I picked up Pamela Mingle’s The Pursuit of Mary Bennet after reading The Bennet Sisters’ lovely review. I thought poor Mary got a raw deal in The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet (plus this was the least Darcy-ish Darcy I could imagine), and I was hoping for better luck for poor Mary in this one.
Mary is a bookish girl, who went through kind of a blunt and antisocial phase in her teens, as a direct result of the Bennet sisters’ lack of formal education. All of the things Mary does in P & P, like reading and making extracts of wise or academic books, and trying to make sensible comments in society, seem like logical actions of a teenage with academic interests, but no educational guidance. And competing with gorgeous Jane, witty Lizzie, and flirty Lydia, is it any wonder Mary hates social events, and announces that hatred?
So when we meet Mary again in The Pursuit of Mary Bennet, her brothers-in-law have financed piano lessons and other instructions for her, Mr. Bennet is paying her more attention in the absence of her married older sisters, and she’s also a few years older, at an age where a few years makes a big difference. She is trying to rein in her bluntness, in general, although she does find a kind of boredom in some social conventions, she strives for follow them politely.
Have I mentioned that I read very fast? Yeah, so I read freakishly fast in general, but I found myself trying to slow down in the beginning of this book, because the rounds of the Bennet sisters visiting each other and dealing with their mother was so good. It was exactly what you’d imagine after finishing Pride and Prejudice and wondering how married life turns out for the Bennet girls.
I did find Lydia’s newest scandal a bit too wild for the time period. While I’m sure she brought more embarrassment to the Bennet reputation after her marriage, I was thinking more scandalously low-cut dresses and failure to repay the expensive hospitality of her relations, not coming home pregnant with no real concerns about figuring out who the baby’s father is. I expected pregnant Lydia to be packed off to distant relations to await the birth of her child (and disowned if the child was obviously not her husband’s) but she stays at her childhood home, unabashed by her circumstances and complaining in a very Lydia-like way about the boredom of Longbourn.
Mary’s romance is almost incidental to the story of an awkward girl becoming a self-possessed young woman. She is pursued by a wealthy and connected man, with impeccable manners, and there’s a delight when he seeks her out over Kitty’s more obvious appeals. There are also lovely P&P callbacks in their romances when his mother mentions hearing about Mary’s musical skills or when Lydia’s newest scandal threatens Mary’s relationship. The win, for me, was less about Mary falling in love, and more about Mary defeating her mother’s expectations and disadvantages, and coming into her own.