My, my… there really can never be too many spin-offs of Jane Austen’s most famous novel, Pride and Prejudice, can there? But this one is so good that I can’t resist writing about it! It’s called The Other Bennet Sister, it’s written by historian Janice Hadlow, and it centers the plain, pushed-to-the-side Mary Bennet.
I never realized before how isolated Mary is in her own family at Longbourn House. We have the two eldest sisters, Jane and Lizzy, who are one another’s bosom companions; and we have the two inseparable youngest, Kitty and Lydia. And there is Mary, alone, right in the middle. In this retelling, Mary realizes from a very young age that she is treated as though something in her is severely lacking, and it becomes all too clear to her that what she is lacking is beauty. With a mother like Mrs. Bennet who is so focused on beauty and shallow accomplishments, this view of herself becomes a real liability to Mary as she grows up and lives through the events portrayed in Pride and Prejudice.
Later in the story, after her four sisters are married and her father has died, Mary must find her way. Staying with her sisters does not answer; neither does visiting the Collins family at Longbourn. Mary finally finds her place with her Uncle and Aunt Gardiner in London. Her aunt teaches her to find pleasure in life, and Mary blossoms in this new, more stimulating environment. It’s a real pleasure to see Mary come into her own in this story.
The tone of the book is more earnest, reflective, and somber, all of which qualities make sense for the story of the studious Mary. This doesn’t have the sparkle or humor of the original novel, but it doesn’t need to. The historical details ring true, and it’s a thoughtful, enjoyable read.