Austen Adjacent

Exploring Jane Austen spinoffs one book at a time
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Pursuit of Mary Bennet brings neglected character into the light

When it comes to the Bennet sisters of Pride & Prejudice, middle child Mary is often the one left out, the oddball in the family, overshadowed by her sisters.

She prefers the company of her pianoforte to any person and doesn’t share in sisterly relationships at the same level as the Jane/Elizabeth and Kitty/Lydia pairings. Mary’s sanctimonious nature doesn’t recommend her to people, and she’s mostly awkward at balls and parties.

Because of all of the above, I was curious to read “The Pursuit of Mary Bennet,” an Austen spinoff novel with Mary as the first-person narrator. She’s one of the least developed characters in Pride & Prejudice, so there’s much room for exploration and growth in a book with her at the center of it.

I was hooked from the very first line.

“Sometimes anger is a living thing.”

Anger is a thread that runs throughout the story; Mary’s simmering anger at her mother’s underestimation of her character and prospects, anger at her sister Lydia’s selfishness, but mostly, Mary’s anger at herself for her perceived faults.

Mary thinks very little of herself and believes she’s undeserving of love, both familial and romantic.

This novel is Mary’s redemption. Following the marriages of Jane, Elizabeth and Lydia, Mary remains at Longbourn with Kitty. Her father is starting to hold her in higher esteem, sharing books from his library for discussion and asking her questions about potential suitors. Mr. Bennet believes Mary has more to look forward to in life than being an unmarried governess or acting as her sister’s nursemaids.

Trouble strikes when a very pregnant Lydia arrives unexpectedly at Longbourn leaving her husband Wickham behind, more scandals trailing in her wake. Kitty and Mary are sent to the Bingleys’ estate to distance themselves from the situation, and it’s there at High Tor that Mary begins to explore a new side of herself and imagine a different future for herself.

The author, Pamela Mingle, does a great job showing Mary’s hurt, yearnings and hopes through the first-person perspective. I was invested in the story and the characters—both the familiar and the new—and have to recommend this book to any Austen lover looking for a sequel.

4 out of 5 stars.