagined context: the world inside Mary’s head. For although I wanted to stick to Jane Austen’s script and not ignore Mary’s unattractive aspects—her moralizing and pedantry—I also wanted the reader to appreciate what a difficult hand she’d been dealt. She’s the only plain one of the five Bennet sisters, and as a middle child she’s isolated within her own family, having no confidante among her sisters. And neither of her parents favours her— Mrs Bennet spoils her youngest daughter, Lydia, while Mr Bennet favours his second daughter, Elizabeth.

I found the key to understanding Mary in her childhood—her birth-order as the third successive daughter of parents desperate for a male heir, her loneliness growing up between two pairs of closely bonded sisters, and—hardest of all perhaps—having to endure the brilliant unkindness of her capricious quick-witted father. In seeking to give Mary a ‘fair deal’ I used the childhood experience of the late Princess of Wales, Diana Spencer. Like Mary Bennet, Diana was the third successive daughter of parents desperate for a male heir. (Just as the Bennets needed a son to keep the Longbourn estate in the family, so the Spencers needed one to inherit the earldom.) Diana’s biographer, Sarah Bradford, describes how Diana convinced herself that she should have been a boy and that, being a girl, she was a disappointment and regarded as a lesser being.

In a further attempt to gain the reader’s sympathy for Mary, I farmed her out to a wet-nurse for the first two years of her life. This was a common enough practice at the time. Claire Tomalin in her biography Jane Austen: A Life describes how the Austen children, after being breast-fed by their mother for a few months, were handed over to a wet nurse until they were weaned.  The family of Mary’s wet-nurse, the Bushell family, do not appear in Pride and Prejudice of course, although they’re important characters in my book, but after I’d made up names for them I was delighted to discover that a Dame Bushell had actually done the Austen family laundry! In a letter to her sister Cassandra dated October 1798 Jane Austen wrote: 

‘Dame Bushell washes for us only one week more, as Sukey has got a place. John Steevens’ wife undertakes our purification. She does not look as if anything she touched would ever be clean, but who knows?’  

For the rest, I stuck fairly closely to Austen’s characterization. My Mary works hard for knowledge and accomplishments. She’s equally eager to show off her singing voice and is just as deluded about her performance. I emphasized her religious enthusiasm by giving her a pious tutor, and I attributed her fondness for quoting other people’s words to a sort of social nervousness, a not-knowing what to say. To help her overcome this, the mother of her tutor encourages her to compile a so-called ‘Commonplace Book’ in which wise and witty sayings can be noted—and endlessly quoted. (I had great fun with Mary’s Commonplace Book!) 

I found the hardest part of The Forgotten Sister to write was the ending when Mary arrives in the penal colony of New South Wales. Even though I was writing about Sydney, my own hometown, the setting was remote from Austen’s world of the famous ‘three or four families’ in an English country village.  (And to find out why Mary Bennet would end up in a penal colony, you’ll just have to read the book!)

Author Jennifer Paynter (2014)Author Bio:

Jennifer Paynter was born and educated in Sydney. She has previously written two stage plays and several anthologized short stories, and is a member of the Jane Austen Society of Australia. The Forgotten Sister is Jennifer’s first novel. Visit Jennifer on her website jenniferpaynter.com.

GIVEAWAY CHANCE

Enter a chance to win one of three paperback or Kindle digital copies available (winner’s choice) of The Forgotten Sister, by Jennifer Paytner by sharing your favorite Mary Bennet quote from Pride and Prejudice or stating your decided opinion of Mary Bennet, and what intrigues you about this novel! The contest is open until 11:59 pm PT, February 06, 2014. Winners will be drawn at random from the comments and posted on Friday, February 07, 2014. Paperback shipment to US addresses, digital edition internationally. Good luck to all.

The Forgotten Sister: Mary Bennet’s Pride and Prejudice, by Jennifer Paynter
Lake Union Publishing (2014)
Trade paperback (440) pages
ISBN: 978-1477848883

Book cover courtesy of Lake Union Publishing © 2014; Text Jennifer Paytner © 2014, Austenprose.com

41 thoughts on “The Forgotten Sister: Mary Bennet’s Pride and Prejudice Book Tour with Author Jennifer Paynter & Giveaway!

  1. How interesting!! I agree that Mary is really the forgotten sister and also maybe even more the neglected sister. I have always felt there was more to her to be told. She tries so hard to please. I am anxious to see where you take her story.

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  2. I have always had a “love/hate” relationship with Mary – she is probably the least inspiring sister while actually the most like me. I will be interested to see how Ms. Paynter develops Mary’s character.

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  3. I have always felt so sorry for Mary who
    tried to stake out a small area that was hers
    alone – wit was Elizabeth’s, sweetness was Jane’s, popularity was Lydia’s – but she
    could be the serious and “literate” one! The
    different personalities of each of the
    sisters is one of the themes I like most in
    Pride and Prejudice.

