Review Blog

Feb 18 2020

The other Bennet sister by Janice Hadlow

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Pan Macmillan, 2020. ISBN: 9781509842032. 320pp.
(Age: 15+) Highly recommended. Mary is the other Bennet sister, the one we hear least about in Jane Austen's Pride and prejudice. Jane and Lizzie, the two eldest are beautiful and intelligent, the two younger ones, Kitty and Lydia, are vain and flighty, and Mary is the one in the middle, the plain and serious one with her head in books. Mary is the object of her mother's disdain, seen as the most unattractive and least marriageable of her daughters, and even her father spares little thought for her, Lizzie being his favourite.
Author Hadlow takes the character of Mary and retells Austen's story from Mary's perspective. Part One is Pride and prejudice retold, we remember key scenes and events but told by a different narrator. This section of the novel would make an excellent focus for the English curriculum study of appropriation and adaptation as a literary device.
But then Hadlow goes further. She imagines what happens to Mary after the ending of Pride and prejudice when the four other sisters are all happily settled and secure in their marriages. Mary is in an extremely untenable position with no home of her own, no income, no marriage prospects, and parents that are embarrassed by her. She moves from place to place staying in turn with sisters, friends and relatives. She continues to read, the subjects more and more intellectually demanding, and she observes the marriages of others, gradually coming to an appreciation of the qualities that make a good relationship. As she matures, she is fortunate to have the encouragement of some who have an appreciation of her good qualities and intellect, and there are even male companions who seem to take an interest in her.
In Hadlow's story, Mary is the kind of heroine we find in Jane Eyre, self-effacing and lonely, a plain but good natured, intelligent woman who longs for the love and companionship of someone who recognises her good qualities. She has to overcome the humiliating experiences of her youth and eventually blossom into a confident person who can take her place in society. Like Austen, Hadlow has told a fascinating story that explores identity, love, marriage, class and the role of women in the 19th century.
Helen Eddy

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