Jane Austen July 3

Another one of my TBRs for Jane Austen July was The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow. I read it last weekend; it was very engrossing. It tells the story of Mary Bennet, the annoying middle sister in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, who’s a moralizer and a bore. Hadlow’s novel gives a different view of her.

The novel is divided into five parts. The first one basically retells the events of Pride and Prejudice with a focus on Mary. We learn that she’s basically alone in the family, as Jane and Lizzie are close as are Kitty and Lydia. Mary is deemed ugly by her mother, unlikely to catch the eye of a promising suitor and as such disregarded or actively denigrated.

Only one of her daughters had failed her. Mary had made the mistake of inheriting neither the looks nor the charm shared by all other female members of the Bennet family. This was a sin for which, in Mrs Bennet’s eyes, there could be no forgiveness, as Mary herself had quickly discovered.

Janice Hadlow, The Other Bennet Sister, Pan Books, 2020, Kindle Loc 138.

Mrs. Bennet in this novel is even more unlikeable than in the original. Mr. Bennet is also not of much help. In her efforts to gain the love and notice of her parents and others Mary makes a lot of missteps but we see the reasons for her behavior in P&P.

By the time she was fourteen, Mary knew she came first with none of her sisters. She was no one’s special friend or confidante. Neither her mother nor her father looked on her with any particular affection. In the midst of so large a family, she was utterly alone.

Janice Hadlow, The Other Bennet Sister, Pan Books, 2020, Kindle Loc 231.


Part two starts after the death of Mr. Bennet, two years after the end of Pride and Prejudice. The Collins’ have moved into Longbourn, all the Bennet daughters except for Mary are married. At first, Mary lives with her mother at the Bingleys, but she is tormented by Caroline Bingley (who turns into Mary’s nemesis) and therefore goes to stay with the Darcys at Pemberley. In Lizzie’s small family, she feels like the odd one out and escapes to visit Charlotte Collins for an extended stay. This doesn’t turn out well, either, for she becomes too friendly with Mr. Collins, who is lonely in his marriage, as Charlotte completely disregards him. Mary is only taught Greek by Mr. Collins, but Charlotte is jealous and uses underhand tactics to get rid of her, which embarrasses and disappoints Mary, who had considered Charlotte a friend. So Mary has to find yet another place to stay and this time chooses to go to her aunt and uncle, the Gardiners, in London.

Part three describes her life in London, with the Gardiners, who are the best thing that’s ever happened to Mary. At last she’s found a home. The Gardiners encourage her to make something of herself, to become more outgoing, to dress well, to make friends, to gain the interest of two young men.

Part four is all about a romantic trip to the Lake District, following in the footsteps of Wordsworth. Things go wrong with her two love-interests.

Part five bring the resolution, but I don’t want to spoil it by giving details. We get another good look at horrid Mrs. Bennet before the end, but Mary is by now self-assured and doesn’t let herself be bullied anymore. She takes the responsibility for her future happiness into her own hands.

I enjoyed the novel very much and got quite fond of Mary. I’ll never look at her in the same way again. Hadlow wrote in a style that’s reminiscent of Austen’s, it’s very readable. Just a few things struck me that could have been done differently: there was a parallelism between an action by Caroline Bingley in Hadlow’s novel and Catherine de Bourgh in P&P which I found a bit much (you will know it when you come across it). I also felt that the character of Mrs. Bennet was too awful, much worse than in P&P. And, thirdly, I believe the story could have been told more concisely. The retelling of P&P took up a lot of space, and the Mary’s sojourns at Jane’s, Elisabeth’s and Charlotte’s could have been tightened up a bit (it was fairly clear that things wouldn’t go smoothly and one was just kind of waiting for the sticking point to appear that would cause Mary to depart yet again).

The novel can be real quite well without having read Pride and Prejudice, but I believe that there’s a deeper enjoyment if one has read Austen’s novel.

I’ve now read all the books I put on my TBR for Jane Austen July and watched one of two films (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – very amusing). I just need to watch another one film (Emma), then I will be completely done. Not sure when I will get to it, maybe only at the beginning of September, but that’s fine. Jane Austen July was great fun – I’m almost sure that I’ll take part again next year.

Keep safe, world.

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