A Preview & Exclusive Excerpt of Back to the Bonnet: The Secret Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Miss Mary Bennet, by Jennifer Duke  

Back to the Bonnet, by Jennifer Duke 2020From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress: 

Happy Friday readers. I hope that you are ready for Halloween. I understand that it will be the first night since 1944 that all three time zones in the US will have a full moon. How appropriate.

To put you in the mood for the season, I am happy to welcome debut author Jennifer Duke to Austenprose today in celebration of her first novel, Back to the Bonnet. This new novel is a time-travel reimaging of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice featuring middle sister Mary Bennet as the primary character. Mary Inherits a bonnet from a Bennet family member that has special time-travel powers that Continue reading “A Preview & Exclusive Excerpt of Back to the Bonnet: The Secret Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Miss Mary Bennet, by Jennifer Duke  “

Cover Reveal & Exclusive Excerpt of The Secret Life of Miss Mary Bennet: (Book 1), by Katherine Cowley

From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:

It is no secret that Jane Austen fans crave more stories about her beloved characters from Pride and Prejudice. Novels inspired by Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet now number too many to even attempt to count. Next in line in popularity from the Bennet family is middle sister Mary. Surprised? Think again! She is conflicted and complicated in the original and that always makes for an interesting heroine.

Continue reading “Cover Reveal & Exclusive Excerpt of The Secret Life of Miss Mary Bennet: (Book 1), by Katherine Cowley”

The Other Bennet Sister: A Novel, by Janice Hadlow—A Review

The Other Bennet Sister New Cover 2020From the desk of Sophia Rose:

The oft-forgotten of the five Bennet sisters who may have been a reader’s source of amusement or irritation, engendered pity or magnanimous sympathy comes endearingly alive in Janice Hadlow’s gentle opus to Mary, the other sister who must follow a very different path to happiness.

The Other Bennet Sister opens when Mary Bennet is a young girl happy and content with herself and her life until slowly, she becomes aware of a miserable truth. She’s plain and unattractive. Jane the pretty sister and Lizzy the witty favorite of their father’s pair off as they all get older, her father is entrenched in his library sanctum, and her mother laments Mary’s looks and hurls painful remarks to her and about her. Continue reading “The Other Bennet Sister: A Novel, by Janice Hadlow—A Review”

Mary B.: A Novel: An Untold Story of Pride and Prejudice, by Katherine J. Chen – A Review

Mary B Katherine Chen 2018 x 197 x 300Of the five Bennet sisters in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Mary is the most unlikely of heroines. Priggish, sanctimonious, and unattractive, her prospects for a happy life were bleak. In Mary B., debut novelist Katherine Chen chooses to give Mary her own story – delving into her young, awkward life with her family at Longbourn, her early attempts at romantic attachments, and ultimately her escape to her sister’s home at Pemberley where she discovers an unknown talent, and that men can be interested in women for more than their reputed beauty and handsome dowry.

In Part I of the novel, Chen has paralleled Jane Austen’s narrative in Pride and Prejudice with a glimpse of a prequel to the Bennet sisters’ childhood. We see young Mary, awkward and introverted in comparison to her older sisters Jane and Elizabeth, and the brunt of abuse by her two younger siblings Kitty and Lydia. As the reader, we are as hurt and confused as our heroine and it is not an enjoyable experience. As the story continues, those Continue reading “Mary B.: A Novel: An Untold Story of Pride and Prejudice, by Katherine J. Chen – A Review”

A Preview & Exclusive Excerpt of Becoming Mary: A Pride and Prejudice Sequel, by Amy Street

Becoming Mary A Pride and Prejudice Sequel by Amy Street 2014 x 200What is it about Mary Bennet—that pedantic, unromantic middle daughter in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice? She has less than a dozen lines of dialogue in the entire novel, but what an indelible impression she has made on centuries of readers. How could anyone forget such gems like these?

I admire the activity of your benevolence,” observed Mary, “but every impulse of feeling should be guided by reason; and, in my opinion, exertion should always be in proportion to what is required.” Chapter 7

Loss of virtue in a female is irretrievable; that one false step involves her in endless ruin; that her reputation is no less brittle than it is beautiful; and that she cannot be too much guarded in her behaviour towards the undeserving of the other sex.” Chapter 47

Priggish, sanctimonious and asexual, there is nothing like a big challenge to inspire modern writers into a major makeover for her character and create a happy ending. Over the past few years, we have received a Continue reading “A Preview & Exclusive Excerpt of Becoming Mary: A Pride and Prejudice Sequel, by Amy Street”

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

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. Continue reading “The Forgotten Sister: Mary Bennet’s Pride and Prejudice, by Jennifer Paynter – A Review”

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

From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress: 

