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Mary B: An Untold Story of Pride and Prejudice

Review

Mary B: An Untold Story of Pride and Prejudice

Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Undoubtedly one of the most treasured love stories Jane Austen ever penned. Strong characters filled with dislike and prejudice unite by the end of the book with devoted love and admiration (with a good dose of character growth mixed in).

When reading PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, we are all thrilled by the eventual engagement of Elizabeth and Darcy. We delight in Jane and Bingley’s marriage, and shake our heads (not surprised, of course) over Lydia’s elopement with Wickham. We hope for the best for Kitty, who at the end of the story is finally out from under her foolish sister’s influence. But what about Mary Bennet, the other sister? One, likewise, can hope for the best for the erstwhile pianist and moralist. But we just don’t really know what could happen for her, apart from remaining the unmarried daughter left at the Longbourn estate with her mother and father.

"[I]f you would like to reimagine Mary with 21st-century senses and sensibilities, you likely will enjoy Chen’s novel. She is especially gifted with words and phrases, and in the first half captures perfectly Austen’s world and the various characters at Longbourn."

Katherine J. Chen apparently wondered the same thing. In her first novel, she imagines a life for Mary that’s quite unlike any that readers of Austen’s masterwork ever could have dreamt up.

MARY B is divided into three parts (along with a prologue and an epilogue) that draw us through Mary’s disappointments and losses, and take us along a path where Mary steps out into a life that includes both love and accomplishment (but not the kinds that the Bingley sisters would have imagined or approved of).

First, Chen takes us through a familiar portion of the PRIDE AND PREJUDICE story --- Mr. Collins’ visit to Longbourn and his attempts at courtship with the elder two Bennet daughters. This time, however, we see the events through the eyes of Mary, who actually would have been the most suited of all the Bennet girls to be a clergyman’s wife. Mary and Mr. Collins establish a cordial friendship, and she believes that perhaps he just might select her as his lifelong companion and wife.

Alas, we all know the ending to that story. Mr. Collins seeks out Elizabeth, who firmly (yet politely) rebuffs him. He marries Charlotte Lucas instead. And Mary is left to the consolation of her books, whether they are romantic page-turners, histories or philosophies. And when Elizabeth marries Darcy, she promises that Mary will come to visit them at Pemberley. None of the three has the least idea how dramatically their lives will change upon her arrival. All the time Mary has spent reading has given her the germ of a story, and at Pemberley, her journal-keeping morphs into the writing of an actual novel.

As Mary starts to grow and develop into the woman she might never have become had she stayed at Longbourn, she begins to attract the attention of not one but two gentlemen. Aspiring author, passionate lover, beguiled and beguiling: the new Mary of Pemberley. Yet tragedy is ahead for all at the beautiful estate.

UrbanDictionary.com describes the word “canon” as “[a] term used especially within gaming communities to differentiate between the official storyline and everything which is not, like fanfiction, fanvids, etc.” Devotees of the PRIDE AND PREJUDICE canon, and its deliriously happy endings for Elizabeth and Darcy, won’t find that familiar and beloved world in MARY B. And the Mary that this particular Bennet becomes in the second half of the book bears no resemblance whatsoever to Austen’s character.

However, if you would like to reimagine Mary with 21st-century senses and sensibilities, you likely will enjoy Chen’s novel. She is especially gifted with words and phrases, and in the first half captures perfectly Austen’s world and the various characters at Longbourn. She does write just as beautifully in the last half, but for me, the charm and sweetness of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE were lost as Chen envisaged and created a modern life for her Regency heroine. In all, MARY B is an incredibly well-written book --- just not one that embraces the original Bennets and their world.

Reviewed by Melanie Reynolds on July 27, 2018

Mary B: An Untold Story of Pride and Prejudice
by Katherine J. Chen

  • Publication Date: July 24, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Random House
  • ISBN-10: 0399592210
  • ISBN-13: 9780399592218