To all of those naysayers who say that fanfiction is not legitimate, I present Exhibit A, The Other Bennet Sister, along with all of the other Pride and Prejudice “variations” or alternate stories. This is what fanfiction is, taking something and putting your own spin on it. The only difference is that the copyright has passed on P&P, so people can publish their stories, whereas you can’t really do that yet with Harry Potter or The Avengers or whatever. (Although if you talk to the right people, you may have an in with Star Wars…)
This novelized fanfiction focuses on Mary Bennet, the middle, neglected child of the Bennets. The book is divided into four parts, and the first takes place before and during the events of Pride and Prejudice, up to the point of Charlotte’s engagement to Mr. Collins. Poor Mary has been aware that she is “plain” since childhood and tries to find something about herself to stand out. She tries the piano, but in her striving for perfection, she takes away the joy she once took in the instrument. She discovers reading, and tries to improve her mind, but eventually comes to the realization that she needs glasses. She wears them in defiance of her mother.
Part two takes place two years later after the death of Mr. Bennet. All of her sisters are married and have homes of their own, and Mary must find her place in the world. Jane’s home comes with the two disadvantages of their mother and Caroline Bingley (still unmarried) and Elizabeth’s home is welcoming until Mr. Darcy returns. Mr. Darcy is uncomfortable around Mary, and so she decides to visit Charlotte and her cousin in her childhood home. The marriage between Charlotte and Mr. Collins is not the happiest, and Mary unintentionally makes it worse. When Lady Catherine decides that she will find Mary a position as a governess, Mary flees to her only remaining option, her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner in London.
Mary blooms in London, more due to the love and support she receives from the Gardiners than in the change of location. She is not looked down on and is part of a happy family. She teaches her nieces how to play piano, and she is able to be herself. She is introduced to a good family friend, a lawyer named Thomas Hayward. He opens up Mary’s mind to the world of poetry, and the idea that people can be interested in contradicting things. Through him Mary is also introduced to William Ryder, a young man who is passionate about many things and is living off family money.
Mary has a very set and narrow view of herself that partially came from the environment she grew up in. Her father ignored her and ridiculed her, her mother either ignored her or harped on her, and she had no real confidant in her sisters. She sees herself in a disparaging light and it takes a lot of people telling her that she’s good enough to change that. Once someone focuses on her and works with her, the change in Mary is astronomical.
Is the book a great piece of literature? No. It is good, though, and goes in interesting directions. Hadlow comes up with explanations for the behaviors of some of the characters we already know, and created some new ones that are fairly interesting. Part 1 starts off a bit slow, and parts 3 and 4 feel like a more standard Regency romance novel with a few established characters thrown in. Overall, it’s a good first novel for this author!
This fulfills the CBR12 Bingo square of “I Wish” because I think I would have liked living as a gentleman’s daughter during this time period. Not this particular family, but I think I could have done well enough for myself! The idea of not having so many responsibilities at the moment is appealing…