Spoilers will start after the short summary during the extended review:
Mary, the bookish ugly duckling of Pride and Prejudice’s five Bennet sisters, emerges from the shadows and transforms into a desired woman with choices of her own.
What if Mary Bennet’s life took a different path from that laid out for her in Pride and Prejudice? What if the frustrated intellectual of the Bennet family, the marginalized middle daughter, the plain girl who takes refuge in her books, eventually found the fulfillment enjoyed by her prettier, more confident sisters? This is the plot of The Other Bennet Sister, a debut novel with exactly the affection and authority to satisfy Austen fans.
Ultimately, Mary’s journey is like that taken by every Austen heroine. She learns that she can only expect joy when she has accepted who she really is. She must throw off the false expectations and wrong ideas that have combined to obscure her true nature and prevented her from what makes her happy. Only when she undergoes this evolution does she have a chance at finding fulfillment; only then does she have the clarity to recognize her partner when he presents himself—and only at that moment is she genuinely worthy of love.
Mary’s destiny diverges from that of her sisters. It does not involve broad acres or landed gentry. But it does include a man; and, as in all Austen novels, Mary must decide whether he is the truly the one for her.
Why I was interested: Like many others, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is my favorite Austen novel. However, I was thoroughly curious about Mary Bennet’s story – and this book did not disappoint.
Judge a book by it’s cover: I really enjoy the bright green and red cover of my copy. It brings out so much emotion which Mary must unleash within herself.
What to expect: This story starts before PRIDE AND PREJUDICE begins, travels through Mary’s POV to about halfway through the original, before jumping a few years ahead to focus on Mary’s growth beyond Austen’s story.
Why you should pick this book up: If you love retellings, the early 1800s, studious girl characters, the determination to be one’s self, London during the Industrial Revolution, and the Romantic movement, there will be no shortage of appreciation of this book.
Want more?: Hadlow is also the author of A ROYAL EXPERIMENT: THE PRIVATE LIFE OF KING GEORGE III, a nonfiction book.
ATTENTION: IF YOU HAVE YET TO READ THE OTHER BENNET SISTER do not continue reading. The following contains spoilers for the book.
In Jane Austen’s widely acclaimed PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, Mary Bennet seems like nothing more than a very minor background character. She appears only a handful of times and seems to be very logical. While that may be true for Lizzy’s perspective, Mary Bennet really gets the chance to shine and grow in THE OTHER BENNET SISTER.
This story follows Mary from being a young girl who begins to understand that her mother does not seem to care for her because she is not as beautiful as her other sisters and seems plain in comparison. She is subject to her mother’s constant hounding as she blames Mary for her looks. Because of this, Mary decides to turn towards logic, reading challenging works, and studying the piano, but no matter what Mary does, there always seems to be a fault according to her mother.
Mary turns away from emotion completely by tampering it down and turning wholeheartedly to logic thanks to Mrs. Bennet not approving of a boy Mary danced with multiple times – even though Mary thought her mother would be happy that someone was interested. While dancing with John Sparrow did excite Mary, she decides in order to not hurt others, she must constantly be aware of her feelings and keep them in check. This makes Mary seem very aloof to other characters as seen in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE as she often quotes from authors which is widely received poorly by her sisters, parents, and other relations.
Being so focused on logic even convinces Mary to be willing to marry Mr. Collins as they seem they could get along with one another and not marry for love or care. But as we know in Austen’s original, he marries Miss Charlotte Lucas after being turned down by Lizzy. Mrs. Bennet hypocritically continues to put blame on Mary for this, and Mary wonders if she would end up a spinster in time.
Shortly after Jane and Lizzy are each married, Mr. Bennet dies and Mary gets a taste of what her life could be like if she were an old maid. She bounces between her sisters’ estates and Longburn – now owned by Mr. Collins – and observes a wide variety of relationships as seen by different family units. But after Mr. Collins encourages her to take up studying again, Mary seems to become herself but with someone’s support. This is one of the first steps that Mary seems to grow in self-confidence; the next is when she decides not to take up Lady Catherine’s offer of her being a governess and instead Mary leaves for London.
In London, Mary drastically grows in self-assurance. She understands that her dress helps her to be simple, elegant, and yet shows she is self-reliant. The house of her aunt and uncle is very lively and encouraging. She meets Mr. Hayward who, as a character, is a good balance between logic and emotion and encourages Mary to be less logical and more emotional through poetry.
But as Mary and Mr. Hayward become more connected with one another, Mr. Ryder, his friend and total Romantic, appears. Mr. Ryder also challenges Mary to be more emotional, but during the trips to the Lakes, Mary realises that Mr. Ryder can be so determined to feel emotions that he puts his own life into danger.
After, Mr. Ryder proposes to Mary that they run away together – like Lydia and Mr. Whickham – but Mary turns him down once then and when he proposes marriage to her. Mr. Ryder sees Mary as someone who can improve him, but Mary has no interest in that. She wants a relationship that is both emotional and logical and where she is seen as an equal and not as above or below her husband. It is fortunate that Mr. Hayward decides to propose to Mary, and she accepts him readily as an individual who can balance both her logic and emotions.
Mary’s drastic growth is seen in the reflection of Romanticism of the day (emotion) and the challenges for women to be able to study seriously (logic). Mary constantly tries to challenge public and polite notion of what a woman should and should not do
(where spectacles, study Greek, not accept the first proposal she is offered, willing to be an old maid if she cannot marry for love, etc.) and she becomes more confident in these actions as she grows to balance her logic with her emotions.
THE OTHER BENNET SISTER truly grows Mary into her own Austen heroine while acknowledging the movements of the early 19th century. By introducing both the Industrial Revolution and the Romantic movement, Mary’s experiences allow her to become a modern woman during a time where women were seen very little beyond children. THE OTHER BENNET SISTER is a triumphant novel that is determined, romantic, and hopeful as Mary learns how to stand up for herself and be her own person.
What did you think of Janice Hadlow’s THE OTHER BENNET SISTER? I’d love to hear your comments below!
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