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 who have read Pride and Prejudice will recognize the plot as it picks up at the beginning of Austen’s famous tale. Through Mary’s eyes we experience the arrival of Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy in the Meryton neighborhood, the ball at Netherfield Park and the visit to the family home by the Bennet’s odious cousin Mr. Collins. Infatuated with the silly man, Mary throws herself at him and then watches as he chooses her sister Lizzy as the “companion of his future life.” Adding insult to injury, after her sister rejects his proposal of marriage Mr. Collins does not even think of her as an alternative, marrying their neighbor Charlotte Lucas instead.

As Austen’s narrative of Pride and Prejudice concludes with the marriage of the Bennet sisters Elizabeth and Jane to Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley respectively, author Katherine Chen begins Part II and her own story placing Mary at Pemberley, the palatial estate of Mr. Darcy and his new bride in Derbyshire. There she is given more than a modicum of male attention, something that she has never experienced before. With the encouragement of her host Mr. Darcy, Mary begins to discover a new talent as a writer, penning a Gothic fiction novel that her bother-in-law edits for her. And, with the arrival of his churlish cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam she is introduced to the delights of the physical realm when he teaches her to ride a horse – and the arts of a more private nature.

At this point in the novel, I am reminded of two quotes by Mary from Austen’s original novel:

“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

AND…

“every impulse of feeling should be guided by reason.” Chapter 7

Reason is something that was of importance to Mary as Austen presented her to us. Chen has decided to take her characterization in an entirely different direction. It is shocking and painful.

Writing Jane Austen-inspired fiction is a tricky business. Those who have read and admired the novel expect a certain standard of prose, character development, and reverence to the original. Chen’s writing is impressive, and I can see why a major publisher such as Penguin Random House snapped up this novel and released it in hardback. She does not try to emulate Austen’s style, but understands it enough to structure her sentences and vocabulary in a similarly pleasing manner. That is where their affinity ends.

After she breaks away from the conclusion of Austen’s story and creates her own narrative, the reader is drawn along by pure curiosity, and then by bus-accident-like compulsion to gawk in amazement at what can be done to beloved characters for pure shock value. It is understandable that people’s personalities change as they age and mature, or from circumstances, however, readers will be hard pressed to accept Elizabeth as a neurotic, cold fish to her loving husband, propelling him into the arms of another, and that his cousin, the amiable Colonel Fitzwilliam, is even more of a womanizing cad than George Wickham could ever aspire to be. And…what about Mary – tossed and jerked about by Chen like a puppet in a twisted marionette melodrama? She seeks and finds her own happiness in the end with a touch of the #MeToo bravado that we have always wished for her, but at such a cost that Austen fans will be retrieving their blown-off bonnets from the murky depths of Pemberley’s pond.

If you are up for a wild ride through Austen’s Regency-era tale – and beyond, I can recommend Mary B. for the pure thrill of the adrenaline rush. It is now the new guilty pleasure in the Austenesque genre, out pacing Colleen McCullough’s irreverent The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet by ten lengths.

3 out of 5 Regency Stars

Mary B: A Novel: An Untold Story of Pride and Prejudice
By Katherine J. Chen
Penguin Random House
Hardcover (336) pages
ISBN: 9780399592218

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Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indiebound | Goodreads

Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice, by Curtis Sittenfeld – A Review

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfield 2016 x 200From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

Jane Austen is a tough act to follow and that is exactly what the Austen Project asks contemporary authors to do: reimagine one of Austen’s novels in the here and now. Curtis Sittenfeld, author of four novels including Prep and American Wife, was chosen to take on Austen’s best-known work, Pride and Prejudice. While P&P-inspired books and films such as Bridget Jones’ Diary and Bride and Prejudice demonstrate that the story and its themes have broad appeal, I wondered how Sittenfeld’s Eligible would handle the main plot points in a modern setting. Many of the issues that Austen’s characters grappled with are barely recognizable if they exist at all in modern daily life.