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. Continue reading “The Forgotten Sister: Mary Bennet’s Pride and Prejudice Book Tour with Author Jennifer Paynter”

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

The Pursuit of Mary Bennet: A Pride and Prejudice Novel, by Pamela Mingle (2013 )It is a pleasure to welcome author Pamela Mingle here today at Austenprose. I had the pleasure of reading her new novel The Pursuit of Mary Bennet: A Pride and Prejudice Novel months ago and was very pleased to supply the blurb in praise of this great novel. I felt it is the best continuation of Jane Austen’s character Mary Bennet so far, and I hope you will add it to must read list. Pamela has joined us today to talk about social awkwardness, something that some characters in Pride and Prejudice exhibit. Enter a chance to win a copy of this fabulous new Austenesque novel by leaving a comment. Details are listed below. Good luck to all, and congratulations to Pamela!


A tale of love and marriage, society balls and courtship, class and a touch of scandal, Pamela Mingle’s The Pursuit of Mary Bennet is a fresh take on one of the most beloved novels of all time, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Continue reading “A Preview of The Pursuit of Mary Bennet: A Pride and Prejudice Novel, by Pamela Mingle”

The Unexpected Miss Bennet, by Patrice Sarath – A Review

The Unexpected Miss Bennet, by Patrice Sarath (2011)From the desk of Jeffrey Ward: 

Mary Bennet, that plain, pedantic, priggish, middle sister from Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice, who gave us deadpan lines such as, “I admire the activity of your benevolence…but every impulse of feeling should be guided by reason; and, in my opinion, exertion should always be in proportion to what is required.” (Chapter 7), is explored in this new sequel by Patrice Sarath. How Mary could be made into a heroine the caliber of her elder sister Elizabeth, we shall soon discover.

Her intimate story is a sojourn from Longbourn, to Pemberley, to Rosings, back to Longbourn and finally to_____?  Feeling betrayed by all of her favorite pursuits that formerly brought meaning to her life, nothing is spared from her frustrated scrutiny: not the Continue reading “The Unexpected Miss Bennet, by Patrice Sarath – A Review”

A Match for Mary Bennet, by Eucharista Ward – A Review

A Match for Mary Bennet, by Eucharista Ward (2009)Jane Austen’s minor character Mary Bennet is not exactly heroine material. With only eight passages of dialogue in Pride and Prejudice she has made a lasting impression on readers over the centuries as a pious young woman who often insensitively offers advice of “threadbare morality” to her family at the most inopportune moments. Author Eucharista Ward has taken a bold step in devoting an entire novel to this pedantic and socially clueless young lady. She is not the first to tread this path. Last year Janeites were dishonored with Colleen McCullough’s irreverent treatment The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet. In both instances, Mary Bennet has been given a make-over. However, two novels could not be farther from honorable intent. While McCullough mocked the Austen sequel industry, Ward embraces it with integrity and reverence. Happily, A Match for Mary Bennet has brought Austen’s character back into the fold and rescued her from the fiery depths of sequel Hell. Continue reading “A Match for Mary Bennet, by Eucharista Ward – A Review”

I met Mary Bennet today. I kid you not!

Lucy Briers as Mary Bennet, Pride and Prejudice (1995)Mr. Bennet’s expectations were fully answered. His cousin was as absurd as he had hoped, and he listened to him with the keenest enjoyment, maintaining at the same time the most resolute composure of countenance, and, except in an occasional glance at Elizabeth, requiring no partner in his pleasure.  

By tea-time, however, the dose had been enough, and Mr. Bennet was glad to take his guest into the drawing-room again, and, when tea was over, glad to invite him to read aloud to the ladies. Mr. Collins readily assented, and a book was produced; but on beholding it (for everything announced it to be from a circulating library) he started back, and begging pardon, protested that he never read novels. Kitty stared at him, and Lydia exclaimed. Other books were produced, and after some deliberation he chose Fordyce’s Sermons. Lydia gaped as he opened the volume, and before he had, with very monotonous solemnity, read three pages, she interrupted him with —  

“Do you know, mama, that my uncle Philips talks of turning away Richard; and if he does, Colonel Forster will hire him. My aunt told me so herself on Saturday. I shall walk to Meryton to-morrow to hear more about it, and to ask when Mr. Denny comes back from town.”  

Lydia was bid by her two eldest sisters to hold her tongue; but Mr. Collins, much offended, laid aside his book, and said — 

“I have often observed how little young ladies are interested by books of a serious stamp, though written solely for their benefit. It amazes me, I confess; for, certainly, there can be nothing so advantageous to them as instruction. But I will no longer importune my young cousin.” The Narrator, Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 14 

If anyone doesn’t know, I am a bookseller at Barnes and Noble, and we get asked the most amazing questions. There is never a dull moment. One of my managers wants to write a book about it. I can add a few stories of my own. Here’s one for Janeites! 

