Mary Bennet is a familiar, if somewhat neglected character, in Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice. Mary, the middle child of the five Bennet sisters, lacks the vivacity and beauty of Elizabeth and Jane and lacks the boy crazy flirtatiousness of Kitty and Lydia. Not surprisingly Mary fades into the background as readers are drawn to the fates of her sister.
Kate Allan gives us the story of Mary, the much maligned middle sister, who for most of her life has been an embarrassment to her family by her complete lack of social grace so important at the time. As a result Mary is often the source of ridicule by some of her siblings and, not surprisingly, her mother. At last, in Mary Bennet, Allan gives Mary center stage and a chance to develop in her own unique way. Allan does not rewrite Austen and I believe that the many fans of Pride and Prejudice will find that Allan remains true to the spirit and characters that Austen created. In this way, Ms. Allan provides an extension to Pride and Prejudice focusing on Mary, the sister that Austen introduced but did not fully explore. The characters that Austen crafted remain identifiable and true to their portrayal by Austen within Allan’s novel.
Allan innovatively gives Mary an academic leaning and it is through research that she meets, collaborates and then come to love Nick Sharnbrook in her own time. Kate Allen lets Mary remain who she is and allows her to find acceptance and love from someone who appreciates her for herself. In the end she needn’t conform or master social grace to accomplish the near impossible, a love match.
Mary Bennet is a wonderful accompaniment to Pride and Prejudice and will appreciate Kate Allan’s exploration of the life of Mary. Mary Bennet is a true must read for anyone who enjoys the novels of Austen as well as those who enjoy the exploration of the life of women constrained by society and family expectations. Who doesn’t love the woman who defies the norm and finds contentment and fulfillment in a life of her own making?