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  4. You set yourself quite a challenge–to keep Mary’s speeches intact, but help us to like her in spite of the speeches. I am eager to read the book and see how you did this because in the other MB stories I’ve read, Mary tends to be more likeable than Jane made her. Thanks.

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  5. I often thought it was an absolute shame that Mary and the Reverend Collins didn’t get together. Mary would have made a much better partner than Charlotte, who was sort of cynical about her life with her husband. Mary had more in common, and that would have solved the inheritance problem, also.

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  6. The best thing about Mary is that she offers lots of leeway for Austen interpreters. My favourite may be her snake dance in the Bride and Prejudice film, which fits in nicely with her desire to show off her accomplishments.

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  7. I think both Mary and Kitty struggled with their place in the family. I’m especially interested to see how Mary could end up in Australia! My favourite quote in relation to Mary isn’t a kind one to her, but it is amusing – “Mary wished to say something very sensible, but knew not how”.

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  8. It will be interesting to read a sympathetic portrait of Mary, and I think you’re spot on in identifying her place in the family as key. It’s a little unfair that generally she is disliked more than Lydia, for example.

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  9. Mary seems a underdeveloped character in the book – I like the quote that starts – Unhappy as the event must be for Lydia, we may draw from it this useful lesson: that loss of virtue ………. The family don’t really want to acknowledge this but this is actually their situation

    meikleblog at gmail dot com

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  10. What an interesting idea! Mary is not likeable in “Pride and Prejudice”. Seems like a project not to be underestimated, to make her a nice person.

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  11. I like that the author gives Mary a voice so that readers can sympathise with her. She is not portrayed in a flattering light and it’s good to get inside her head and experience P&P through her eyes.

    My favourite quote of hers is “Vanity and pride are different things,
    though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.
    ” More often than not I always mix up the two words.

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  12. I’m looking forward to reading this book. Mary is the quiet one and she needs a voice because….you can’t tell a book (or a woman reading a book by its cover.

    Thanks for your generosity, Jennifer, and lots of good luck!

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  13. I have enjoyed other more positive depictions of Mary, such as Sharon Winslow’s in “Return to Longbourn”, and would love to read your wonderfully researched interpretation of Mary… only would you assure me that it does have a happy ending!? :-)
    A particular favorite quote of mine is, Mary’s response to Lydia’s saying she wished Mary had gone with her and Kitty to meet her sisters and relating the noisy silly “fun” they had… “Far be it from me, my dear sister, to depreciate such pleasures. They would doubtless be congenial with the generality of female minds. But I confess they would have no charms for me. I should infinitely prefer a book.”

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  14. How lovely…..a re-telling of Pride and Prejudice from Mary’s point of view. I always wanted to know how Mary felt about her decidedly insignificant life within the Bennett household; what she thought about the unrelenting comparisons to her sisters, the twits from her father and the lack of affection from her mother. From the description of this novel it appears that these subjects may well be covered and thus I would LOVE to read this book!! I always appreciated Mary. She may not have been the prettiest, most talented or quick witted, but she possessed some very admirable qualities including a keen sense of morality and a forgiving spirit as demonstrated in this very loving quote:
    “This is a most unfortunate affair, and will probably be much talked of. But we must stem the tide of malice, and pour into the wounded bosoms of each other the balm of sisterly consolation.”

    Although she was all but ignored by her sisters, she still had love for them in her heart.

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  15. It always is interesting to a new version of Mary Bennet. I have read some books about this character, and I will like seen as the author portray her in her book.

    Thank you, Jennifer for the opportunity and good luck on your book!!

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  16. I love the cover of your new book!

    My favorite Mary Bennet quote is when she says, “I should infinitely prefer a book.” Lydia’s attendance to Mary is succinctly described by Austen: “But of this answer Lydia heard not a word. She seldom listened to anybody for more than half a minute, and never attended to Mary at all.”

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  17. I love the behind-the-scenes look at the author’s thought process for the book! I do like the focus on Mary that seems to be picking up steam — I recently read Longbourn and we are offered Mary’s take on some of the events of P&P, albeit very briefly.

    Overall, I sympathize with Mary — she is treated quite poorly and doesn’t deserve it. I think she is trying to be the opposite of her mother, and it ends out coming a bit ridiculous as well. The sad part is that she actually understands the critiques made on her, while Lydia is utterly unaffected due to her lack of wits. I’m looking forward to hearing her side of the story!

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  18. I always thought that given half the chance Mary could have been more interesting. It’s a pity that Mr Collins did not consider her for his wife. That would have been such a suitable match & solution.

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  19. How wonderful to read about the forgotten sister. I have always wanted to know more about Mary. I’ve always felt that we never got to know the real Mary because Jane and Elizabeth were Mr. Bennet’s favorites (although Lizzy was his absolute favorite) & Lydia and Kitty were Mrs. Bennet’s favorites (because she felt she could live vicariously through them). Mary just got left behind and had to be content with her own diversions since no one really paid her any mind.

