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

The Other Bennet Sister, by Janice Hadlow 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. Even her younger sisters take their cue from this to draw together and tease her when they do notice her. Mary searches for ways to please and be noticed though she works hard to avoid her mother who twits her on her looks or quiet manners.

In short, Mary is miserable and is willing to try anything even securing the interest of the bumbling and bothersome cousin Collins who has come to Longbourn in search of a wife. If she thought her homelife was misery, being overlooked by Mr. Collins even after she put her best foot forward and made a horrid spectacle of herself at the Netherfield Ball teaches her that being invisible is even worse.

Her sisters’ triumphs in being wed, a family death, and feeling at a loss sends Mary on a journey of self-discovery.

The Other Bennet Sister worked hard to be true to Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Mary’s childhood and her debut on society along with the story flowing on parallel lines fit hand in glove with the P&P story. It had a broodier Jane Eyre feel to it, but this works since it is Mary’s story. It was intriguing to see that by focusing on Mary the author shows all the familiar characters in a slightly different light. Some even get more of a stronger role like Mrs. Hill the Longbourn housekeeper who has a soft spot for neglected Mary and by Charlotte Lucas who sees Mary as sharing a similar personality and needs since they are both plain. I will offer the warning that the usual sparkling favorite characters in Pride and Prejudice to not always appear in a favorable light so be prepared to see a different interpretation to many familiar characters. Continue reading

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

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 wide variety of Mary Bennet sequels, both good and bad. Pamela Mingle’s The Pursuit of Mary Bennet and Jennifer Paynter’s The Forgotten Sister land in the praise camp, while Colleen McCullough’s  The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet lies somewhere between awful and atrocious. (I apologize in advance to my Victorian grandmother for speaking ill of the dead if she happens to run into the author in the afterlife.) 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, 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. Continue reading

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.’  Continue reading

The Pursuit of Mary Bennet: A Pride and Prejudice Novel, Virtual Book Launch Party with Author Pamela Mingle & Giveaways

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! 

Welcome Pamela!

At the JASNA AGM in Minneapolis, the phrase “socially awkward” was used several times in reference to a character in Pride and Prejudice. Mary Bennet, much on my mind these days, was surely the only person in the book who could justifiably be called socially awkward. She’s the clueless sister who frequently embarrasses her family with her actions as well as her words. Mary’s smug moralizing on the difference between pride and vanity may be why Jane Austen describes her as “pedantic” and “conceited.” And we cringe as Mary lectures Elizabeth about the dangers of a lady sullying her reputation. Continue reading

The Unexpected Miss Bennet, by Patrice Sarath – A Review

The Unexpected Miss Bennet, by Patrice Sarath (2011)Guest review by 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 pianoforte, not her singing, and not even her book of sermons. “Perhaps she should not rest all of her hopes on Fordyce.  He had been a good a good guide, but a narrow one, and she had begun, if not to walk a different path, then to at least question the mapmaker.” (p. 27)

It’s been a year since the other Bennet daughters have married.  Kitty has “come out” and will spend the summer with the Bingleys.  Will “plain” Mary ever attract a suitor or just become an old maid?  Jane and Lizzy plot to bring her to Pemberley for the summer to “improve” her.   Lizzy tells Darcy of the plan: “You have the look of mischief about you,” Mr Darcy said. “Much as when we first met and exchanged words.  Have I need to fear?”  “Not at all” she said. “I merely came to warn you that I am my mother’s daughter after all.  Jane and I are prepared to make a match for Mary.” (p. 9) However, has Mary already encountered a “match?” Perhaps…..

Poor Mary despairs of anyone ever sincerely paying attention to her.  Prior to her Pemberley visit, she plays the pianoforte at a dance.  Mary, who has zero experience with men, is asked to dance by a young gentleman named Tom Aikens. Ms. Sarath has brilliantly fashioned a most unforgettable and loveable hero, much in the mold of another popular hero nicknamed “Turnip,” in Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series. Mr. Aikens is everything Mary is not:  vigorous, outgoing, brash, unkempt, unread, and most-often found on horseback. Shy, bookish Mary is a magnet to Mr. Aikens who pursues her from Pemberley to Rosings and back to Longbourn.  But, is he destined to lose interest, due to her own self-doubting confusion over how he could possibly like her?

The principals eventually all show up at Rosings: Mary, the Darcys (including Georgiana), the Collins’s and even Mr. and Mrs. Bennet arrive to deliver Mary’s trunk.  Mary finally meets the enigmatic Anne.  At first, Mary thinks Anne to be intellectually deficient. “Understanding pierced her and she felt a great and sudden sorrow.  She had been right.  Anne De Bourgh was simple, and all of Lady Catherine’s bluster, all of her posturing and praise on behalf of daughter, was to deny herself the knowledge.” (p. 85)  It turns out that Anne is not all that simple but overly protected and sequestered away.  Becoming friends, they improve each other to the point that Lady Catherine asks Mary to become Anne’s companion and stay at Rosings. But the grand lady continually seeks to discover a breech in Mary’s behavior that will bring social condemnation on the entire Bennet family.  Alas, the inevitable blunder in propriety finally occurs.  Will this end Mary’s friendship, destroy her budding self-esteem, banish her from Rosings and ostracize her from polite society forever?  Further, there is an ironic and shocking surprise near the conclusion.

I can explain my love for this story in a single word: AUTHENTICITY. Ms. Sarath faithfully renders all of our favorite P&P characters, vividly accentuates the dangerous social pitfalls for women of that time, and delivers the Regency style “lingo” that we all crave.  In contrast to Miss Austen’s exquisitely long sentences is this author’s style which occasionally links a series of short sentences together which impart drama, action, and clarity to the story. The author also sprinkles gems of charming humor throughout, especially in Mary’s secret thoughts which show her innate intelligence, despite her lack of social awareness.  Where Lizzy talks with complete candor, Mary converses politely and appropriately, but the author simultaneously reveals Mary’s very contrary private opinions which are highly amusing.

Author Patrice Sarath’s The Unexpected Miss Bennet, has cleaved me from my objectivity!  Why? The story exactly and uncannily fulfills my daydreaming heart’s projected future for this most unappreciated and neglected Bennet sister.  In the face of such a coincidental affirmation, how could I not pronounce this delightful little 224 page story one of the very best Austen sequels I have ever read?

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Unexpected Miss Bennet, by Patrice Sarath
Penguin Group (2011)
Trade paperback (304) pages
ISBN: 978-0425244210

Jeffrey Ward, 65, native San Franciscan living near Atlanta, married 40 years, two adult children, six grandchildren, Vietnam Veteran, degree in Communications from the University of Washington, and presently a Facilitator/designer for the world’s largest regional airline.  His love affair with Miss Austen began about 3 years ago when, out of boredom, he picked up his daughter’s dusty college copy of Emma and he was “off to the races.”

© 2007 – 2011 Jeffrey Ward, Austenprose

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.

2½ out of 5 Regency stars 

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