Cover image for The other Bennet sister : a novel
The other Bennet sister : a novel
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"Jane fans rejoice! . . . Exceptional storytelling and a true delight." --Helen Simonson, author of the New York Times bestselling novels Major Pettigrew's Last Stand and The Summer Before the War

Mary, the bookish ugly duckling of Pride and Prejudice 's five Bennet sisters, emerges from the shadows and transforms into a desired woman with choices of her own.

What if Mary Bennet's life took a different path from that laid out for her in Pride and Prejudice ? What if the frustrated intellectual of the Bennet family, the marginalized middle daughter, the plain girl who takes refuge in her books, eventually found the fulfillment enjoyed by her prettier, more confident sisters? This is the plot of Janice Hadlow's The Other Bennet Sister , a debut novel with exactly the affection and authority to satisfy Jane Austen fans.

Ultimately, Mary's journey is like that taken by every Austen heroine. She learns that she can only expect joy when she has accepted who she really is. She must throw off the false expectations and wrong ideas that have combined to obscure her true nature and prevented her from what makes her happy. Only when she undergoes this evolution does she have a chance at finding fulfillment; only then does she have the clarity to recognize her partner when he presents himself--and only at that moment is she genuinely worthy of love.

Mary's destiny diverges from that of her sisters. It does not involve broad acres or landed gentry. But it does include a man; and, as in all Austen novels, Mary must decide whether he is the truly the one for her. In The Other Bennet Sister , Mary is a fully rounded character--complex, conflicted, and often uncertain; but also vulnerable, supremely sympathetic, and ultimately the protagonist of an uncommonly satisfying debut novel.

Author Notes

Janice Hadlow worked at the BBC for more than two decades, and for ten of those years she ran BBC Two and BBC Four, two of the broadcaster's major television channels. She was educated at Swanley School in Kent and graduated with a first class degree in history from King's college, London. She is the author of A Royal Experiment , a biography of Great Britain's King George III. She currently lives in Edinburgh. The Other Bennet Sister is her first novel.

Reviews 4

Guardian Review

Janice Hadlow's first novel explores the predicament of Mary, the overlooked middle daughter of the Bennet household in Pride and Prejudice. Mary doesn't have a story of her own in Austen's novel - she's there to serve as a foil to her sisters' charm, and a temporary obstacle to their happiness. Bookish and gauche, Mary is the one who can be relied on to give an ill-judged performance on the pianoforte or deliver a sententious comment at exactly the wrong moment. By the end of the novel her circumstances have changed, but she has not; she's still just as plain and awkward as she ever was, but with her sisters variously settled elsewhere, she is at least "no longer mortified by comparisons between her sisters' beauty and her own". In The Other Bennet Sister, Mary begins very much as Austen depicted her - plain, awkward, overlooked - but she is now our protagonist. With this shift of focus, our sympathies shift too. We find ourselves flinching with and for, but no longer because of Mary. We come to understand what has made her the way she is. From girlhood, she has been mortified by her mother, who constantly evaluates her five daughters' looks, and finds only Mary's wanting. Her father, too, is a source of grief; she is desperate to be close to him, but he makes a pet of Lizzie, and only seems to speak to Mary - Hadlow is quoting Austen here - in put-downs. Her sisters exist in fixed pair-bonds: Jane-and-Lizzie, Kitty-and-Lydia; Mary is left to drift alone. Teased, belittled and criticised, it is no wonder she is so ill at ease; no wonder she blunders. Hadlow takes up a handful of textual clues in Austen's novel, and from them teases out Mary's story, through childhood and early adolescence, the events of Pride and Prejudice, and then beyond, to Mr Bennet's death, the Collinses' possession of Longbourn, and then Mary's straitened circumstances as a spinster sister, dependent on the uncertain hospitality of family and friends - the Bingleys, the Darcys, the Collinses, and her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner. Although not suffering materially, Mary is emotionally starved; she refuses, however, to accept that this is her fate. Like Jane Eyre - with whom she has perhaps more in common than Austen's own heroines - it turns out that her unassuming exterior contains a fierce, passionate soul, keen to find expression. Mary wants. She wants experience, friendship, love; like Jane Eyre, she will settle, if she must, for the life of the mind, but she won't compromise her heart. Hadlow's empathy for Mary throws into sharp relief the brisk dismissiveness with which she was originally treated; in Pride and Prejudice, Austen pins her down with a couple of adjectives, invites the reader to find her ridiculous, and moves swiftly on. In The Other Bennet Sister, Mary herself seems almost aware of a change in dispensation as she emerges from the hermetically sealed environment of Pride and Prejudice, into the world beyond: "There was no one to judge her ¿ she might change if she wished to." Kindness, when she encounters it, is transformative. She has had a few precious moments of it in her early life, but her first experience of solid, steady kindness is in the Gardiner household. It's a very different family dynamic from the one in which she grew up. Here, beauty is not the chief virtue in a woman; and a person's warmth is of at least equal value to their wit. Mary can let down her defences here; she can become comfortably herself. In The Other Bennet Sister, Hadlow builds an immersive and engaging new version of a familiar world; her approach feels at once true to the source material and to life. In Austen's Elizabeth Bennet, readers glimpse the person we might aspire to be - brilliant, beautiful, ending up with all the prizes - but in Hadlow's Mary we recognise a more familiar figure: self-sabotaging, low on self-esteem, struggling to get through the day while others seem to sail effortlessly by. Hadlow's great achievement is to shift our sympathies so completely that when happiness becomes a possibility for Mary, it's difficult not to race through those final pages, desperate to know if she will, after all, be allowed - will allow herself - a happy ending.

