‘The Other Bennet Sister’ by Janice Hadlow

Though I hesitate to buy books at supermarkets, I picked this up quickly: where else, at the moment, can we buy new books? Needing something to read, ‘The Other Bennet Sister’ looked a safe bet. I love Jane Austen, for her wisdom and her wit, and have read all her books, seen the films… And ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is my favourite.

TOBS is a good book, an interesting story that does very well to graft itself into the original story while keeping some of the original flavour and not being unduly repetitive.

It quickly became apparent to me that, in order for TOBS not to lean too heavily on the work that inspired it, the first part of this retelling is concerned with a reprise of P & P from Mary’s point of view, only then moving forward to what happened after we leave Elizabeth and Jane contemplating their own versions of married bliss. In this, the author does a good job to weave a path for Mary through an earlier narrative which leaves her almost no room, and indeed, casts her as a colourless and unpromising pain in the bahookie.

Managing Mary’s emergence from the low expectations of her family – and indeed, of Jane Austen – while honouring the original story is a significant achievement in itself and must have presented the author with a fair nightmare of checking and double-checking for internal accuracy and consistency. Indeed, so painstaking and careful has this process obviously been, that I can almost hear the author sighing with relief when Mary finally sets out on her own path and a fresh aspect to the story can be crafted without constant reference to what went previously.

Through suitably juvenile reflections and dawning awareness, Mary must concede the unenviable choices facing her: she must marry. And if that proves elusive, she must either live as an object of charity with Jane and their mother who is horrible to her, or become a somewhat unwelcome addition to Lizzy’s blissfully happy household. If all that fails, she can go into servitude as a governess. In realising that her choices are so limited, Mary does finally find a home with the Gardiners, her mother’s brother being a far kinder person to her than Mary’s mother could ever be. From the warmer embrace of her uncle’s home, Mary sits and waits for a miracle.  

(to be continued)

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