Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet: A Novel

I started this Colleen McCullough novel this afternoon and, as expected, am feeling ambiguous about it.

On the one hand, McCullough is a good storyteller and I find I'm being sucked into the story wondering how everything is going to work out. On the other hand, this is fanfic and she's breaking the canon into little tiny bits without much respect for the Austen characters she's stealing.

First impressions? I wonder whether McCullough didn't write a Regency Romance and then decide to jump on the Austen bandwagon and changed all the names to those from P&P. I don't really wonder that, but I think most Janeites would like the story better if it were straight Regency Romance and not P&P fanfic--messing with Darcy and Lizzy is a dangerous game.

I do think the plot is promising, the characterization good (just not recognizable as the P&P characters I grew up with), and the level of detail okay. Granted, I just finished Voyager by Diana Gabaldon--I'm rereading the lot in anticipation of the final book in the series coming out this year--and McCullough is just not in the same league as Gabaldon when it comes to details.

It's telling that Mary is turning out to be another Elizabeth--in looks, in spirit, in attractiveness. She's a bit modern, though, to be really believable as a 37-year old woman in 1830. I've been reading lots of fiction about women in 1830-1850, and McCullogh's Mary is strictly a 20th century gal. Plus, it's hard to believe that Mary from P&P could blossom into Elizabeth after 17 years of nursing her mother while buried in a country estate with a big library just because her skin cleared up and she got some dental work done.

McCullough clearly appreciates the Lizzy of P&P since her story is that Mary is really Elizabeth having another chance to pick Mr. Right.

Back to being fair and giving this book a fighting chance...Charlie Darcy promises to be a gem of a character--the sensitive but all-man type--and his relationship to Aunt Mary is intriguing, at least at this point. We'll see what McCullough does with that. Having read half of her Rome series, this relationship could get pretty twisted pretty fast.


  1. I haven't read this novel, but I found her Rome series to be Modern Characters dressed up. Do you want to do a review of it as Pulp for my site?

  2. And this Darcy would definitely feel at home with McCullough's Marius and Sulla. I'd be happy to do a review for your site. I'm hoping to finish it this weekend.

  3. Why have SO MANY literary authors screwed this up? Geez, it has to be one of the easiest things to write. The characters have all been thought up beforehand, the canvas has been etched, the keys to the kingdom have been placed directly in their hands and yet what keeps coming out of the other end is all utter nonsense!

    Fan fiction writers turn out wonderfully thought out plots every single day. We are the only ones who can redeem the entire P&P sequel genre! We must!

  4. Teresa - I think they want to show off how literary they are...that's the only explanation I can come up with. Bottom line--there's absolutely no reason why she had to dub this a P&P sequel except for the built-in audience, which still doesn't make sense because most lovers of P&P will hate this book.