I met Mary Bennet today! 

My coworkers all know I am a Jane Austen enthusiast. I wear it as a badge of honor. Some of them track me down when customers have Jane Austen questions. So today amongst the bustle of a Saturday, I hear an overhead page for me and head over to the information desk. There, I was introduced to a serious looking young woman with glasses who needed help finding Fordyces Sermons. I kid you not! She had read about them in Pride and Prejudice and wanted to read them herself! 

As I stifled a giggle and looked at her with a straight face, I told her what little I knew of them, and that I was doubtful that they were still in print, but I would do my best to search them out in my database (BookMaster, which is like a book geeks playground of every book being published in the US). No luck. She looked at me in total dejection! To buoy her spirits, I told her that she may have more luck at her local library since they were written over 200 years ago, and I would do my best to discover more online (thank goodness for the Internet) and if successful, I would  write a post about them on my blog. So here goes. 

Sermons to Young Woman (1760), or Fordyce’s Sermons as they were informally called, are a two-volume compendium of sermons written and compiled by Dr. James Fordyce (1720-1796) a Scottish clergyman, and were quite popular among clergy and personal libraries in the late 18th-century. The sermons, “which seem to encourage female subjugation to male preferences and emphasize a feminine mannerliness of speech, action, and appearance over substantive development of ideas, seem hopelessly outdated and chauvinistic.” The reference seems even more absurd fifty years later when Jane Austen chose to have her character the Reverend Mr. Collins read them to his young cousins instead of a more entertaining novel.  In the eyes of his cousins and the reader, his selection confirms him as a total buffoon, his lopsided judgment and outmoded opinions are totally disagreeable to anyone with an ounce of sensitivity. It is interesting to note that Dr. Fordyce did not marry until eleven years after its publication. It obviously took him many years to find a woman to meet his standards, or one that would overlook his opinions. You can actually read volume one and two online in an 1809 edition through Google Books. The sermons expound on womanly virtue, meekness and servitude. Here is an excerpt from the preface for your amusement. It was as far as I dare venture, hearing Mr. Collins in every sentence! 

The preacher is willing to hope, that women of most conditions, and at all ages, may meet with some useful counsels, or some salutary hint, should curiosity incite them to look into these discourses. Should any of those young persons in genteel life, to whom they are chiefly addressed, deem the reprehensions they contain too severe, or too indiscriminate ; he can only say, that as all are dictated by friendship no less than by conviction, so he wishes it to be understood, that many were occasioned by a particular observation of those characters and manners which are esteemed fashionable amongst the young and the gay of this metropolis. 

In the country (a denomination which, as matters are commonly conducted, he can by no means allow to the neighbourhood of London) the contagion of vice and folly, it may be presumed, is not so epidemical. In short, he is persuaded, that women of worth and sense are to be found every where, but most frequently in the calm of retreat, and amidst the coolness of recollection. pp iv 

David Bramber as Mr. Collins, Pride and Prejudice (1995)There can be nothing so advantageous as instruction. Yes, thank you very much Mr. Collins!

The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet, by Colleen McCullough – A Review

The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet, by Colleen McCullough (2008)But now that I am free, I have no wish to experience any of those things. All that I want is to be of use, to have a purpose. To have something to do that would make a difference. But will I be let? No. My elder sisters and their grand husbands will descend upon Shelby Manor within the week, and a new sentence of lethargy will be levied upon Aunt Mary. Probably joining the horde of nurses, governesses and tutors who are responsible for the welfare of Elizabeth’s and Jane’s children. For naturally Mrs. Darcy and Mrs. Bingley enjoy only the delights of children, leaving the miseries of parentage to others. The wives of grand men do not wait for things to happen: they make things happen. Seventeen years ago, Mrs. Darcy and Mrs. Bingley were too busy enjoying their marriages to take responsibility for Mama. Mary Bennet, The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet, Chapter 1 

Any Janeite who makes it to the third chapter of The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet is in my opinion free to think author Colleen McCullough an impudent rapscallion.

I am confident that she will have no problem agreeing with me since she admitted that her motivation in writing a sequel to Pride and Prejudice was to stick it to the literati. Since it is doubtful that the good men and women of the arts and letters will read this novel, she is actually thumbing her nose at Jane Austen’s fans and having a jolly time of it. If by some slim chance you are reading this Ms. McCullough, you have far exceeded your objective and should be quite pleased with yourself. I am a Jane Austen fan, and I am not amused.

What about Mary?

