In my most recent novella, A Very Mary Christmas, I have once again* played with the character of Mary Bennet. However, before I could begin playing with her character, I needed to know who she was as Jane Austen created her.
According to SparkNotes, Mary Bennet is “the middle Bennet sister, bookish and pedantic.” And I think Jane Austen would agree with this short description, although her novel, Pride and Prejudice, does give us this longer description:
Her (Elizabeth’s) performance was pleasing, though by no means capital. After a song or two, and before she could reply to the entreaties of several that she would sing again, she was eagerly succeeded at the instrument by her sister Mary, who having, in consequence of being the only plain one in the family, worked hard for knowledge and accomplishments, was always impatient for display.Mary had neither genius nor taste; and though vanity had given her application, it had given her likewise a pedantic air and conceited manner, which would have injured a higher degree of excellence than she had reached. Elizabeth, easy and unaffected, had been listened to with much more pleasure, though not playing half so well; and Mary, at the end of a long concerto, was glad to purchase praise and gratitude by Scotch and Irish airs, at the request of her younger sisters, who, with some of the Lucases and two or three officers, joined eagerly in dancing at one end of the room.
There is also this bit of interesting information which I found on The Republic of Pemberley’s “Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice — Index of Characters:
Jane Austen revealed to her family, according to the biographical Memoir**, that Mary `obtained nothing higher than one of her uncle Philips’s clerks’*** in marriage, after the period described in the novel.
So, knowing these things about Mary, how did I choose to play with her character? Did I keep her precisely, 100% as she is written in canon? How did I envision her?
Well, let’s start with this little excerpt from Waking to Mr. Darcy where we first meet this particular version of the middle Bennet sister:
Mary nodded. “I do. I never believe without proof.”
Elizabeth felt a pang of reproof at such a statement. Had she adhered to such a philosophy, she might not have listened to Wickham, but for all her love of reasoning, there were times that her emotions overcame her sense. “So the sermons and the scriptures are to prove the parson is not in error?”
Mary nodded. “And the various other books are to be able to listen with some understanding of the things spoken of at gatherings. The gentlemen rarely notice my presence, so I have had many opportunities to discern which men are admirable and which are not.”
Elizabeth blushed. “I must confess I had not considered why you read sermons to be for that purpose.” Indeed, it seemed there was much she had not considered about her sister.
“You thought I wished to impress some parson and become his wife?” Mary asked it with a slight laugh in her voice.
“You do not wish to marry a parson?” Elizabeth asked.
“Most certainly not!” declared Mary. “I should have to be pleasant to a great many people that I find loathsome. I would prefer to marry an honest gentleman with a modest income.” She rose to pour the tea that had arrived during their discussion. “A small circle of friends, a home, and children to teach, that is all I require.”
I envisioned a middle sister who competed for attention with her elder and younger sisters — a very normal thing to have happen. She stands out by being different. In my story, this draws her mother’s displeasure because Mary is far too bookish and, in her mother’s eyes, not pretty. However, I did not picture Mary as “not pretty.” I pictured her as more average in appearance than her sisters, so by comparison, she would have to feel “not pretty.” I do have her loving to learn and talk about things that are not traditionally spoken of by ladies — a bit of a bluestocking if you will. I have her being a rather no-nonsense sort of individual. She does not flirt, believes in propriety, and, if she sees a problem, she seeks a solution — even if it is an unpleasant solution such as leaving Longbourn and becoming a companion or governess. My Mary does not see herself as having any exceptional qualities, which breaks from the arrogant description given in canon. Her descriptions of herself are those she has heard from her mother. But not everyone in this story sees her that way — Jane and Elizabeth do not. Darcy does not. Nicholas Hammond, a neighbour and eligible bachelor, does not. And then there are Nicholas’ brother, Fred, and Fred’s friend, Whit who also do not see her this way. In fact, they come to see her quite differently —
“I like her,” said Fred, “and not as you are thinking. She is quite perfect for my brother.”
“She is,” said Whit, “and how fortunate for us that she loves him.” He clapped his hands softly and rubbed them together. “Well, Fred, we have just over a week to orchestrate a Christmas miracle for Miss Mary.” He pulled a chair close to the bed and, dropping into it, blew out a breath. “Not beautiful? What idiot told her that?”
And, except for Nicholas, it is this group of people who see Mary for all her good qualities and work to give her the best Christmas gift of all — her very own happily ever after!
Now, speaking of gifts, scroll on down past the notes and sources, and you will find A Very Special Mary Christmas Giveaway.
Side Notes for the Curious:
*My first foray into writing a Mary Bennet story is the novella No Other Choice, which is book two in the Choices Series.
**The book mentioned in this note is A Memoir of Jane Austen by James Edward Austen-Leigh, who was Jane Austen’s nephew.
***In my story, the hero has a particular connection to Mary’s Uncle Phillips — but I am not telling what it is. 🙂
Austen, Jane. “Pride & Prejudice, Chapter VI of Volume I (Chap. 6).” The Republic of Pemberley, n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2016.
“Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice — Index of Characters.” Pemberley.com. The Republic of Pemberley, n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2016.
SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on Pride and Prejudice.” SparkNotes.com. SparkNotes LLC. 2007. Web. 14 Dec. 2016.
A Very Special Mary Christmas Giveaway
For this giveaway, I had CSLiterary Jewelry make a custom necklace for this giveaway. I selected this quote from the proposal in this book:
“I have considered these things since waking, and I have come to the realization that you, Mary, are more than just a friend. You are something far more dear to me. You are my heart.”
And below is the lovely necklace that was created with these words. The necklace comes as pictured on an 18-inch chain.
There are several ways to enter this giveaway. Four entry options can be used only once, and one can be used every day if you should wish. Select as many or as few entry options as you want. However, all entries must be submitted through the Rafflecopter form. This contest is open internationally.
You will notice that one of the options for entering this giveaway is to leave a comment on this post. You can write whatever you wish, but if you are looking for ideas, here is something you might consider: I love Jane Austen’s secondary characters. How about you? Are there any secondary Jane Austen characters (from any of her work) that you find fascinating and would like to know more about?
Contest ends at 11:59 PM EST December 23, 2016.
If you did not win but would like to have a necklace like this, you may contact Kerry Gauthier through her Etsy store (link above), and she will be happy to help you with your order. (And from personal experience I can tell you that customer service is great at CSLiterary Jewelry. 🙂 )