Pirates and Prejudice: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, by Kara Louise – A Review

Pirates and Prejudice Kara Louise 2013 x 200From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:

When I first heard about a novel that turned my beloved Fitzwilliam Darcy into a pirate, I was apprehensive. HOW could anyone believably transform that noble gentleman into scurrilous brigand? He was so proper, so refined, and orderly. Picturing him as a swashbuckler…well, I just couldn’t imagine it. Enter author Kara Louise and her novel Pirates and Prejudice. I shouldn’t be surprised that Louise was able to seriously sell me on the idea, considering I loved her earlier novel Darcy’s Voyage (another version of P&P at sea.) Her characterization and unique storyline had me hooked on this new and intriguing way of looking at one of the most iconic romantic heroes ever created.

Feeling deeply spurned after Elizabeth Bennet rejects his offer of marriage, lonely and forlorn, Fitzwilliam Darcy eschews his friends and family, preferring instead to hide away at the London docks where he drowns his disappointment in drink. There, he is mistaken for an escaped pirate Captain Lockerly and imprisoned. Even though he claims “disguise of every sort is my abhorrence,” he aids the local authorities and agrees to impersonate the notorious pirate to help capture him. What was once something he would have never imagined for himself, the pirate life now calls him into action. Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s Aunt and Uncle Gardiner cancel their vacation plans to tour The Lake District leaving Elizabeth open to sail to the Isle of Scilly with her father to see her ailing aunt. On their return voyage, however, they are set upon by pirates and rescued by a Captain Smith. Imagine her surprise when she discovers that this is no ordinary Captain, but the ex-pirate impersonator Mr. Darcy himself! How will Darcy explain how he came to be a sea Captain? Will Elizabeth fall in love with this new and improved version of the Mr. Darcy she once so coldly rejected?

Pirates and Prejudice is first and foremost a fun variation of P&P. Darcy’s attempts to shed his educated, genteel upbringing is at times hilarious. The scenes where he tried to make his speech sound coarse and unrefined brought tears to my eyes. Over the course of the novel, he evolves into an adventurous, suave pirate, the likes of Errol Flynn in Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk. Though Darcy’s path to inner transformation happens differently than Austen would have imagined it, yet it still happens. Pirating offers him the time he needs to think about Elizabeth’s rebuff and his former feelings, and it also offers readers the opportunity to take this journey with him.

For as much as I’ve said about the pirating elements of this novel, Pirates and Prejudice is also a wonderful romance filled with twists and turns. Due to Darcy needing to disguise his true identity, his reintroduction to Elizabeth is immediately slated for trouble. He knows that his false identity (when it is finally revealed) has the ability to tear them apart all over again. Darcy’s struggle with doing right for his country, while trying to do right by his heart is excellently written. Louise accurately depicts his struggle and inner war.

In the end, Pirates and Prejudice gives us a fabulously heroic Darcy, action packed sword fights, damsels in distress, and a heartwarming romance sure to please each and every reader. While the premise seems outlandish, I beg you to give it a shot. Louise is a writer with a genuine talent that will surely draw you in to this story.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Pirates and Prejudice: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, by Kara Louise
Heartworks Publications (2013)
Trade paperback (276) pages
ISBN: 978-0615815428

Cover image courtesy of Heartworks Publications © 2013; text Kimberly Denny-Ryder © 2014, Austenprose.com

Disclosure of Material Connection: The reviewer purchased a copy of this book. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Naturalist: Book One of The Hapgoods of Bromleigh, by Christina Dudley – A Review

The Naturalist: Book One of The Hapgoods of Bromleigh, by Christina Dudley (2013)From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:

Traditional Regency Romance has had its ebb and flow in popularity over the years. This subgenre of romance novels was made famous by English writer Georgette Heyer with its roots deeply entwined in Jane Austen’s novels of manners and courtship. By 2005, trends were shifting and readers preferred the freedom of the Regency Historical which allowed more intimate relationships and daring plots. In the past few years I have seen resurgence in popularity of the Traditional Regency Romance and credit authors Candice Hern, Carla Kelly, Julie Klassen, Julianne Donaldson and Sarah M. Eden for its renaissance. Now, I am very pleased to add one more author to my list of favorites, Christina Dudley.

I first became aware of Dudley’s talent when I read The Beresfords, a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. She had successfully transformed Austen’s dark horse into an interesting and thoughtful contemporary novel receiving such accolades as “brilliant,” “masterful,” and “endearing” from reviewers. Truly amazing. Imagine my delight when I discovered that her next novel, The Naturalist, would be a Traditional Regency, and, it was the first book in a series!

