A New Look at the Oft Misunderstood Mary Bennet

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Mary B:

A Novel
An untold story of Pride and Prejudice
Written by: Katherine J. Chen
Read by: Marisa Calin
11 Hours and 43 Minutes
PRHA: Imprint: Random House Audis
Genre: Fiction Literary
Release Date: July 24, 2018

I voluntarily reviewed an advance readers copy of this book. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted.

The overlooked middle sister in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice casts off her prim exterior and takes center stage in this fresh retelling of the classic novel.

What is to be done with Mary Bennet? She possesses neither the beauty of her eldest sister, Jane, nor the high-spirited wit of second-born Lizzy. Even compared to her frivolous younger siblings, Kitty and Lydia, Mary knows she is lacking in the ways that matter for single, not-so-well-to-do women in nineteenth-century England who must secure their futures through the finding of a husband. As her sisters wed, one by one, Mary pictures herself growing old, a spinster with no estate to run or children to mind, dependent on the charity of others. At least she has the silent rebellion and secret pleasures of reading and writing to keep her company.

But even her fictional creations are no match for the scandal, tragedy, and romance that eventually visit Mary’s own life. In Mary B, readers are transported beyond the center of the ballroom to discover that wallflowers are sometimes the most intriguing guests at the party. Beneath Mary’s plain appearance and bookish demeanor simmers an inner life brimming with passion, humor, and imagination—and a voice that demands to be heard.

Set before, during, and after the events of Pride and Prejudice, Katherine J. Chen’s vividly original debut novel pays homage to a beloved classic while envisioning a life that is difficult to achieve in any era: that of a truly independent woman. http://www.penguinrandomhouseaudio.com/book/556689/mary-b-a-novel/

 

My Take Oblong Shaped

 I get the opportunity to read a lot of mash-ups, prequels, sequels, and alternate views of Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.  Some are good, some cute, some are positively dreadful, and a few, like this novel, truly shine.  This one shines by challenging our ideas of who these characters are: we believe Jane is all goodness and light – the ideal of English womanhood.  Elizabeth is fair, well-read, well-versed in the societal niceties and thoughtful.  Mary is pious, stupid, sanctimonious and, fault-of-all-faults, Plain. 

By her own admittance, Mary is plain, no one feature out of sorts or hideous, but the whole not creating a picture of beauty.  Mary seven cousin Collins would prefer the biddable, plain girl to Mary.

After Darcy’s and Lizzy’s marriage, Mary goes to stay with the couple for some time, as visits to relations then were often very long.  Our ideas of who these characters are have been challenged, but no more so than at this point.  Mary B. becomes someone we would never imagine her to be; it was hard to actually believe this part of the story as it clashes so strongly against who we have perceived the characters to be.  Is it possible that the plain, pious and sanctimonious Mary Bennet will be the true maverick of her family?
This woman who has no hope of the future she might, as a woman of the time, or any other, wish for: a husband, home of her own, or children, must make a life outside convention and not in conformity with the society who rejects her for being plain.

Mary learns from her early social faux pas.  She develops an uncanny understanding of individuals and situations.   I often felt that Mary was partly an  avatar for Jane Austen herself.

It’s a brilliant look at love, family, societal treatment of women who aren’t beautiful, breaking the mold, and adult love. The prose is often lusciously perfect. The narrator is excellent: portraying the protectively reflexive shell of piousness and then flowering in creative self-discovery.

Like Austen. Chen, has achieved a mastery of character development. But, instead of portraying the favorites: the saintly Jane or Lizzie,  the promiscuous, ill-fated Lydia, or the vapid Kitty, she gives us a fuller view of a woman of substance, not just of appearance or manner.

I found the story fascinating, and perhaps a little subversive and I highly recommend it in audio or print formats.

Links Blue Horizontalterlopment

PUBLISHER: http://www.penguinrandomhouseaudio.com/book/556689/mary-b-a-novel/

AUTHOR (on Goodreads):https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17281201.Katherine_J_Chen

AUDIBLE: https://www.amazon.com/Mary-Novel-Untold-Story-Prejudice-ebook/dp/B076Z12VYV

AMAZON: https://www.amazon.com/Mary-Novel-Untold-Story-Prejudice-ebook/dp/B076Z12VYV/