When the news hit the blogosphere last spring that the best selling author of The Thorn Birds and The Masters of Rome Series Colleen McCullough was writing a sequel to Pride and Prejudice inspired by Mary Bennet, I was both astonished and intrigued. I had secretly adored Mary, the middle Bennet daughter who only had eight passages of dialogue in the original novel, but made a lasting impact with her pious pontifications and deafeningly out of tune song stylings. Her older sisters may have been mortified by her exhibitions, but I just laughed out loud and wished for more. Well Janeites, be very careful what you wish for, cuz it could very well land at your local bookstore.

In which Mary gets a makeover!

You can blame it all of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice miniseries. Many people over the years have credited it for the ignition of Austenmania, fueling many movies and a cottage industry of sequel writers. While most viewers ogle over Colin Firth as the wet shirt Darcy, McCullough was intrigued by the Bennet’s sanctimonious middle daughter Mary and how Austen unsympathetically portrayed her. Inspired to give Mary a new chance, McCullough starts the story seventeen years after the close of Pride and Prejudice with the death of Mrs. Bennet freeing Mary from her role as parental caretaker. Bookish, pious and socially awkward Mary gets a makeover, a social cause, and a romantic adventure.

In which Mary is emancipated, gets ideas, and into trouble!

So, Mary is now thirty eight years old, unmarried, gets a makeover and is quite attractive. Freed from her daughterly duties of caretaker and police woman to Mrs. Bennet, the new and improved Mary Bennet has independent plans for her life that do not meet the approval of her dictorial brother-in-law Fitzwilliam Darcy. Inspired by the writing in the newspaper of a social activist, she is determined to write a book about the plight of the poor and sets off on an adventure of discovery to research the conditions of the working classes in Northern England. Sheltered and naïve, she gets into all sorts of trouble including being manhandled in a coach, robbed and beaten by a Highwayman, and abducted and imprisoned by a religious cult. Yes, a religious cult!

In which we witness the defamation of beloved characters!

Not everything for all four other Bennet daughters has improved as agreeably over the years. Elizabeth’s loveless marriage is a sham, Jane is a baby factory neglected by her absenting husband who is off attending to his slave plantations in Jamaica, and Lydia is a drunken whore whose unfaithful lout of a husband Captain George Wickham is sent to America and dies. Only Kitty unexpectedly hits pay dirt and marries an elderly peer who promptly dies and leaves her a pile of dough and social clout. Since her story is too happy, we do not hear much of her. The real pinnacle of exasperation for me came with McCullough’s handling of Mr. Darcy who immediately regrets marrying Elizabeth, resents being burdened with her ‘below his station’ family, and now acts far snootier and more puffed up than we were subjected to when we first met him at the Meryton Assembly in the original novel. Ambitious, scheming and underhanded, this Darcy has gone Gothic villain on us and it is not pretty. This caustic rendering of Darcy alone will catapult many a book across living rooms and bedrooms across America.

In which dubious, dastardly and devious characters dapple the plot!

In addition to resurrecting Caroline Bingley and Louisa Hurst as the devious duo bent on tormenting the Darcy’s to the end of their days, we are introduced to sympathetic new characters in Charles Darcy the young heir to Pemberley who is an incredible disappointment to his father but the darling of his mother and aunt Mary, and Angus Sinclair the wealthy newspaper owner and editor who is sweet on the violet eyed and ginger haired Mary Bennet because she reminds him of her sister Elizabeth who he has admired for years. They are two positive allies for Mary and her cause of independence and come to her aid more than once. Of course there is an abundance of villains (besides the dastardly Darcy) who dapple the story with challenges for our heroine which border on a Perils of Pauline melodrama; the most imposing of which is Darcy’s hired henchman Ned Skinner whose idolistic attachment to Darcy is rather more like Frankenstein’s assistant Igor than a paid thug. Other daunting characters that make Charles Dickens imaginings look lighthearted are a woman beating cutthroat Highwayman named Captain Thunder and a cave dwelling body snatching religious cultist Father Dominus. Could this cavalcade of characters possibly be any father from the witty, honorable, and propitious populous penned by the gently reproving Jane Austen? No!

In which a wild ride screeches to a hault!

Even though I did not agree with the direction that McCullough chose to take her sequel, her skill at story telling is amazing and a galaxy beyond fan fiction with flair. Her dialogue is crisp and succinct, her historical references well researched, and her descriptions of late Georgian life accurate and realistic. With so much talent and international renown, one wonders out loud whatever was she thinking? If you can get past the first three chapters and totally suspend your disbelief, The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet is a wild ride that screeches to a halt with one repugnant last line which I leave readers to experience for themselves.

2 out of 5 Stars 

The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet
By Colleen McCullough
Simon & Schuster, New York (2008)
Hardcover (352) pages
ISBN: 978-1416596486

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