The other Bennet sister by Janice Hadlow

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The familiar story of Pride and Prejudice rolls off the pages as we are transported into Regency England where the Bennet family goes about its daily routines, the mother desperately wanting husbands for her five daughters. The first half of the book is a version of Pride and Prejudice, told form a differing perspective, the overlooked third daughter, Mary. It is delightful, recalling one of the greatest of England’s stories, allowing the reader to feel comforted in the knowledge that they are reading something known and loved but with a slight twist. Here are all the wonderful characters, the settings and events which make up their lives. The proposal by cousin Collins is hilarious, introducing Mary to the game of finding a husband and all of its intricacies.

I loved the beginning, recalling known events and characters and drawing out the unloved and overlooked third girl, one passed off by the notorious Mrs Bennet as not having the same marriageable characteristics as her other four daughters. Her hair doesn’t curl enough for her, she is always reading, she is not as pretty as Jane or witty as Lizzie, and so on, and we feel guilty that while reading Pride and Prejudice we have sanctioned her dismissal. And Hadlow strategically presents the other loved characters in a vaguely critical light as they too ignore, demean and disregard their sister.

But in this story she takes on new roles. Once her father dies, she must move with her mother at Lizzie’s home, but finds this stifling. Recalling her aunt Gardiner in London, she writes and is welcomed into that household.

Here, Aunt Gardiner takes her in hand, loving her for who she is, but drawing her out, taking notice of her, dressing her with care, introducing her to their small society of friends. And Mary blossoms under the attention, learning to be comfortable in society, chatting at ease with those around her. She attracts the attentions of two young men, and these two vie for her companionship.

All the while, the same preoccupations as the original shine through: the pride of some and the prejudices of others in this small group of people, until Mary sees through all the cosmetics and makes a decision we can all admire.

This is a wonderful read, and very long. I wanted the end to come far more quickly so engrossed was I in Mary’s taking her life in her own hands.

Themes: Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Regency England, London, Lakes district, Wordsworth, Families.

Fran Knight