I had tried to change, and it was so like Jane to have noticed and acknowledged it. The change had come about gradually, after my exposure to both Jane’s and Elizabeth’s happy, contented lives. And after I’d begun to read and learn more of the world. I envied my sisters their happiness and knew I wanted it for myself. If not with a husband, then doing something on my own, independent of my family.
(from The Pursuit of Mary Bennet, page 36)
The Pursuit of Mary Bennet is a sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice that was impossible for me to put down. Pamela Mingle beautifully transforms the once foolish, boring, bookish Mary into a young woman who is every bit as lovely as her older sisters, Elizabeth Darcy and Jane Bingley. As the middle of the five Bennet girls, Mary always felt alone; Jane and Elizabeth had each other, and Kitty and Lydia were inseparable. While Kitty expects to receive a proposal from Mr. Bingley’s close friend, Henry Walsh, Mary is expected to travel to Newcastle to care for her sister Lydia Wickham’s baby when it arrives. She has no desire to do so, but she assumes that as the spinster sister, she will be expected to go wherever she is needed.
Those plans are foiled when Lydia arrives at Longbourn, very pregnant and sans husband. To protect her unmarried sisters from Lydia and Wickham’s latest scandal, Jane whisks Mary and Kitty back to the Bingley estate until the child is born. Jane recognizes the changes in Mary — and she isn’t the only Bennet sister to notice Henry Walsh’s growing interest in her. Kitty is furious that Mr. Walsh would rather talk to Mary, so she does everything in her power to grab his attention, and despite having long resigned herself to being unattractive and dull, Mary refuses to be ordered around by Kitty and stands her ground.
Mary sees the love matches made by Jane and Elizabeth and will not settle for anything less, but she has a lot to learn about love (and loss). In true Austen fashion, when Mary begins to understand herself and make peace with her mistakes, another scandal befalls the family — and Mary stands to lose everything that is dear to her. Told in the first person from Mary’s point of view, The Pursuit of Mary Bennet is a charming novel about a young woman who has spent so much time in the shadows of her sisters but finally recognizes her true self.
Mingle doesn’t try to imitate Austen but stays true to her characters, and I loved getting inside Mary’s mind, especially when she thinks about pouring a teapot over her mother’s head. Although I never tire of Elizabeth and Darcy, I was glad to see Jane have a bigger role in this novel. Mingle’s original characters are intriguing, from the attentive and gentlemanly Mr. Walsh to the suspicious Amanda Ashton, and her use of Lydia and Wickham to lay even more trouble at the Bennet family’s door forged an even stronger bond among the elder Bennet sisters.
The Pursuit of Mary Bennet was such a pleasure to read. The first person narrative made it a refreshing take on Pride and Prejudice, and Mingle does a wonderful job turning Mary into a likeable, well-developed character. I grew so fond of her Mary, I didn’t want the book to end. Even as Mary discovers love, romantic and familial, she has bigger plans for herself. She doesn’t want to be dependent on her parents, and she grows strong enough to make her own choices about her future. Austen’s Mary is mostly in the background, but Mingle brings her front and center, makes her conscious of her faults, and creates a young woman we can relate to and even admire. The fact that Mary’s love story subtly parallels that of Elizabeth and Darcy is just the icing on the cake.
Disclosure: I received The Pursuit of Mary Bennet from William Morrow for review.
© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.