Mary Bennet is just such a pill--she is socially awkward, morally pedantic, and unutterably boring. She is little more than a filler character in Jane Austen's masterpiece, Pride and Prejudice, which makes her perfect fodder for a make-over in the realms of Austen-inspired fiction.
Pamela Mingle's new novel, The Pursuit of Mary Bennet, gives Mary a chance to finally shine. Mingle fleshes her out and gives her a story that she renders her still recognizable as Austen's Mary but with heart, depth, and soul that goes far beyond the comic form that Austen gave her.
Most of our favorite P and P characters show up--and it is a sequel, taking place but a few years after the joint wedding in which Mr. and Mrs. Bennet saw their two eldest daughters married--with Lydia and Kitty playing major roles in the story, and Jane and Lizzy now in more of the supporting cast roles. In many ways, Mary's story parallels the Lizzy/Darcy arc and in lesser ways Kitty's story parallels the Jane/Bingley arc, but while marriage is the focus of the story (and in what self-respecting Regency Romance would this not be the case?), I was very happy to see that Mary's growth as a character was complex and the result of several forces not just the desire to be married and loved.
In The Pursuit of Mary Bennet, I think that Mingle has a very good handle on what makes Mary who she is in P and P:
I 'd always believed I would remain a spinster. I would disappoint as a wife. I had not the easy compliance, the ability to defer to a husband, and worst of all, I lacked beauty, conduct, and, at times, even common sense.The difference in stories is that in her novel, Mingle makes Mary self-aware and through that self-awareness she is able to change in the ways she needs to in order become a vibrant, interesting character and not merely a caricature.
I would like to quote another passage that really demonstrates the growth of Mary--without giving away too much of the plot, Mary cares for Lydia's newborn daughter, Felicity, and becomes very attached to her:
I was not Felicity's mother, and yet my whole being cried out that I was. That it was not right for Lydia to separate me from her. When I had arrived at Longbourn after Fee's birth, broken and dispirited, it was Fee who made me whole again. She who, by the mere fact of her existence, showed me how I might get on with my life. Felicity had proved to me that no matter how low one's spirits may sink, life holds something in safekeeping to present at the most fortuitous moment. She had filled the emptiness in me with her innocent and trusting love, and I prayed I had given her that gift in return.I really enjoyed The Pursuit of Mary Bennet, and would like to share it with others.
I have an uncorrected proof copy (not for sale) that the author has provided for a giveaway. This is open worldwide, and to enter merely leave a comment along with your email address. The giveaway closes at 8 pm on Tuesday, December 10.