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