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

PURCHASE LINKS:

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

Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia Episode 1: Dancing into Battle – Recap & Review

Belgravia Julian Fellowes 2016 x 200Hold on to your bonnets historical fiction fans! Today is the official debut of Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia, a new serialized novel by Downton Abbey’s creator/writer. Set in London in the early Victorian-era, the story follows one family’s life and how a secret from twenty-five years earlier, changed them forever.

Austenprose is honored to be the first stop on the Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia Progressive Blog Tour which will, over the course of ten weeks, travel through the ether visiting popular book bloggers and authors specializing in historical fiction and romance. Today we will be recapping and reviewing the first episode, “Dancing Into Battle.”

Released in 11 weekly installments, each episode of Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia will conclude with twists, turns and cliff-hanger endings popularized by the novels of Dickens, Gaskell and Conan Doyle in the nineteenth century. Delivered directly to your cell phone, tablet or desktop via a brand new app, you can read the text or listen to the audio recording narrated by acclaimed British actress Juliet Stevenson, or jump between the two. In addition, you will have access to the exclusive bonus features available only through the app including: history, fashion, food & drink, culture and more that will frame the story while immersing you into the character’s sphere. In addition, the first episode is totally free!

Here is a short video on how it all works: Continue reading

The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen Virtual Book Launch Party and Blog Tour with Author Shannon Winslow & Giveaways! 

The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen banner x 500

I am very pleased to welcome author Shannon Winslow to Austenprose today to officially open her virtual book launch party and blog tour of The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, published today by Heather Ridge Arts. This new Austenesque novel is a fascinating combination of fact and fiction, exploring Jane Austen’s unknown personal journal— revealing her secret romance with a Royal Navy officer, Captain Devereaux, who was the inspiration for her final novel, Persuasion. 

Shannon has generously offered a guest blog sharing her inspiration to write her new novel—and to add to the festivities—we will be offering an amazing selection of giveaways including: trade paperback and digital eBook copies of The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, a tote bag bundle stuffed with a print copy of the book and Jane Austen-inspired merchandise, and an original pastel drawing “By the Seaside at Lyme” inspired by the 1995 movie, Persuasion, created by Shannon. Just leave a comment following this blog post to enter. The contest details are listed below. Good luck to all. 

Please join us in welcoming Shannon Winslow.

What inspired me to write The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen?

I can’t quite put my finger on when the concept for this book first occurred to me. It was more of a slowly germinating seed rather than a bolt out of the blue, something that needed to ruminate in my brain a while before emerging onto the page. But this will give you an idea how my thoughts about the book evolved. Continue reading

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. 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 Passion of the Purple Plumeria: A Pink Carnation Novel, by Lauren Willig – A Review

The Passion of the Purple Plumeria, by Lauren Willig (2013) From the desk of Christina Boyd

Acclaimed author Lauren Willig’s latest offering, The Passion of the Purple Plumeria, is the tenth novel in her New York Times best selling Pink Carnation series. This historical romance series of Napoleonic era English spies, that fight for Britain and for love, is constructed within a modern day love story, told from the point of view of the American grad student Eloise Kelly who is writing her dissertation on the true identity of the Pink Carnation, the master British spy of the time.

In Purple Plumeria, (those of us who have been previously “Pinked,” often refer to the novels by the abbreviated Flower title…), the handsome Colonel William Reid, who we first encountered in Blood Lily (The Betrayal of the Blood Lily) has returned to his daughters in England from a lifelong military career in India only to discover his youngest has recently disappeared from boarding school with one of her classmates.  Soon we learn the other missing student is Agnes Wooliston, the sister of British spymaster, errr, ehm, spymistress, the Pink Carnation – generally known as Miss Jane Wooliston – recalling  her home from Paris to England. And where Miss Wooliston goes, so goes her caustically witty and straight-laced companion, and adroit, clever, parasol-wielding agent of the War Office, Miss Gwendolyn Meadows. While conducting an interview with the headmistress, they meet the aforementioned comely, charming Colonel. Continue reading

Indiscretion: A Novel, by Jude Morgan – A Review

Indiscretion: A Novel, by Jude Morgan (2007) From the desk of Katie P.