While many modern Regencies revolve around the Ton (London Society) and aristocrats, The Naturalist is set in the wilds of Somerset among the landed gentry, harkening to Austen’s fondness for three or four families in a country village. Joseph Tierney, a budding naturalist, has arrived at Pattergees the estate of Lord Marton on assignment with the Royal Society to conduct an exhaustive natural study of the realm. Lady Marlton and her daughter, the Honorable Miss Birdlow, are more interested in studying HIM and soon realize that the neighboring families will think Mr. Tierney is “the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.” They immediately set about discrediting the competition including neighbors Elfrida and Alice Hapgood. Mr. Tierney, who has no designs upon marrying anyone, only wishes to find an assistant to help him discover and collect the local flora and fauna.

Alice Hapgood, also a budding naturalist, is hiding her passion for the out-of-doors from her disapproving father by disguise and stealth. When shortly after his arrival Mr. Tierney encounters a local lad poaching trout on Lord Marlton’s property, he is none the wiser, thinking he/she would make the perfect assistant for his project. Alice immediately thinks he would make the perfect husband! Spinning the persona of Arthur Baddely she deftly shows Mr. Tierney all the treasures of woodland and meadow while learning all she can from him. Their friendship soon grows until a cousin of the Birdlows publically exposes her as an imposter, scandalizing the community and forcing Mr. Tierney’s hand. As a gentleman he is honor bound to save her reputation by marrying her even though it means putting aside his dream of become a naturalist. To support a wife he must return to his family in Buckinghamshire and become a clergyman, the profession and living that he previously refused. Ashamed and humiliated, Alice does not want to be forced into marrying anyone, especially the man she loves.

A literary feast for any Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer fan, The Naturalist is a wonderful escape into the verdant countryside and the lives of two young lovers of nature who learn that truth and respect are the most important foundations of any relationship. The final outcome of their romance is never in question, but their winding path of discovery for science, and their hearts, is a memorable journey. Dudley’s plot was so reverent to the Traditional Regency genre filled with original, quirky characters, witty repartee, layered secrets, blundering misunderstandings, and laugh-out-loud humor. I just cringed as heroine Alice dug herself deeper and deeper into her deception of lies to impersonate Arthur. You just knew it was going to backfire on her at some point, and when it does, the reaction of the two main characters, their families and the community was not a surprise, but how Dudley worked both of their inner struggles and points of view around to the happy conclusion was very clever.

My only quibbles are totally selfish. I saw a resemblance of the Hapgood family, with their four daughters and no male heir, to the Bennets in Pride and Prejudice. Why no fifth sister? Maybe we will meet a pedantic Hapgood cousin in the future? I also craved more time with the hero and heroine as themselves, and also as Tierney and Baddely. The contrast of their personalities together in the ballroom or in a woodland forest was well crafted and worthy of further development.

If you read one Traditional Regency this year let it be The Naturalist – and save a place on your to-be-read list for the next in the series, A Very Plain Young Man: Book Two of The Hapgoods of Bromleigh, releasing this spring.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Naturalist: Book One of The Hapgoods of Bromleigh, by Christina Dudley
BellaVita Press (2013)
Trade paperback (286) pages
ISBN: 978-0983072133

Additional Reviews: 

Cover image courtesy of BellaVita Press © 2013; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2014, Austenprose.com

Emma in Love: Jane Austen’s Emma Continued, by Emma Tennant – A Review & Rant

Emma in Love Emma Tennant 1996 x 200From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:

When a book is universally acknowledged by Janeites as the worst Jane Austen sequel ever written, why would I want to read it? Temptation? Curiosity? Due diligence? Take your pick. I like to think that I am open to carefully drawing my own conclusions before passing judgment. After-all, Austen told us through her observant character Elizabeth Bennet, “It is particularly incumbent on those who never change their opinion, to be secure of judging properly at first.”— Pride and Prejudice

So, it was with wide eyes and an open heart that I began Emma Tennant’s Emma in Love: Jane Austen’s Emma Continued. Published in 1996, it was controversial before it even hit bookstores. Eager to cash in on the release of two film adaptations of Emma staring Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Beckinsale, Tennant’s UK publisher chose to move up the publication date to stymie its competitor, Perfect Happiness, by Rachel Billington. That might seem like good business (or mercenary tactics by some), but that was not the real controversy. Tennant had chosen to include a romantic relationship between the married Emma Knightley and a new female character, Baroness Elisa d’Almane. Her reasoning for this provocative choice? Why, historical precedence by scholars of course! When interviewed in 1996 Tennant boldly stated, “I am not taking any liberties. Emma is known as the lesbian book in Jane Austen’s oeuvre. It has strong lesbian overtones and undertones. In the original, Emma absolutely adores Harriet Smith, her protégé and spends a lot of time with her. There’s a passage where she describes how Harriet’s soft blue eyes are just the type of eyes that Emma loves. I am not the first to draw out her lesbianism. Serious academics have found many clues to it in Emma.” 1.