Kirkus Review

Another reboot of Jane Austen?!? Hadlow pulls it off in a smart, heartfelt novel devoted to bookish Mary, middle of the five sisters in Pride and Prejudice.Part 1 recaps Pride and Prejudice through Mary's eyes, climaxing with the humiliating moment when she sings poorly at a party and older sister Elizabeth goads their father to cut her off in front of everyone. The sisters' friend Charlotte, who marries the unctuous Mr. Collins after Elizabeth rejects him, emerges as a pivotal character; her conversations with Mary are even tougher-minded here than those with Elizabeth depicted by Austen. In Part 2, two years later, Mary observes on a visit that Charlotte is deferential but remote with her husband; she forms an intellectual friendship with the neglected and surprisingly nice Mr. Collins that leads to Charlotte's asking Mary to leave. In Part 3, Mary finds refuge in London with her kindly aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner. Mrs. Gardiner is the second motherly woman, after Longbourn housekeeper Mrs. Hill, to try to undo the psychic damage wrought by Mary's actual mother, shallow, status-obsessed Mrs. Bennet, by building up her confidence and buying her some nice clothes (funded by guilt-ridden Lizzy). Sure enough, two suitors appear: Tom Hayward, a poetry-loving lawyer who relishes Mary's intellect but urges her to also express her feelings; and William Ryder, charming but feckless inheritor of a large fortune, whom naturally Mrs. Bennet loudly favors. It takes some maneuvering to orchestrate the estrangement of Mary and Tom, so clearly right for each other, but debut novelist Hadlow manages it with aplomb in a bravura passage describing a walking tour of the Lake District rife with seething complications furthered by odious Caroline Bingley. Her comeuppance at Mary's hands marks the welcome final step in our heroine's transformation from a self-doubting wallflower to a vibrant, self-assured woman who deserves her happy ending. Hadlow traces that progression with sensitivity, emotional clarity, and a quiet edge of social criticism Austen would have relished.Entertaining and thoroughly engrossing. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

Mary Bennet could never compete with her beautiful older sisters, and Pride and Prejudice presents her as a priggish foil to Lizzie's wit and intelligence. Hadlow gets justice for Mary in her debut novel, revealing a girl who is constantly told that she is wrong (directly, by her mother, and indirectly by everyone else), who seeks to rectify that misperception through a deep study of history and philosophy. It doesn't help, as she is ill-equipped to express the feelings stirred by her reading, and, on top of that, she requires glasses. She has a childhood ally in Bennet family servant Mrs. Hill, but it is not until all of her sisters are married and she stays in London with her aunt and uncle that she is empowered to bloom. Hadlow smartly skips over the bulk of Austen's plot, though devotees of the original will be intrigued by Mary's time with the Darcys, the Bingleys, and the Collinses. The writing is dense, but captures the esprit de Austen, immersing the reader in Mary's internal world as she keenly (though, at first, awkwardly) observes those around her, and the result is a page-turning coming-of-age story of an overlooked woman slowly accepting her zest for life.

Library Journal Review

DEBUT The "other Bennet sister" in this delightful semi-sequel to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is Mary, the plain middle sister between the beautiful Jane and Lizzy and the pretty, flighty, and irresponsible Kitty and Lydia. But instead of the moralizing and slightly censorious spinster of the original, this Mary is shy and withdrawn, deeply wounded by her mother's constant comparisons between her and her sparkling sisters. Instead of turning into a prig, Mary takes her life into her own hands as is possible for her time and finds her own way to love and happiness. This is a charming and enchanting story featuring one of the overlooked characters of a beloved classic. While the cast feels very much as remembered from the original, Mary comes into her own after being browbeaten by her overbearing mother at every turn. In adulthood she manages to find the inner fortitude to make her own path once she emerges from her family's shadow. VERDICT Readers with fond but not necessarily exhaustive memories of Pride and Prejudice will love this story, as will historical fiction readers looking for intelligent heroines with agency and heart who belong to their time and place without quite fitting in.--Marlene Harris, Reading Reality, LLC, Duluth, GA