Redeeming Mary Bennet
If you’ve been keeping up with my progress, you know that my third Austen-esque novel debuts next month! It’s entitled Return to Longbourn and continues the Pride and Prejudice saga five years after the close of The Darcys of Pemberley. It will be the sequel to my sequel, in other words.
Darcy, Elizabeth, and the full cast of characters are back, but this story centers on Mary, Kitty, and the new heir to the Longbourn estate – Mr. Tristan Collins, the amiable and surprisingly good-looking younger brother of William Collins, deceased.
I know Jane Austen doesn’t paint Mary Bennet in a very favorable light. Here’s a sampling of her unflattering remarks on the subject:
Mary, who having, in consequence of being the only plain one in the family, worked hard for knowledge and accomplishment…
Mary had neither genius nor taste; and though vanity had given her application, it had given her likewise a pedantic air and conceited manner…
They found Mary, as usual, deep in the study..and had some extracts to admire, and some new observations of threadbare morality to listen to.
Despite this, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Mary. I even suspected she might have the makings of a heroine hidden away deep inside.
As much as we might all like to imagine ourselves Lizzy Bennet clones (beautiful, light-hearted, witty, life-of-the-party types), I admit I probably had more in common with Mary at that age: socially awkward, serious-minded, bookish, not the prettiest or most popular girl in school. Yet, my life has turned out quite well, I think. Why not give Mary a chance, then?
So, I set out to redeem her. She makes excellent progress in The Darcys of Pemberley. Compare how I describe her in the Prologue…
Mary attempts to compensate for the misfortune of being plain by developing her mind and displaying her accomplishments, to no great advantage thus far.
And then in the final chapter…
Mary…had blossomed in the time since her siblings left Longbourn… Thus, well seasoned by time, practice, and renewed dedication, she made great strides toward the standard of the truly accomplished young woman she had always aspired to be.
But in Return to Longbourn, Mary emerges from the shadows and we start to learn what really makes her tick, why she is the way she is. Read these two excerpts:
The tide of grief had already threatened to overpower Mary more than once. Yet she dared not give in to it. Outward expression of emotion was both foreign and frightening to her, so long had she practiced the art of stoicism. That philosophy had served her well in the past, enabling her to endure the disappointment of every one of her sisters being favored, complimented, courted, and three married ahead of her. Now, however, its strictures allowed her neither vent for her own sorrows nor protection from the false presumption of others that she had none….
Once again, Mary felt herself the odd one out, accepted by all but the particular friend of none. It came as no surprise; it was always thus. Although she made no doubt her sisters loved her even as she loved each of them, their true commonality ran little further than their blood lines. None of the others shared her thirst for intellectual and musical accomplishment, and neither could she enter in to their pursuits, her younger sisters’ so trivial and the elders’ now so thoroughly domestic. As for the men, they were something of an enigma to her, like another species altogether – vastly intriguing but far too exotic to trust oneself to completely.
“I cannot agree with you about Mary, Mama. I think she is much improved in her looks this last year or two, and it sometimes happens that a woman is handsomer at twenty-nine than she was ten years before. Furthermore, her manner has been softened by the passage of time. She is now not so quick to judge or forever moralizing as she used to do.”
As I see it, Mary is a certified late bloomer. She still has a long way to go. But I think she deserves the benefit of the doubt… and a book of her own. Mary may surprise us. She may turn out a credible heroine in the end. What do you think?
By Shannon Winslow
To learn more about Shannon and her work, visit here.