Perfect Happiness by Rachel Billington 1996 x 150I am not an Austen scholar, nor had I picked up on the hidden subtext that some have discovered in female relationships in Emma, but I was curious if Tennant’s claims were based on a real academic debate. The amiable Austen scholar Devoney Looser kindly answered my inquiry with a list of several essays on the subject and offered this comment, “Discussing lesbianism in Emma has a longer history than we might assume, as many scholars have pointed out. Sixty years ago Edmund Wilson and Marvin Mudrick remarked directly on Emma’s same-sex attractions, though in a generally unsupportive way. 2. Wilson’s essay suggests that if the novel were continued, the married Emma would continue to indulge in infatuations with women.”

We don’t know which essays Tennant read, but she obviously ran with this notion and incorporated it into her novel. Even if the premise is founded on scholarly research, the question in my mind was how far a sequalist can stray in continuing Austen’s characterizations, and would the reading public of 2014 accept it?

With nine 1 star reviews on Amazon since 1999, it appeared that the forewarning I had received was not unwarranted. Trying not to be a partial and prejudiced reader I downloaded the new digital edition onto my NOOK and settled in for a weekend in Highbury with an author who might rival Austen’s heroine as the ultimate imaginist.Dorian Goodwin as Emma Woodhouse, Emma (1972)

Doran Goodwin as Emma Woodhouse, Emma (1972)

The Plot:

It has been four years since Miss Emma Woodhouse and Mr. George Knightley were united in matrimony. They are in residence at Donwell Abbey, the large Knightley estate that borders Hartfield, Emma’s childhood home and residence for two years after her marriage until the death of her father, dear Mr. Woodhouse. Emma’s elder sister Isabella has also met her maker after catching a fever in London (just as Mr. Woodhouse predicted) leaving five young children and husband John Knightley in deep grief. Jane Fairfax is working as a governess to August Elton’s friend Mrs. Smallridge after her feckless fiancé Frank Churchill jilted her at the altar for a northern heiress with £50,000. It is July and the charms of the Surrey countryside have drawn the two former lovers back to Highbury; unbeknownst to each other until their arrival. Frank Churchill is staying with his father Mr. Weston and his wife at Randalls, and Jane Fairfax, obliged to travel with her employer, is staying at the Parsonage with Mr. and Mrs. Elton. Both have brought a mysterious guest with them: Frank’s brother-in-law Captain Brocklehurst, and Jane’s friend, the exiled French Baroness d’Almane.

Two beautiful strangers have come to Highbury in one day! Remarkable as this is to Emma, she only sees the marriage possibilities for the single people around her and reneges on her promise to her husband never to match make again. Determined that Jane should marry her widowed brother-in-law John Knightley, she devises a dinner party at Donwell to bring them together. While walking to Hartfield to visit him and his children, she meets the very handsome Captain Brocklehurst who confides that Frank Churchill is devastated by the fate of Miss Fairfax and still in love with her. Astounded, Emma is also anxious to meet the other new visitor in Highbury and travels to the Parsonage to extend an invitation to the Baroness, Jane, the Elton’s and Mrs. Smallridge to her soiree. On the path she encounters Frank Churchill picking wildflowers in the hot sun. He entreats her to deliver them to Jane. Emma begs off and is concerned by his emotional behavior. At the Parsonage, Mrs. Elton introduces Emma to the beautiful and beguiling Baroness. She is mesmerized by her charms and annoyed by her lingering touches and loving gazes at Jane Fairfax. Feeling a pang of jealousy, Emma wonders if they are more than friends? Conflicted, Emma feels compelled to warn Jane and learn all she can about this intriguing creature.

