Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Review: The Pursuit of Mary Bennet by Pamela Mingle

Although Pride and Prejudice didn't start inspiring sequels, spin-offs, and reimaginings until the early twentieth century, once that started, it hasn't stopped. And I'm apparently on a quest to read them all. I do have a fondness for anything connected to Austen and Pride and Prejudice in particular. In Pamela Mingle's latest novel, The Pursuit of Mary Bennet, she chooses to focus on one of the lesser characters, a character who is a bit of a farce, but one who ostensibly gets her own happy ending eventually in keeping with Austen's original end detailing all of the characters' fates. Here Mingle has imagined Mary Bennet's story and fully fleshed her out in the process.

Mary Bennet has grown up since the end of Pride and Prejudice. She has realized what an abrasive and pompous person she came off as and has worked very hard to temper her black and white personality. She knows, to her chagrin, that she is no one's favorite sister or daughter. She's always been the one stranded in the middle and overlooked. Even having changed, her parents assume that she will forever be a spinster, looking after them or her sisters' children when they need help. She might as well be invisible, especially now that it appears that Kitty is on the verge of getting engaged to Henry Walsh, a gentleman and neighbor of Jane and Charles Bingley's. Both Kitty and Mary met him when visiting Jane and her family and Mary thought she had noticed him noticing her but now that she's back home receiving Kitty's letters from High Tor, she thinks she must be mistaken and that Henry's interest was always Kitty.

Mary is very considered and introspective about her future as compared to her sisters', determined to have the same chance to marry as the others despite family expectations, when the family scandal turns up on the doorstep again, dragging an even bigger scandal in her wake this time. Lydia, enormously pregnant, has left Wickham. When it comes out that Wickham doubts he is the baby's father, and Lydia casually asserts that this is likely the case, Mary is hurriedly packed off to High Tor to the Bingleys again. And it is here that she will renew her acquaintance with Henry Walsh, falling in love with him despite knowing that Kitty has, rather aggressively, set her cap for him. And it seems that he feels an affection for Mary rather than Kitty, sharing a sensitive and potentially scandalous secret with her. But Mary is crushed by Henry's revelation and when she is called back to Longbourne to help care for Lydia's tiny infant, Felicity, she leaves almost without a backward glance. As Mary takes on more and more of the baby's care, she develops a deep, maternal love for the infant, lavishing her love on the child even while Lydia ignores and shuns the baby as much as possible. But the baby is not hers, belonging instead to the perpetually flighty Lydia and Mary must leave her beloved niece when she finally travels back to High Tor again in hopes that all is not lost with Henry.

Mary has matured into a devoted character here, one who bestows her love cautiously but forever. She has blossomed into the sort of woman that she always had the potential to be, no longer lacking the care and attention that enable her to temper her opinions and consider others' well being and happiness. Mingle has written her very differently than she appeared in Austen's original but she has left enough flashes of her personality to make the change believable. There are nice parallels here with incidents in Pride and Prejudice, such as Lydia's second unexpected flight and the ensuing search for instance. Although they do all make appearances, the main characters from the original are less in evidence here in Mary's story so that they do not overwhelm the tale that Mingle has chosen to tell. The language is definitely not Austen's but neither is the point of view of the narration, clearly a deliberate choice. And the overall feeling between Mary and Henry is more of a contentment than a blissful joy to be shouted from the housetops, suiting Mary's still quiet and more restrained character far better than ardent declarations. This is not imitation Austen but a nicely written homage to one of her lesser characters and Austen fans will enjoy getting to know and like a more palatable Mary.

For more information about Pamela Mingle and the book, check out her website, her Facebook page, or follow her on Twitter. Follow the rest of the blog tour or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.


  1. Thanks for the lovely review, Kristen. I'm happy you enjoyed my re-imagining of Mary, and so glad you saw some parallels to Pride and Prejudice.

  2. I like the fact that Mary gets her own well-written and believable story. I'm not usually a fan of spin-offs but I think I'd really like this one!

    Thanks for being on the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today!


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