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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet...Review

About the book:
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 Darcy's 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 McCullough's 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.

Terrifically disappointing. With few exceptions, I haven't enjoyed many Pride and Prejudice sequels, but this one looked promising. While Colleen McCullough, thankfully, doesn't try to be Jane Austen, I think she seriously misses the boat when it comes to these characters. Anyone who has read Pride and Prejudice has their own ideas as to who Mr. Darcy is and how he acts, just as they have pictures in their minds of Elizabeth and her sisters. Even understanding that, I cannot envision these characters where McCullough has placed them, 20 years after Darcy and Elizabeth's marriage. It just didn't work for me.

The title is a bit misleading, because it's as much about Darcy and Elizabeth as it is about Mary. I found it to be more of an annoying, social commentary on the mistreatment of the poor than I did to be a truly interesting Pride and Prejudice sequel.

Much of it is far-fetched. I find it hard to see Mr. Darcy involved with people who would murder for him, regardless of whether he asked them to or not. I also don't see him separating the Bennet sisters because of their potential threat to his reputation. In Pride and Prejudice, he helps sort out Lydia and Wickham's situation because of his love for Elizabeth, not because of the damage they could do to his reputation.

Mary's "adventure" was also implausible to me. Her thoughts of being an independent, maiden author were promising, but the rest of it was unbelievable and annoying.

I liked Charlie, but the addition of other characters was odd. My only favorite part was when Elizabeth finally insulted Caroline Bingley to her face. Most likely unrealistic for the time, but we all wanted her to do it in the first book too!

While minimal, the book included extremely vulgar profanity, which was a real disappointment.

Overall, this book is not something I can recommend to people who are fans of Pride and Prejudice. Obviously, Ms. McCullough is not and as she has so eloquently stated she wanted to "tweak the noses of the literati". Well, I think most die hard Austen fans would say she accomplished that goal.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.  You, however, can purchase your own copy here, if you are so inclined.

Read 1/09

1/5 Stars


  1. That's too bad. It's a shame that authors can miss the boat in such a huge way. Well, I can scratch this one off my list.
    Thanks for the review.

  2. Thanks for the honesty. I really like this writer too.

  3. I've tried a couple sequels and they didn't do anything for me either.

  4. I'm really surprised because I have liked some of her other books. It's too bad it wasn't better.