Gwynth Paltrow in Emma (1996) x 350

Gwynth Paltrow as Emma Woodhouse in Emma (1996)

My Review:

Told in Austen’s inventive third person narrative style, Emma in Love reunites us with many of the Highbury characters we adore: Miss and Mrs. Bates, Harriet Martin, Mr. & Mrs. Weston, Mr. & Mrs. Elton, brothers John and George Knightley and the nonsensical girl herself, the clever, rich and handsome Emma Knightley. That is where any similarity to Austen’s tale ends.

Heavy on exposition and light on dialogue, the story begins well enough with a curious setup and conflicts, but soon lacks a balance of show and tell—and logic. To compensate, Tennant pulls in links from Austen’s original novel to tie the two together with generous abandon: Frank mends Mrs. Bates glasses again; John Knightley threatens with warnings of bad weather; Mr. Woodhouse’s worrisome predictions come to pass even from the grave; and many more. Some readers might enjoy these ah-ha moments, but after three or four they became intrusive heavy-lifting to me. Tennant continues to channel Jane Austen’s characters steadily until they go off in directions that Austen would never have broached head on: same sex relationships.

Things are definitely not as they should be in Highbury. Tennant’s Emma and Mr. Knightley’s marriage is very odd. They are indeed “brother and sister” – platonic and unromantic. He treats her like an errant school girl while engrossed in estate business and sleeps in his own room with his landscapes. Immature and insecure, Emma clings to the advice of neighbors Harriet Martin and Mrs. Weston before every move. Even dimwitted Harriet can see the writing on the wall. “Mr. Knightley was no more – and no less – than a father to her in reality.” 53 Mesmerized by the exotic and bewitching Baroness, Emma recognizes her intimate gestures to Jane Fairfax? My first reaction was a question. How would a Regency era woman raised in a sheltered country village, who has the emotional maturity of a twelve-year-old (according to Tennant), know about, let alone detect, same sex relationships? According to my esteemed Janeite friend Diana Birchall, who I hounded over this issue (and other annoyances about the book), “… mention of such things certainly wouldn’t have been bandied about among gentlefolk, as they are today. Certainly Jane Austen knew about homosexuality, her joking proves that, but it wouldn’t have been a topic for polite conversation among the middle class. Probably much more so among the aristocracy – you’d think Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire and her set would know all about it. Fanny Hill and other such books certainly showed female/female action, but Fanny Hill et al would NOT have been in the library of the Rev. George Austen, or in the lending-libraries Jane Austen frequented!” This only confirmed my astonishment. Tennant was beginning on very shaky ground. I didn’t believe her premise for one moment.

Kate Beckinsale as Emma Woodhouse in Emma (1996)

Kate Beckinsale as Emma Woodhouse in Emma (1996)

Spoilers:

After Emma meets the Baroness and becomes passionately infatuated with her, she is witness to many eye-popping events in Highbury: Captain Brocklehurst in drag, Miss Bates suddenly and uncontrollably issuing expletives during a dinner party (Tourette’s?), the Baroness passionately kissing her in her bedroom, and Frank and Captain Brocklehurst engaged in a love that shall not be named. It was all so far-fetched and sensational that it just smacked of exploitation of Austen’s characters for pure monetary gain.

Had enough yet? Well, there is more. To wrap up the novel in a slapdash fashion, Tennant ends with a boating party where Emma witnesses the estranged Baroness, Mrs. Weston and her husband Mr. Knightley conversing on an island in the center of the lake while the narrator conjectures that the fake Baroness is the secret love child of Miss Taylor (now Mrs. Weston) and Mr. Knightley. WHAT? As I shut off my NOOK in a defiant gesture of disgust I remembered, in ironic Austenian fashion, that it had been bantered about by Austen scholars that Jane Fairfax was the secret love child of Miss Bates and Mr. Knightley and Tennant had not only got the sexual subtext all wrong, she had the incorrect lovers as well! HA!

Emma (2009)

Romola Garia as Emma Woodhouse in Emma (2009)

My Rant: 

Reading Emma in Love brought up more questions than it answered for me. I was continually puzzled. So much so, that I sought the help of others to understand it. Why did Tennant write it? Who was she trying to appeal to? Was it written as a joke or was she truly attempting to promote the notion that Emma is a lesbian novel? Is it the book that she set out to write, or an abbreviated version because it was rushed to press? Only Tennant can answer these questions. Maybe one day she will be interviewed and reveal the answers. In the meantime we are left up a tree.