In Eligible, the tension between the original story and Sittenfeld’s inventions kept me turning pages. Brief, episodic chapters mirror the short attention span of a digital era audience. In contemporary Cincinnati, Mr. Bennet spends as much time as possible alone at his computer, while Mrs. Bennet’s life revolves around country club gossip and planning luncheons for the Women’s League. Jane and Liz have carved out careers in Manhattan: the eldest Miss Bennet teaches yoga while her sister writes features for a magazine. They return to Cincinnati when Mr. Bennet has a heart attack. Their practical assistance and support are needed because their younger sisters, while living at home, are little help to their parents. Socially awkward Mary is pursuing her third online master’s degree while Kitty and Lydia, as crass and self-absorbed as ever, are obsessed with working out at the gym and following trendy diets. Sittenfeld’s group portrait of the Bennet clan was one of my favorite parts of Eligible. It’s easy to picture Jane Austen smiling at this: Continue reading

Longbourn’s Songbird: A Novel, by Beau North – A Review

Longbourns Songbird Beau North 2015 x 200From the desk of Kimberly Denny Ryder:

Much of the Jane Austen Fan Fiction that I read usually falls in to two categories: works that take place during the Regency Period and works that take place during contemporary times. Works that take place during times of war are fairly rare (Darcy Goes to War by Mary Lydon Simonsen being a notable exception) and works that take place in the South (Mary Jane Hathaway’s Jane Austen Takes the South series being the only other example I’ve read) are also unfamiliar to me. Enter Longbourn’s Songbird by debut author Beau North, a re-imagined version of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice taking place in 1940’s South Carolina.

It’s 1948, only three short years since the end of the Second World War. The setting is the small, sleepy town of Meryton, South Carolina in the American south. Will Darcy has come to visit Charles Bingley and conclude some business in the acquisition of Longbourn Farms. While there, he comes across Miss Elizabeth Bennet, who despite the painful events of her past finds that she can’t stop thinking about Mr. Darcy, who engages and challenges her enough to bring her out of the vanilla monotony that she has settled in to as of late to protect her emotionally. Not only do we get to experience the charged and engaging dynamic between Lizzie and Darcy, but we also have a host of other interactions that play out, including an interesting relationship between Bingley and Jane Bennet. Jane is terrified when she realizes that Charles fancies her and has recently purchased Netherfield Plantation, because she is afflicted by diabetes, which she knows will limit her lifespan and may make Bingley rethink his choice. Continue reading

Preview of Longbourn’s Songbird, by Beau North

Longbourns Songbird Beau North 2015 x 200Just released this week is a new Jane Austen-inspired novel, Longbourn’s Songbird. Based on Austen’s iconic novel, Pride and Prejudice, author Beau North has transported the action to post WWII South Carolina.

While Pride and Prejudice has spawned the largest number of sequels in print, most of those are set during the same time period, the early nineteenth-century. Fewer still are set during contemporary times. Faithfully transferring the themes and social conflicts from a novel set in Regency times to modern times is a challenge that few authors have attempted, however some of my favorites have been: Pride and Prejudice and the Perfect Match, by Marilyn Brant, Unleashing Mr. Darcy, by Teri Wilson and Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner, by Jack Caldwell.

Readers of Jane Austen-inspired fiction can never have too many Pride and Prejudice-inspired stories, especially those focusing on their favorite iconic hero and heroine, Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. I am always pleased to see a new contemporary re-telling arrive on the scene. Longbourn’s Songbird is an intriguing new option for Janeites. Debut author Beau North may have transported Austen’s characters and plot across the ocean to the American south and one hundred and thirty five years into the future, but the lyrical transfer is creative and engaging. Continue reading

Yours Forevermore, Darcy, by KaraLynne Mackrory – A Review

Yours Forevermore Darcy 2015 x 200From the desk of Monica Perry:

Letter writing can be such a beautiful way to express oneself, to pour out feelings that are too difficult to say in person. It’s especially romantic when the writer is a passionate soul undercover, and desperately in love.  Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy is just such a person. When we first meet him in Yours Forevermore, Darcy, he’s writing to Elizabeth Bennet, and not for the first time. Since the beginning of their acquaintance, he’s written letters to purge his feelings for her, the woman he wants but is convinced he can’t have. He never intends her to read them, of course; they’re just a cathartic release of emotion, a compulsive coping mechanism to clear his head and let him go on about his life. Now two months after she rejected his proposal, broke his heart and made him reevaluate his entire life, he vows to stop writing and focus on becoming a better man. Fans of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and the myriad tales it has inspired know that the beauty in the story of Darcy and Elizabeth is the personal growth each must undertake separately. In Yours Forevermore, Darcy, KaraLynne Mackrory gives readers insight into these journeys and shows how affecting the written word can be to both writer and reader.

