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The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet
Synopses & Reviews
Everyone knows the story of Elizabeth and Jane Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. But what about their sister Mary? At the conclusion of Jane Austen's classic novel, Mary, bookish, awkward, and by all accounts, unmarriageable, is sentenced to a dull, provincial existence in the backwaters of Britain. Now, master storyteller Colleen McCullough rescues Mary from her dreary fate with The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet, a page-turning sequel set twenty years after Austen's novel closes. The story begins as the neglected Bennet sister is released from the stultifying duty of caring for her insufferable mother. Though many would call a woman of Mary's age a spinster, she has blossomed into a beauty to rival that of her famed sisters. Her violet eyes and perfect figure bewitch the eligible men in the neighborhood, but though her family urges her to marry, romance and frippery hold no attraction. Instead, she is determined to set off on an adventure of her own. Fired with zeal by the newspaper letters of the mysterious Argus, she resolves to publish a book about the plight of England's poor. Plunging from one predicament into another, Mary finds herself stumbling closer to long-buried secrets, unanticipated dangers, and unlooked-for romance.
Meanwhile, the other dearly loved characters of Pride and Prejudice fret about the missing Mary while they contend with difficulties of their own. Darcy's political ambitions consume his ardor, and he bothers with Elizabeth only when the impropriety of her family seems to threaten his career. Lydia, wild and charming as ever, drinks and philanders her way into dire straits; Kitty, a young widow of means, occupies herself with gossip and shopping; and Jane, naïve and trusting as ever, spends her days ministering to her crop of boys and her adoring, if not entirely faithful, husband. Yet, with the shadowy and mysterious figure of Darcys right-hand man, Ned Skinner, lurking at every corner, it is clear that all is not what it seems at idyllic Pemberley. As the many threads of McCulloughs masterful plot come together, shocking truths are revealed, love, both old and new, is tested, and all learn the value of true independence in a novel for every woman who has wanted to leave her mark on the world.
"McCullough's (The Thorn Birds) sequel to Pride and Prejudice vaults the characters of the original into a ridiculously bizarre world, spinning dizzily among plot lines until it finally crashes to a close. The novel begins 20 years after Austen's classic ends, with Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy trapped in a passionless marriage, Jane a spineless baby machine, Lydia an alcoholic tramp, Kitty a cheerfully vapid widow and Mary a nave feminist and social crusader. Shrewish Mrs. Bennet's death frees Mary from her caretaker duties, and, inspired by the writings of a crusading journalist, Mary sets off to document the plight of England's poor. Along the way, she is abused, robbed and imprisoned by the prophet of a cave-dwelling cult. Darcy is the book's villain, and he busies himself with hushing up the Bennet clan's improprieties in service of his political career. His dirty work is carried out by Ned Skinner, whose odd devotion to Darcy drives his exploits, the nastiest of which involves murder. McCullough lacks Austen's gently reproving good humor, making the family's adventures into a mannered spaghetti western with a tacked-on, albeit Austenesque, happy ending." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Rest in peace, Jane Austen. Your avid 21st-century fans may be outraged by this new and improved Mary Bennet, but I prefer to take her as a tribute to your unmatched ability to intrigue the imagination. "Pride and Prejudice" was recently chosen as the world's best novel by 15,000 customers of Australia's leading bookseller. Perhaps this resounding vote of confidence suggested to Australian writer Colleen... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) McCullough the potential of a sequel. McCullough is best known as the author of the steamy 1977 saga "The Thorn Birds," which was made into a highly successful miniseries starring Richard Chamberlain as a conflicted Roman Catholic priest. She seems an unlikely player in the build-your-own Jane Austen stakes. But the lure of Austen's characters is clearly irresistible. "The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet" is the latest in a long line of "Pride and Prejudice" prequels, sequels and updatings. Austen's novel was often adapted and dramatized from its early days, but the first full-fledged "P&P" sequel is thought to be "Pemberley Shades" by D.A. Bonavia-Hunt, published in 1949 and recently brought back into print. Countless other Pemberley and Darcy novels have followed. It appears impossible to keep Austen at home in Bath or Winchester. In 1984 she even traveled to McCullough's home country in "Antipodes Jane: A Novel of Jane Austen in Australia" by Barbara Ker Wilson. Anyway, McCullough has now joined the legion of "Pride and Prejudice" chroniclers, but she strikes out on her own by choosing Miss Mary Bennet as her heroine. Austen mercilessly described Mary as "the only plain one in the family," with "neither genius nor taste." Poor Mary was thus of little value in the marriage market, and McCullough has reduced her chances further by giving her "shocking suppurating spots" all over her face and "a front tooth that grew sideways." Two decades since the events described in "P&P," she has by now spent many years as "the sacrificial goat" caring for her widowed mother at Shelby Manor, a dwelling provided by Mr. Darcy to keep his crotchety mother-in-law as far away as possible from his seat at the opulent Pemberley. Isolated from both family and friends, Mary has spent her time reading through an extensive library that came with the house. Mrs. Bennet conveniently dies on Page 2 of the novel, not in the slightest mourned by her middle daughter, now 38. During Mary's seclusion with her ailing mother, her newly affluent sister Elizabeth has sent her to a skilled apothecary and to her own dentist with startling results: No longer spotty with crooked teeth, Mary is now free of her burdensome mother, independent, almost as beautiful as Lizzie and, to the horror of Mr. Darcy, determined to take charge of her own money. All five Bennet girls attend the funeral: Jane, still beautiful but worn down by 12 pregnancies resulting in eight surviving children; Elizabeth, mother of first "one womanish boy" and then, to Darcy's dismay, "four wretched girls"; Mary, the self-educated aunt; Kitty, married to a rich elderly lord; and Lydia, George Wickham's widow with a bad reputation and a drinking problem. Refusing offers of a home at Pemberley or at Jane's residence, Mary makes a decision: "I will journey to see England's ills, write my book, and pay to have it published." She wants to entitle her book "The Ills of England" and plans to go in person to "orphanages, factories, poorhouse, mines — a thousand-and-one places where our own English people live in impoverishment." She sets out taking the public stagecoach and learns more than she bargained for about the habits of the lower classes. Her adventures, including imprisonment in a cave, make up the plot of the novel. In the background, Lizzie struggles with Darcy's political ambition "to be prime minister and lead my country to a position of unparalleled power and respect." Pride has long since triumphed over passion in this marriage, and Darcy is no longer a handsome hero. He is cold and unsympathetic to his wife and cruel to his bookish and delicate son. His steward and right-hand man is a shadowy villain who will stop at nothing, including murder, to further his employer's ambition. As the plot thickens, one Bennet sister comes to a bad end, but the other four manage to prosper. It would be pointless — and silly — to spend time opining on whether this highly colored romp has any likeness to Austen's quiet, elegant and often biting prose. These are 21st-century characters in 18th-century costumes. But it's fun to see Mary brought to life as an idealistic and unrealistic social reformer. She has become a beauty at 38, even if she still dresses appallingly. It is harder to witness Elizabeth, whose quirky spirit and ironic viewpoint power every page of the original novel, struggling to reconnect to a Darcy turned ruthless and judgmental. But McCullough, a romantic at heart, finally reconciles her borrowed characters and brings peace to Pemberley. McCullough is no Jane Austen, but then no one could be. This is, in the end, an offering at the feet of the incomparable Miss Austen. Reviewed by Brigitte Weeks, who is a former editor of The Washington Post Book World, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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The bestselling author of "The Thorn Birds" breathes new life into the characters of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice." Jane and Elizabeth's younger, bookish sister, Mary is still too willful to be confined within traditional marriage, so she embarks on an adventure of her own.
About the Author
Collen McCullough lives on Norfolk Island in the South Pacific with her husband of twenty-two years, Ric Robinson.
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