The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet (2008)Was Emma in Love truly the worst Jane Austen sequel ever written? Quite possibly, at least by a professional, award winning novelist. (Colleen McCullough’s The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet comes in at a close second.) It failed not only because it did not present the same sex love relationship in any believable way, but it relied on sensational social issues as its axis that Austen would never have written about directly. It lacked “honour, decorum, prudence — nay, interest” as Lady Catherine would say. Yes interest. I was just annoyed and bored.

Let this novel serve as a warning to all who take up their pen to channel Jane Austen. Sensationalism may sell a few books and feed the circus animals in the press, but writing a pure bravado piece like Tennant’s Emma in Love will not earn you the respect of your readers, nor will it ingratiate you to the academics you may have wanted to please. If you do choose this route, be comforted in the fact that you will never have to meet the original author in heaven, because you will surely be in a place far below where they do not serve ice in their cocktails.

1 out of 5 Regency Stars

Emma in Love: Jane Austen’s Emma Continued, by Emma Tennant
Fourth Estate (1996)
Trade paperback (229) pages
ISBN: 978-1857026634)

1. Nigel Reynolds, Emma Sequels & Allusions: Perfect Happiness – How Jane Austen’s Emma Became a Lesbian, The Telegraph, 1996

2. Edmund Wilson, Classics and Commercials: A Literary Chronicle of the Forties (New York: Farrar, Straus and Company, 1950), 201-2.

Cover image courtesy of Fourth Estate © 1996; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2014, Austenprose.com

Havisham: A Novel, by Ronald Frame – A Review

Havisham A Novel by Ronald Frame 2013 x 200Dear Mr. Frame:

I recently read Havisham, your prequel and retelling of Charles Dickens Great Expectations, one of my favorite Victorian novels. Your choice to expand the back story of minor character Miss Havisham, the most infamous misandry in literary history, was brilliant. Jilted at the altar she was humiliated and heartbroken, living the rest of her days in her tattered white wedding dress in the decaying family mansion, Satis House. Few female characters have left such a chilling impression on me. I was eager to discover your interpretation of how her early life formed her personality and set those tragic events into motion.

Dickens gave you a fabulous character to work with. (spoilers ahead) Born in Kent in the late eighteenth-century, Catherine’s mother died in childbirth leaving her father, a wealthy brewer, to dote upon his only child. Using his money to move her up the social ladder she is educated with aristocrats where she learns about literature, art, languages and the first disappointments of love. In London she meets and is wooed by the charismatic Charles Compeyson. Family secrets surface in the form of her dissipated half-brother Arthur, the child of a hidden marriage of her father to their cook. Her ailing father knows his son has no interest in his prospering business and trains his clever young daughter. After his death, the inevitable clash occurs between the siblings over money and power. Challenged as a young woman running a business in a man’s world, Catherine struggles until Charles reappears charming his way into her service and her heart. About two thirds of the way through the novel the events of Great Expectations surface. Charles abandons her on their wedding day and she sinks into depression.

I knew that the devastating jilting at the altar was coming! We all did. When it happened, I was anticipating a full-blown emotional Armageddon—like Jane Austen’s heroine Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility: bed-ridden crying jags, desperate letter writing to her lover, senseless walking in the rain, near-death illness, and miraculous survival. Some of that happened in Havisham, but not to the degree I anticipated. After all, we knew that Dickens’ Miss Havisham had taken this jilting business far beyond the depths of disappointed hopes that Marianne had plumbed. But why? Why did she choose not to move on—holding on to her anger and rage, becoming bitter and vengeful? It had to be something so startling that it would jar me to my core. I won’t reveal your choices, but when her tepid romance with Charles Compeyson and her reaction to his spurning were not what I expected, I was greatly disappointed. Readers had been waiting 150 years to know the story. Granted it was not Dickens’ narrative, but it could be the next best thing. You had gotten us to this point so admirably that I was inclined to close your book with an angry snap. If I had a white wedding dress, I would be wearing it right now in protest. You have jilted me at the altar of literature.

Do I regret reading your novel? No. Your prose was beautifully crafted and your characterizations entertaining. Would I like to give you some unsolicited advice on being brave enough to take your own narrative over the edge? Yes! After reading numerous Jane Austen-inspired sequels, you can’t play with classic archetypes and then not deliver the goods. While your plot slowly picked up momentum you missed the point. Catherine’s romance with Charles should have been the most compelling relationship in book, yet I was constantly on guard by his questionable behavior and never liked him, let alone loved him. I never understood why she did. That desperate passion between them should have consumed the pages, like Bronte’s Catherine and Heathcliff, making his final choice so shocking, so devastating, so heartbreaking, that we understood why she locked herself away from the world and enacted revenge on Pip through her daughter Estella. So close, yet miles away from the masters of human emotion, Dickens, Bronte and Austen. They would never have made that mistake.

