Katherine J. Chen has written a debut novel that may be of great interest to those Jane Austen fans who have always had a soft spot for the quiet and bookish Mary Bennet.
In Mary B, Mary Bennet finally gets what some reviewers have said is a level of revenge, and certainly a greater degree of understanding “in a story that inhabits and critiques Austen’s novel”. The beginning section of the book follows to a lesser or greater extent the plot of Pride and Prejudice (in Mary B Mr Collins is seen more as an outcast like Mary than as an object of ridicule and pomp), and then we see the story continue past that which we know.
As Mary B continues, Elizabeth finds that Pemberley is not so much of an escape as a “gilded cage”, while Lydia finds that society has little sympathy for a woman without money or education. As you can probably tell from those insights, the characters we know so well are changed somewhat in their behaviour and mannerisms in many places, and for this reason it will be a book that is likely to polarise Austen fans.
As for Mary herself, she uses her brains to pen a novel of her own about “the uncouth and vicious men who, despite their titles, have little learning and little breeding and absolutely no manners at all”. Mary cannot show all that she feels, she is still living in a man’s world after all, but Mary B does show the feisty, inner side of Mary that we don’t see a lot of in Pride and Prejudice. Mary B, say reviewers, does a good job of paying homage to Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, whilst also critiquing any blind spots in Jane’s perspective, and adding depth to the middle Bennet sister.
Mary B was published by Random House on 24th July and is 336 pages long.