The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet
About the Author
Colleen McCullough was born in western New South Wales in 1937. A neuroscientist by training, she worked in various Sydney and English hospitals before settling into ten years of research and teaching in the Department of Neurology at the Yale Medical School in the USA. In 1947, her first novel, Tim was published in New York, followed by the bestselling ‘The Thorn Birds’ in 1977 and a string of successful novels including the acclaimed Master of Rome series. In 1980, she settled in Norfolk island, where she lives with her husband, Ric and Robinson and a cat named Shady.
I really enjoyed this book. Before I started this, I was afraid it would mess with my love for Pride and Prejudice but the author really made it her own. She did a few smart things that helped – she set it 20 years after the Jane Austen novel closes and from Mary’s perspective (the ignored middle child). And she called Mr. Darcy – Fitz, not allowing the reader to think too much about the first novel.
Jane is happily married with Mr. Bingley and has several children. That was a situation I had envisioned for her. Though the author didn’t get Jane’s character quite right –she still seems to see the best in everyone but she also cries/ breaks down a lot and is not something I would have associated with Jane. Lizzie is unhappy – she has a son (Charlie) with Mr. Darcy but their marriage is not a happy one. She knew very little of his life in Pemberly before marrying him and this results in a few conflicts – her playfulness and his somber attitude are in continuous conflict with each other. Mr. Darcy’s relationship with Charlie is strained and his political ambitions are in constant question because of the embarrassment that Lizzie’s family causes him. All this seems very plausible and realistic – but his attitude towards his daughters is strange. I can understand why he would want them to have a governess and be accomplished but to completely ignore them is not in character. Mary Bennet was a complete non entity in the first novel but Collene McCullough really gave her gumption – after their mother dies, she is free from family responsibilities and so she decides to travel after reading Argus’s letters in the newspaper. She wants to see England at its worst intending to write a book and so she sets out without realizing what a sheltered life she has led – this leads her from one predicament to another which is quite amusing. Lydia is a drunk – still enamored with military officers and Mr. Wickham who doesn’t make an appearance in the book. Kitty married into a respectable family and is one of the stars of London’s fashionable salons – again not much of an appearance there.
The theme around this whole book is independence – specifically Mary’s. Though there are multiple other relationships that are examined, the growth that Mary goes through is substantial. There is some amount of swearing in this book which is not very Austen like but I can take it as it’s imperative to the scenes. Ned Skinner, Mr. Darcy’s bodyguard, adds an interesting spin to the tale and Georgiana hardly makes an appearance.
This book is enjoyable if you don’t have a unshakeable opinion of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy’s happily ever after.