It is well known that the novels of Jane Austen (1775–1817), which enjoyed at best a modest success during her lifetime, have become ever more popular in the last fifty years or so. They support a small industry of remakes, spinoffs, and retellings. As Janice Hadlow
notes while discussing The Other Bennet Sister
(Henry Holt, 2020), one reason for that interest lies with Austen herself. A genius at characterization, Austen drops tiny pearls of insight into one secondary character or another throughout her novels, and these seeds, when properly nurtured, can develop in unexpected ways.
The Other Bennet Sister
focuses on the life of the middle sister in Pride and Prejudice
. Stuck between an older pair—beautiful, gentle Jane and pretty, sprightly Lizzie—and a younger duo whose good looks and sheer love of life compensate for a certain lack of decorum, Mary is bookish, awkward, and plain. In a family where the daughters’ only future requires them to marry well without the plump dowries that would make them attractive to men of their own gentry class, Mary’s traits doom her (at least in her mother’s eyes) to an unhappy and lonely spinsterhood. Even her scholarly father underestimates Mary, because she lacks the wit and self-confidence that so distinguishes Lizzie, his favorite.
Hadlow has given deep thought to what it would mean to grow up as Mary—what she wants, how she feels, which twists of fate and family turn her into the character we meet so briefly in Austen’s novel. But then The Other Bennet Sister
goes beyond Pride and Prejudice
to imagine how the Marys of the world might find happiness, even in the early nineteenth century. It is a captivating and heartening story, and you need not be an Austen fan to appreciate the journey.
C. P. Lesley is the author of ten novels, including Legends of the Five Directions, a historical fiction series set during the childhood of Ivan the Terrible. Her latest book, Song of the Shaman, appeared in 2020. Find out more about her at http://www.cplesley.com.