Yours Forevermore, Darcy follows canon timeline of P&P fairly closely, with a few well-placed tweaks to keep it being too predictable. After his humiliating rejection, Darcy intends leaving Elizabeth behind him forever with, ironically, only a letter. It’s decidedly NOT his best work, as I now know, but is nevertheless important. She has little time to contemplate it then as, with all the perverseness of mischance, they find themselves together again and again.  There’s a theme woven throughout, to describe their emotions, and I loved that. Comparing Darcy to the rich warmth of a cello definitely hit the right note with me! The amiability and humor of Colonel Fitzwilliam is the perfect buffer for them too, and there is more than one scene with him and Darcy that is just laugh out loud funny. Continue reading

Alone with Mr. Darcy: A Pride & Prejudice Variation, by Abigail Reynolds – A Review

Alone with Mr Darcy Abigail Reynolds 2015 x 200From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:

Way back in 2011 when reviewing What Would Mr. Darcy Do? for my blog I wrote, “I would like to hereby bestow the title of ‘Queen of the Austen Retelling’ to Abigail Reynolds.” Although many years have passed since my proclamation, not much has changed. Every time I get to read a new work by Reynolds I’m always so excited to get a slice of her creative energy that makes her works so exciting. It also doesn’t hurt that her variations typically involve the always handsome and charming Mr. Darcy in some type of a Pride and Prejudice reimagining. With this being said, I quickly devoured this work and got these thoughts on paper immediately, such is the effect that Reynolds has on my reading habits!

In her latest release, Alone With Mr. Darcy, we find Elizabeth and Darcy paired together by fate after the Netherfield ball, with Elizabeth encountering him, injured from a riding accident, while she herself is walking home alone. An impending snow storm makes them seek shelter in a small cottage for a few days to wait out the weather and tend to Darcy’s injuries. While nursing him back to strength, she learns a lot about him and his feelings towards her from his frequent outbursts and semiconscious state, although she is not sure what is fact and what is fiction. Fortunately, the two survive and even befriend a small kitten that Darcy finds in a woodpile. Darcy offers to marry Elizabeth after the ordeal in order to protect her reputation, but she declines and they decide instead how to keep the events of the past few days from becoming public. Unfortunately for Elizabeth, that is exactly what happens. Through a series of misunderstandings and shady dealings, her reputation becomes tarnished throughout Meryton and Darcy is nowhere to be found. Will she be able to marry any young man and set the rumors to rest or will she be destined to scandal? Continue reading

A Peculiar Connection: A Pride and Prejudice Alternate Path, by Jan Hahn – A Preview & Exclusive Excerpt

A Peculiar Connection by Jan Hahn 2015 x 200It is pleasure to welcome author Jan Hahn to Austenprose today. Meryton Press has just published her latest Austenesque novel, A Peculiar Connection.  Hahn has written several very popular Pride and Prejudice-inspired books including The Journey and An Arranged Marriage. Here is a brief preview and excerpt for your enjoyment.

DESCRIPTION (from the publisher)

Will a mysterious note from the past doom the love of Jane Austen’s most beloved couple?

A Peculiar Connection begins near the close of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Bent on preventing the engagement of her nephew to Elizabeth Bennet, Lady Catherine de Bourgh declares that any union between Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth would be “a sin against Heaven itself!”  Her shocking revelation, along with a cryptic message written over twenty years earlier, thrusts the couple into a whirlwind of heartbreak and disbelief.

Could a deserted mansion in Derbyshire or a small church hidden in the wood hold the key to solving the puzzle?  And why is Elizabeth inexplicably drawn to the portrait of three young boys in Pemberley’s gallery?

Determined to confirm or refute Lady Catherine’s accusation, Darcy and Elizabeth are forced to embark upon a twisted trail into bygone days and family secrets.  All the while, they must endure the exquisite torture of denying the indisputable desire that still hovers between them.

Continue reading