Jane Austen. Georgette Heyer. The Regency. Those names instantly bring to mind witty conversations, saturnine heroes, and lavish ballrooms. So often we see these words on the cover or in reviews of a book, and eagerly pick it up hoping to find yet another book that will quickly become dog-eared and memorized. But just as often, we turn away disappointed yet again by finding out that the book falls far short of the reasons we chose it in the first place.

Indiscretion, by Jude Morgan—I am happy to say—is not like that.

Miss Caroline Fortune, at twenty, has the misfortune of being the sole caretaker and realist to her impractical, debt-ridden father. Ever since her mother died at the age of twelve, they have gone from shabby lodgings to even shabbier lodgings, all in the hope to escape debt collectors, and even worse, debtors’ prison. But just when they run out of options (and Caroline decides to become a governess), they are saved by the Gorgon-like Mrs. Catling (basilisk stare and all), who offers Caroline a position as her paid companion.
And this is just the beginning of Caroline’s adventures…

As paid companion, Caroline must reconcile her own independent spirit with the impossible job of placating her ferocious employer, while trying to navigate through the indiscretions of the people around her. She soon attracts the interest of Mr. Richard Leabrook, a handsome suitor, and the friendships of Mr. and Miss Downey, the niece and nephew of Mrs. Catling, but are they really what they seem? After a sudden change in circumstances, Caroline must find the family she has never met, become accustomed to country living (complete with climbing over stiles), prevent an elopement, come face-to-face with ghosts from her past, discover the joys of true friendship, and outwit the insulting, yet annoyingly appealing Mr. Stephen Milner, who insists that Caroline will be nothing but trouble.

What is Miss Fortune, innocent attracter of mayhem to do?  Be as discrete (or is it indiscrete?) as possible, with a lot of pluck and a little bit of canary!

About a year ago I stumbled upon Indiscretion by accident. I had just finished all of Jane Austen’s novels, and was in withdrawal. I found this because of one review that said ‘like Jane Austen’ and immediately had to read it. I was not disappointed, and was hooked from the very first page. Caroline Fortune reminded me so much of Jane Austen’s heroines—she has her failings, but has enough strength and humor to carry her through, and rise above, the situations she finds herself in. Just like another character we all know and love, Caroline cannot stay depressed—she has to find a reason to laugh.  She is a character with which we can quickly identify.

For while she did not lack a sense of her own merits, and had too much spirit ever to submit to being walked over, still she thought herself no more than tolerable-looking, and nurtured abysmal doubts about her ability ever to shine in company. She had a quick tongue, an active fancy, and a turn for wit, but these she employed, in truth, somewhat as a shield behind which she could shelter.” p. 25

Indiscretion is full of surprises and plot twists. People Magazine said: “the characters separate and reunite as rhythmically and precisely as ballroom dancers performing a waltz.” I couldn’t agree more. Jude Morgan crafts his story well—I’ve read it five or six times, and each time I find a new ‘layer’ that I hadn’t discovered, a new quote that seems truer than before—“We always think we know what we want: when in truth there is nothing we are less likely to know.”—and a conversation that gets funnier with each reading—““I have been run over by the speeding chariot of fate, caught up in its spiked wheels.” “I hate it when that happens,said Stephen.

While there are many Regency books that are either in the style of Georgette Heyer or set in the time period as an excuse for long dresses and handsome rakes (and very modern plots, dialogue, and ‘romance’ scenes), Indiscretion truly takes after the style of Jane Austen, with perception, wit, proper romance, and a satisfying ending. But even more importantly, Jude Morgan is an author to enjoy in his own right, with his own distinct voice that definitely makes him an author to be read.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Indiscretion: A Novel, by Jude Morgan
St. Martin’s Press (2007)
Trade paperback (384) pages
ISBN: 978-0312374372

© 2013 Katie P., Austenprose