I commend you for your attempt. It is a very tall order to write a prequel of a literary icon. Everyone who has read Great Expectations has their own great expectations for Miss Havisham. Your book exhibits many fine qualities, unfortunately your choices lacked the fire, passion, and emotional depth required to make her psychological tragedy the literary jackpot that we have been waiting for.

3 out of 5 Regency Stars     

Havisham: A Novel, by Ronald Frame
Picador (2013)
Hardcover (368) pages
ISBN: 978-1250037275

Cover image courtesy of Picador (Macmillan Publishing) © 2013; text Laurel Ann Nattress, © 2014, Austenprose.com

The Forgotten Sister: Mary Bennet’s Pride and Prejudice, by Jennifer Paynter – A Review

The Forgotten Sister: Mary Bennet's Pride and Prejudice, by Jennifer Paynter (2014 )From the desk of Jenny Haggerty:

With only half a dozen speeches in Pride and Prejudice Mary Bennet still manages to make an impression. Bookish, socially awkward, and prone to moralizing, it’s hard to picture her as the heroine of a romance novel. Though I’d laugh along at her cluelessness Mary has always had my sympathy, so when I discovered Jennifer Paynter’s The Forgotten Sister: Mary Bennet’s Pride and Prejudice I couldn’t wait to read it. Would this book rescue Mary from the shadows of Pride and Prejudice? I hoped so.

The Forgotten Sister opens before the events of Pride and Prejudice, with Mary recounting her story in her own words. She begins with an admission of early worries, “For the best part of nine years–from the age of four until just before I turned thirteen–I prayed for a brother every night.” (8)  By then family life is strained, but early on Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are carefree and happy. Young Jane and Elizabeth are doted on by their parents, who are optimistic there is still time to produce a male heir and secure their entailed estate. Everything changes though when Mary, a third daughter, is born. Worries set in. The Bennets begin bickering. About a month after Mary’s birth Mrs. Bennet has an attack of nerves so acute that Mary is sent away to a wet-nurse, Mrs. Bushell, with whom she stays for several years.  From then on, neglect by and separation from her family become recurring patterns in Mary’s life.

The Forgotten Sister provides new background to explain Mary’s personality. A frightening encounter when she is young makes her timid and tongue tied. The kindness shown by her pious instructor pushes Mary toward rigid religious beliefs, though the harsh moralizing mini-sermons she sometimes gives are just an awkward girl’s attempt to join the conversation. Because all four of her four sisters are paired in close bonds, Elizabeth with Jane and Lydia with Kitty, Mary is left without a close companion in the family, and being often on her own does not help her acquire social skills.

At the assembly dance where Jane catches the eye of Bingley and Elizabeth begins her antipathy for Darcy, Mary has her own pivotal encounter. She bumps into the handsome son of her former wet-nurse as he races up the stairs to join his band, and then Mary can’t stop trying to spot Peter Bushell through the crowd. Though far beneath Mary in station, he’s a talented musician. When their eyes meet as he is playing his fiddle he smiles and, she cannot help herself, she smiles back, though she then resolves to look at him no further because she “…could not possibly befriend a person of his order.” (110)

But Peter is kind during their brief encounters, leaving Mary alternately relaxed and flustered. Though her feelings are decidedly mixed she’s left with a strong desire to see him again. But would it be proper? Mary’s religion councils her that all people are equal in the eyes of God, but that’s not what society says. Increasingly drawn to Peter, Mary remains deeply divided. How does an inexperienced, devout girl decide what to do?

The unique slant and moving insights of The Forgotten Sister: Mary Bennet’s Pride and Prejudice kept the book in my hands any moment I had free. It’s fascinating to see younger versions of the characters from Pride and Prejudice, and events that took place before and after that story. I love when a novel incorporates fascinating bits of history or offers vicarious travel pleasures, and The Forgotten Sister has the surprising bonus of taking us by ship around the world to rough and tumble Australia when it is still part penal colony.

Still, Mary was difficult for me to like in the early pages of the book. Her feelings of anger and resentment toward her family are understandable, she’s often left out and sometimes ridiculed, but her spite could be hard to take. And my beloved Elizabeth when seen through Mary’s eyes does not seem quite as wonderful as before, which is disconcerting.

