Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Gift from Friend 🙂
I’ve long ago determined that one of my favorite types of Austenesque novels were ones that focused on minor characters. Jane Austen created characters that are interesting, accessible, likable, and full of personality. It is no wonder that readers find these characters so memorable and captivating. Even Jane Austen’s own family would press her with questions about the Bennets, Knighleys, and other characters. And she would in turn divulge the fate of these characters and the unknown particulars of their lives.
What did Jane Austen say about Mary Bennet? Merely that she “obtained no higher than one of her uncle Philip’s clerks, and was content to be considered a star in the society of Meriton [sic].” Skilled Austenesque author, Jennifer Becton, has decided to flesh-out a story about Mary Bennet from this little quote shared by Jane Austen’s nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh in his Memoir of Jane Austen. And after reading her fabulous works that highlighted Charlotte Collins and Caroline Bingley, I was most eager to see what she would do with poor, forgotten Mary.
In this sequel novella, we visit upon the Bennets as Mrs. Bennet decides to focus all her attention and energy on marrying off her plain, moralizing daughter. After settling upon Mr. Philip’s new clerk as Mary’s ideal future husband, the Bennets receive word of an extremely generous dowry from Mr. Darcy for Mary which causes Mrs. Bennet to abandon her original plan of Mr. Hardcastle and aim for higher, wealthier prospects. Forbidden to “moralize” and share pre-constructed quotes from her readings, poor Mary is finding the world of courtships, conversations, and engagements quite overwhelming and confusing, especially now that she is heiress! And with no sisters at home to guide her, Mary is left to follow Mrs. Bennet’s reasoning and council instead of trusting her own instincts and heart. And as a dutiful daughter who was taught to always obey one’s parents, that is just what she does…
One of my favorite aspects of this tale was seeing how Mary evolved from the pedantic and showy sister in Pride and Prejudice to a heroine that captures our admiration and sympathies. I think this version of Mary Bennet is very endearing, she notices her short-comings, and she no longer has such an elevated opinion of herself and her talents. I also enjoyed witnessing the development of Mary’s relationships with both her parents – especially Mr. Bennet who several times invited Mary into his inner sanctum and treated her questions and disappointments with care and kindness. And lastly I greatly approve of the hero of this tale; I found him to be likable, intriguing, and a perfect match for Mary. Wish we saw more of him!
If I were name a fault with this book, it would have to be that it is a novella and I would have dearly loved for it to be a novel. (This opinion is completely biased and coming to you from a person who prefers novels over novellas. ;)) After seeing and loving the development and treatment Ms. Becton gave Caroline Bingley and Charlotte Collins in their full-length novels, I sort of wish she did the same for Mary. While the story is engaging, well-constructed, and satisfying, events and feelings do progress at a rapid pace and I would have loved to spend more time with the Bennets, Randalls, and Hardcastles. Despite my preference for a longer work, I thoroughly enjoyed this charming story of how Mary Bennet married one of Mr. Phillip’s clerks. What a happy ending for this plain, sermonizing, and neglected Bennet sister!