Mary Bennet


How funny that so many writers have seized on the figure of Mary Bennet to create their own interpretation of Pride and Prejudice! Is it possible that plain, bookish Mary holds a special appeal for writers? I must admit that I always identified most with poor, overlooked, pompous, priggish Mary of all the Bennet sisters.

Jennifer Paynter's Mary Bennet (since reissued as The Forgotten Sister) is at least the third Mary-focused novel I'm aware of. I read Janice Hadlow's The Other Bennet Sister last year -- or was it the year before? Oh dear... And I've also seen a Colleen McCullough book, The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet, floating around second hand. I'm slightly tempted to read the McCullough, just for completeness, but the blurb, something about Mary having blossomed into a violet-eyed beauty to rival her sisters, really put me off.

At first I didn't think I was going to enjoy Jennifer Paynter's take on Mary's story either. There was something slightly sour about Mary's narration, and Lizzy emerged as quite the villain early on -- perhaps not a wise decision, given that most readers would have picked up the book in the first place because they were Lizzy/P & P fans! However once I pushed past the early chapters, I found myself thoroughly engaged. In this re-imagining, Mary finds herself attracted to a lower-class man who happens to be a brilliant musician, and this opens the opportunity for Mary to experience her own version of overcoming pride and prejudice. The Long family, barely mentioned in the original, play a pivotal role in this version. Paynter is an Australian author, and there was particular delight in having Mary end up emigrating to New South Wales and making a new life for herself, (almost) free from the class constraints of the society she's left behind.

Mary Bennet is a clever, accomplished slant on a beloved classic -- not unlike the character of Mary herself!


  1. There are a few around, yes. In Death Comes To Pemberley, we are told that Mary married after all, a vicar. I even read a story in which Mary becomes the Master’s Companion on his TARDIS! 😂

  2. Mary and the Master! I would love to see that! I can't imagine the Master being too patient with Mary's aphorisms though :)

    1. It’s in one of the New Ceres books, by Sue Isle (now Alex Isle, but the story was under Sue)

  3. And then there are the versions of characters on film/TV adaptations. I've just watched three different Persuasions; such different interpretations each time. It's a long time since I read Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea, in which she tells Mrs Rochester's story...I think it was the first time I came across the idea of giving secondary characters a chance to tell their own stories. There are lots of these books now, it's a fascinating thought exercise.

  4. I keep meaning to read Wide Sargasso Sea but somehow I've never got around to it. The whole exercise is not far removed from fanfic, is it? What did you think of the newest Persuasion? I know a lot of people absolutely hated it, but there were aspects I quite liked.

  5. I haven't seen it yet. An Austen-loving friend says it's a fun addition to the other more staid versions.