But the realism of Mary’s character and feelings ultimately adds to the strength of the novel. And there’s good precedent in the original for enlivening the story by shaking up the reader’s comfortable notions. The first time I read Pride and Prejudice I abhorred Darcy just as much as Elizabeth did, so when he handed her that letter after his disastrous proposal at Hunsford Parsonage, I was as shocked and disoriented as she was. The Forgotten Sister provides some of that same, wonderful eye opening catharsis, and by the end of the book Mary has a new and promising future.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Forgotten Sister: Mary Bennet’s Pride and Prejudice, by Jennifer Paynter
Lake Union Publishing (2013)
Trade paperback (440) pages
ISBN: 978-1477848883

Cover image courtesy of Lake Union Publishing © 2014; text Jenny Haggerty © 2014, Austenprose.com

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

Austenprose’s Top Jane Austen-inspired Books of 2013

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Huzzah! It has been a banner year for Jane Austen-inspired books in 2013. The bicentenary of Pride and Prejudice motivated many authors to take up their pens in celebration resulting in a fabulous selection of new titles. From historical and contemporary novels to non-fiction and scholarly, Austen-inspired books were present in several genres making our favorite author even more popular than ever.

We reviewed 76 books and short stories in 2013. Here is our annual list of top favorites .

Top 10 Austenesque Historical Novels: 

  1. Return to Longbourn, by Shannon Winslow (5 stars)
  2. One Thread Pulled: The Dance with Mr. Darcy, by Diana J. Oaks (5 stars)
  3. Loving Miss Darcy: The Brides of Pemberley, by Nancy Kelley (5 stars)
  4. The Pursuit of Mary Bennet: A Pride and Prejudice Novel, by Pamela Mingle (4 stars)
  5. Longbourn: A Novel, by Jo Baker (4 stars)
  6. The Passions of Dr. Darcy, by Sharon Lathan (4 stars)
  7. Falling For Mr. Darcy, by KaraLynne Mackrory (4 stars)
  8. Darcy’s Decision: Given Good Principles Volume 1, by Maria Grace (4 stars)
  9. When They Fall in Love: Darcy and Elizabeth in Italy, by Mary Simonsen (4 stars)
  10. Young Mr. Darcy in Love: Pride and Prejudice Continues (The Darcys and the Bingleys) (Volume 7) by Marsha Altman (4 stars)

Top 5 Austenesque Contemporary Novels: 

  1. Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Match, by Marilyn Brant (5 stars)
  2. Undressing Mr. Darcy, by Karen Doornebos (5 stars)
  3. My Own Mr. Darcy, by Karey White (4 stars)
  4. Sense & Sensibility (Austen Project), by Joanna Trollope (3.5 stars)
  5. Finding Colin Firth: A Novel, by Mia March (3.5 stars)

Top 5 Austenesque Paranormal/Fantasy Novels:

  1. Jane, Actually, by Jennifer Petkus (5 stars)
  2. Project Darcy, by Jane Odiwe (4 stars)
  3. Austensibly Ordinary, by Alyssa Goodnight (4 stars)
  4. Attempting Elizabeth, by Jessica Grey (4 stars)
  5. A Jane Austen Daydream, by Scott Southard (4 stars)

Top 5 Austen-inspired Nonfiction Books:

  1. Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom, by Deborah Jaffe (6 stars)
  2. The Annotated Northanger Abbey, edited by David Shapard (5 stars)
  3. Walking Jane Austen’s London, by Louise Allen (5 stars)
  4. Mr. Darcy’s Guide to Courtship: The Secrets of Seduction from Jane Austen’s Most Eligible Bachelor, by Fitzwilliam Darcy (5 stars)
  5. The List Lover’s Guide to Jane Austen, by Joan Strasbaugh (4.5 stars)

Top 5 Austen-inspired Scholarly Books: 

  1. The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things, by Paula Byrne (5 stars)
  2. Jane Austen’s England, by Roy and Lesley Adkins (5 stars)
  3. Sense and Sensibility: An Annotated Edition, edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks (4 stars)
  4. Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity, by Janine Barchas (4 stars)
  5. What Matters in Jane Austen: Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved, by John Mullan (4 stars)

Top 3 Austenesque Young Adult Novels: 

  1. The Trouble with Flirting, by Claire LaZebnick (4.5 stars)
  2. Emmalee (Austen Diaries), by Jenni James (4 stars)
  3. For Darkness Shows the Stars, by Diana Peterfreund (4 stars) 

