Pamela Mingle, "The Pursuit of Mary Bennet" (William Morrow, 2013)


It seems fair to say that a large proportion of the English-speaking reading public has encountered Jane Austen's classic novel Pride and Prejudice, either on the page or in one of the many adaptations for stage, screen, and television. At the same time, the number of avid Austen readers who remember much about Mary, the third of the five Bennet sisters, is almost certainly small. Mary rates so little time on the page that scholars have questioned the need for her existence: could Austen not have made her point with three daughters, or at most four? Mary is the sister in the middle--solemn and unattractive, liable to put her foot in her mouth at any moment, more enthusiastic than skilled at the piano. She is, in modern terms, the perfect subject for a makeover--which she receives to great effect in The Pursuit of Mary Bennet (William Morrow, 2013). Three years after the events in Pride and Prejudice, Mary is dwindling into spinsterhood, in her own mind and that of her mother--a grim future for a gentlewoman in Regency England, one that would doom her to a life dependent on the kindness of others. Mary's mother is already planning to send her off on the first of what promises to be a series of assignments as a high-class nursemaid, not quite a servant but not her own mistress either. When Mary's scandalous youngest sister arrives unannounced on her parents' doorstep, Mary's life takes an unexpected turn. Love, even marriage, becomes possible. But Mary has learned the hard way not to trust her instincts, and it will take a great deal to convince her that happiness lies within her reach. As Pamela Mingle notes, it is not easy to step into Austen's shoes. All the more credit to her, therefore, for doing such a wonderful job.

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C. P. Lesley

C. P. Lesley is the author of two historical fiction series set during the childhood of Ivan the Terrible and four other novels. Her latest book, The Merchant's Tale, co-written with P.K. Adams, appeared in November 2023.

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