    I always thought that Mr. Collins would had made her happy but after much consideration I think she lucked out and would have made an excellent match with the help of Jane and Elizabeth.

    I cannot wait to read this book and learn all about Mary!!

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  20. This is a lovely idea for a book. Mary is definitely a sympathetic character. I wonder if she were truly plain, or just plain in comparison to the apparently good-looking other Bennet sisters? Either way, she probably just felt left out and overlooked by her parents who really didn’t spend much time paying attention to her. I really feel for her awkwardness and shyness not knowing how to interact without making others uncomfortable, but think that even though Jane Austen portrays her as somewhat dull, I like to think that she was probably a kind and caring person who was devoted to her family, even if they didn’t deserve it!

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  21. Sounds like a fun project. I’ll be reading this book even if I’m not selected as a winner for a copy. My most memorable Mary quote is the “Vanity and pride….” one. I enjoy Mary’s character. Thanks for the undertaking of this task.

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  22. I’m definitely interested in reading your observations about Mary. JA really had the psychology of the abandoned middle child down in spades. Everyone just forgot that the poor girl even existed at times; so, she had to develop some rather “outrageous” habits in order to show up against all the others. I really wonder at times if that horrid tome of out-of-date sermons she lugged around was just for effect? Indeed, the awful opinions she also quoted could also have been for the freezing effect they had, since she was being frozen out of the family every day. Tit for Tat.
    Anyway, I would love to be considered for the printed version of your book. It sounds like great fun.

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  23. The concept intrigues me. Mary could be sympathetic if she weren’t the Greek chorus of the novel. I do think she has potential to come into her own though. I’d really like to read this book. My favorite quote from Mary is “The loss of virtue in a woman is irretrievable … A woman’s reputation is no less brittle than it is beautiful, and therefore we cannot be too guarded in our behaviour towards the undeserving of the other sex.” I think that statement is very profound and if you think about it, things aren’t that much different for women today.

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  24. Can’t wait to read this! I figure that “nerd-girl” Mary would be highly successful today in some occupation that values intellectual gifts. She was just born at the wrong time. Eager to see what her life might have been like in a book that pays more attention to her!

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  25. I always felt a bit sorry for Mary. She truly was the one person in the whole Bennet family who was completely ignored by everyone. I’m interested in what Mary’s POV of all the events of P&P.

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  26. I’m not particularly adept in social situations either, and so I’ve always sympathized greatly with Mary. But your observations about her as the middle child are new to me, and I love them! Whether or not I win a copy (but I hope I do!), I look forward to reading this book. It sounds quite lovely.

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  27. I think Mary is an interesting character because she really isn’t fleshed out very well and she’s given so little page time. The reader can understand why Mrs. Bennet may not have a firm attachment to her, because she’s clearly Mrs. Bennet’s polar opposite, but Mr. Bennet? Funny how he considered her one of the “silly girls”.

    Thank you so much for the giveaway opportunity!

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  28. Mary is a character that is purposefully tuned out. I love when an author takes her and allows her to blossom into a person worth listening to. I look forward to what Jennifer does with her. Thank you for the giveaway!

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  29. I too want to find out how Mary gets with a different author guiding her character – I am intrigued – how will Jennifer get round Mary’s dreadful piano playing and singing with Mary having a singing voice that is weak and her manner is affected and the shame of Mr Bennet saying “that will do extremely well child you have delighted us long enough. Let other ladies have time to exhibit”
    I did however find a snippet – Miss Bingley had heard Mary was a very accomplished lady

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  30. Ann, Mary’s piano playing is NOT dreadful! Technically, she twice as good as Elizabeth. :-) “Mary had neither genius nor taste; and though vanity had given her application, it had given her likewise a pedantic air and conceited manner, which would have injured a higher degree of excellence than she had reached. Elizabeth, easy and unaffected, had been listened to with much more pleasure, though not playing half so well…”

    I am interested in seeing Mary portrayed as likable. As a middle child myself, I feel it’s the least I can do.

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  31. This sounds really quite interesting. I do love reading stories from different perspectives. I find Mary to be a really very interesting character, but I admit that I probably wouldn’t get along with her too well in real life.

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  32. Poor Mary–so overlooked, and as the author points out, stuck in between two sets of closely bonded sisters. I like the idea of Mary getting her own shot at the spotlight. Everyone deserves a chance to be a star–at least in someone’s eyes!

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  33. Lovely post! I am definitely excited to read this new take on Mary Bennet’s story. I have always felt sorry for Mary. She seemed so misunderstood by her family and she wasn’t close with any of her sisters. I hope she finally gets her happy ending!!:)

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  34. Pingback: Giveaway Winners Announced for The Forgotten Sister | Austenprose - A Jane Austen Blog

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