Top 3 Austenesque Self-published Novels:

  1. Return to Longbourn, by Shannon Winslow (5 stars)
  2. One Thread Pulled: The Dance with Mr. Darcy, by Diana J. Oaks (5 stars)
  3. Loving Miss Darcy: The Brides of Pemberley, by Nancy Kelley (5 stars)

Top 3 Austen or Austenesque Audio Books:

  1. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, read by Emilia Fox (5 stars)
  2. Mr. Darcy’s Diary, by Maya Slater, read by David Rintoul (5 stars)
  3. Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World (A Pride and Prejudice Variation), by Abigail Reynolds, read by Rachel E. Hurley (4 stars)

Top 3 Regency Romance Novels: 

  1. The Tutor’s Daughter, by Julie Klassen (5 stars)
  2. The Passion of the Purple Plumeria: A Pink Carnation Novel, by Lauren Willig (5 stars)
  3. Blackmoore: A Proper Romance, by Julianne Donaldson (5 stars)

Debut Austenesque Author:

  1. Diana J. Oaks, One Thread Pulled: The Dance with Mr. Darcy (5 stars)

Our thanks and congratulations go out to all of the authors and their publishers, whose endeavors entertained us so aptly. A very grateful thank you to all of our loyal readers.

The Austenprose review staff

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Laurel Ann Nattress © 2013, Austenprose.com

The Pursuit of Mary Bennet: A Pride and Prejudice Novel, by Pamela Mingle – A Review

The Pursuit of Mary Bennet:  A Pride and Prejudice Novel, by Pamela Mingle (2013 )From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:

Oh, Mary Bennet. What is there to say about her? Unfortunately, the most pedantic, priggish and un-proprietous Bennet sister from Pride and Prejudice has not received the attention from Austenesque authors that her sisters have enjoyed so regularly: Jane is known for her beauty and kindness, Lydia and Kitty for their rambunctiousness, and of then of course there is the spirited and witty Lizzy. But where does poor Mary fit in? Perhaps you could say, “there’s something about Mary,” and now we have The Pursuit of Mary Bennet by Pamela Mingle to find out just what that something is.

In Mingle’s new Pride and Prejudice sequel, we meet a Mary that has begun to change and move away from her lack of social graces displayed so humorously in P&P. Now older, she has become more mature and composed, but unfortunately her singing voice has not improved with age, much to the chagrin of those around her. Things soon change as the wild, thoughtless Lydia returns to the Bennet household pregnant and scandalously estranged from her husband. So, both Mary and Kitty are soon dispatched to their married sister Jane Bignley’s home to give Lydia more room to deal with the situation. There, Mary is introduced to Henry Walsh, a friend of Charles Bingley. Taken unawares by his attentions, and completely out of her element, she is quite uncertain of how to proceed. However, this may be the outlet and door to self-discovery that Mary desperately needs. How will she handle this new and exciting romantic opportunity?

First off, I’m so glad that we finally a book that focuses on Mary. I know she has gotten the short end of the stick as far as attention is concerned (well, Mr. Collins may actually have it worse, but I digress), so I’m glad that she can finally come into her own as an independent woman. Before I began reading, I had read that a few readers were slightly put off by Mingle’s choice to write the work in first person. After the first few chapters flew by, however, I was fully immersed in the story and not bothered by its format in the least. In fact, it was interesting to see things from Mary’s point-of-view directly, and I believe it added to her characterization and interactions with Henry and others. Speaking of Henry, he’s swoon-worthy for his love and defense of Mary. I love how mad he gets when he hears others speaking ill of Mary. He’s a perfect mate for her.

I think Mingle handled Mary’s characterizations in a fantastic way. I always love journeys of self-discovery and empowerment, and this one was a joy to read. The way in which Mary transforms from a woman who is only beginning to understand her new maturity to someone who is fully enveloped in love with another person is heartwarming. I couldn’t help but think that Austen and her penchant for happy endings would have been satisfied by this tale for Mary.  We’ve seen so much praise heaped on Lizzy and Jane especially, so if you were as curious as I was about how a work centered on “plain” Mary would shape up, wonder no longer. This is definitely one to try!

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Pursuit of Mary Bennet: A Pride and Prejudice Novel, by Pamela Mingle
William Morrow (2013)
Trade paperback (320) pages
ISBN: 978-0062274243

Cover image courtesy of William Morrow © 2013; text Kimberly Denny-Ryder © 2013, Austenprose.com